Lee County Girls Swimmer of the Year, Casey Schoenberger, Boys Swimmer of the Year Trey Hardison and Wrestler of the Year Rashaud Anthony smile for a group photo earlier this week after learning of their honors. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
How did Rashaud Anthony get to be the best wrestler on the best wrestling team in Southwest Georgia?
How did Anthony, who is part Mighty Mouse and part Lion King, rise above everyone else, emerging as the top wrestler in this part of the state with a smile on his face?
“He’s a gym rat,’’ said Lee County wrestling coach Tom Matheny. “It’s that simple. He’s a gym rat. He loves to be at wrestling practice. When that door opens, he’s there.’’
Anthony is one of those kids, one of those athletes who thrives on his sport, giving everything he has and then taking even more from his first love — wrestling — and then giving back even more.
So he was an easy choice to be named The Herald’s Player of the Year in wrestling.
Lee County dominates wrestling like no school in Southwest Georgia, and if there was a face for that program this year it was Anthony’s beaming, smiling profile of a winner.
He’s the kind of kid who gives the term “work ethic” a new meaning, and there is no lack of that feeling at Lee County, where Matheny has transformed a good program into a great one with an offseason workout regimen that sets Lee apart from any program in this part of the state.
And the kid at the front of the line was Anthony, who wanted to make a point this season after experiencing heartbreak as a junior.
He won the Region 1-AAAA title as a junior and marched into the state tournament as a force to be reckoned with at 113 pounds, but his quickness and eagerness doomed him as he lost in the quarterfinal round after quick starts buried his chances.
“He went to state last year as a junior, and he was really hurt when (he was eliminated). It hurt him a lot,’’ Matheny said. “He recognized at that point that he had the ability and the skills, but what he learned was that the other wrestlers also had ability and skill, and it’s going to come down to who doesn’t make mistakes.
“Rashaud is a very aggressive wrestler. He is very good, but at times that aggressiveness would cost him a mistake, and those mistakes really hurt him last year.’’
Anthony vowed to get back to state for a chance at the title, and he not only stormed into the Class AAAA state meet as region champ again, but beat everyone along the way except Cameron Munsey of Pope High School, the defending state champ, who beat Anthony by one point with two seconds left to win the sectional title.
Anthony entered the state meet as a No. 2 seed, but ripped his way through and made it to the finals that had eluded him a year ago. But he finished second in the state to Muncey, who literally had to hang on to win a 2-1 match in one of the closets finals of the entire state meet.
That’s how close Anthony was to winning it all.
“It was heartbreaking,’’ Anthony, a senior, said. “I was disappointed. I didn’t get what I was striving for, but I did make it to the finals.’’
And when Anthony walked off the mat after the state title match, he walked away as the all-time winningest wrestlier in Lee County history with 175 wins in his career. He finished the season at 56-5, including 31 pins, leaving an indelible his stamp on the program.
His career might not be over.
“I’m talking to Darton about going there and wrestling there next year,’’ Anthony said. “That would be a blessing.’’
His journey to the title match says as much about his season as anything.
It was more than a comeback.
“I was just driving off last season,’’ Anthony said. “I was more focused this year and more prepared. I felt this season was a lot better. My focus all year was on state more than anything else. I got to state and had my head on right. When I got there it was all or nothing, and I went right through the semifinals and won 12-6 to get to the state title.’’
Anthony jokes about how he ended up on the wrestling team.
“I couldn’t play football because I don’t weigh as much as a wet T-shirt,’’ he said with a laugh. “I was in the hall at school and the wrestling coach asked me about wrestling, so I went out for the team.’’
It was all new, but it didn’t take Anthony long to find his place on the mat.
“It changed after my ninth-grade year,’’ he said. “I was looking at the best of the best wrestlers (at Lee County), and I wanted to be that person. Coach Matheny told me it’s all about the offseason, and when the season ended I just wanted to get back in the room.’’
He did. Anthony was a tornado in practice, going year-round.
“I just love it,’’ he said. “I like the intensity, and I like the competition. And I like it because it’s an individual sport. You can’t blame anybody but yourself.
“I push myself as far as I can go. I don’t hold anything back, and I wanted to be (at practice) every chance I get. While my opponents are at home watching Spongebob on TV, I’m working my butt off. I just love it, just love to wrestle.’’
All-Area Wrestling Team
Devon Yelverton, Lee County, Jr.
WHY HE'S HERE: Won the Region 1-AAAA 145-pound title region and advanced to the Class AAAA state meet. He had a remarkable 52-9 record, including 35 pins.
Colton Grove, Lee County, Jr.
WHY HE'S HERE: Was the Region 1-AAAA 195-pound runner-up and advanced to the Class AAAA state meet. He finished 55-12 with 33 pins.
Alex Davis, Lee County, Jr.
WHY HE'S HERE: Won his second Region 1-AAAA 132-pound title and advanced to the Class AAAA state meet and finished the season with a 45-19 record.
Britt Bashear, Lee County,
WHY HE'S HERE: Won the Region 1-AAAA title at 120 pounds and advanced to state. He finished the season with a 41-13 record, including 21 pins. He won 126 matches in his career.
Austin Braswell, Lee County, Fr.
WHY HE'S HERE: Won the Region 1-AAAA 106-pound title.
Brett Butler, Lee County, Fr.
WHY HE'S HERE: Was the Region 1-AAAA 120-pound runner-up.
Mantony Harris, Lee County, Sr.
WHY HE'S HERE:Was the Region 1-AAAA, 152-pound runner-up. He finished the season with a 44-13 record, including 33 pins.
Christopher Rapley, Dougherty, Jr.
WHY HE'S HERE:He won the Region 1-AAA, 152-pound title and had a regular-season record of 20-2, including 18 pins.
Kavasae Trappier, Dougherty, Sr.
WHY HE'S HERE: Won the 138-pound Region 1-AAA title and had a regular-season record of 15-3, including 13 pins.
Derrick Bernard, Monroe, Sr.
WHY HE'S HERE: Was the Region 1-AAA 138-pound runner-up and finished the regular season at 20-2.
Shaquille Morman, Albany High, Sr.
WHY HE'S HERE: Was the Area II 160-pound runner-up and advanced to the semifinals of the Class AA sectionals.
Harrison Stadnik, Deerfield-Windsor, Sr.
WHY HE'S HERE: Won the GISA 220-pound Region 3-AAA title and finished second in the state meet. He finished with a 20-2 record, including 14 pins, and had a two-year record of 37-4.
Kyle Gil, So., Deerfield-Windsor.
WHY HE'S HERE:Finished second in the region in the 106-pound class, and then took home second in the GISA Class AAAA state meet at 106.