Alex Wray has a lofty but clear goal for Carroll County’s wrestling program.
“I came to Virginia not to participate in high school wrestling, I came to take over high school wrestling in Virginia,” the Cavaliers’ new wrestling coach said. “That’s why I am here.”
Considering his long and illustrious career in the sport, Wray seems to have the credentials to do exactly what he says. As a wrestler at the prep football powerhouse Trinity High School in Louisville, Kentucky, Wray was part of a state championship wrestling team his junior season. Wray placed fifth in the state that season at 112 pounds after giving up on his dream to play football.
“They are known for football. The school has won national championships in football. Jeff Brohm was a friend of mine. He played with the 49ers and won a Super Bowl and he is the head coach at Purdue now,” Wray said. “Carwell Gardner played at Trinity and he played in the Super Bowl four years in a row with the Buffalo Bills. It is a football school. I was a football player. I was a real good football player but I was really little so I had to change my sport and that is how I got into wrestling. One of the coaches told me the only thing you could do at Trinity is carry the helmets to the field or the water coolers and I didn’t want to do that. He invited me into a wrestling room and I was intrigued. I was like, ‘Wow, that is really cool. I want to try this.’”
After placing fifth in the state as a junior, Wray set a goal to win the state championship his senior year at Trinity. That summer, he went to and won Oklahoma State’s wrestling camp, where he met Cowboy wrestling legends John Smith and Kenny Monday.
“And when I got home I knew I was good enough to win a state championship. I lost one match my senior year. I was 41-1 and I won a state championship at Trinity High School,” Wray said. “I stayed 112 pounds for four years. I kept myself on a strict diet – baked chicken, soup, meatloaf, no bread, no sodas, just water, and I trained like a freak, man. I put everything into it. I am very passionate about what I do and I feel like if you are going to do something, if you don’t love it, you shouldn’t do it. I went on that year and won a state championship and I was recruited to go to Ohio State but I wasn’t good enough to get a full ride.”
The Buckeyes wanted Wray to go to junior college because his SAT scores were not as high as they would have liked, so he went to Wilkes Community College, which was ranked number one in the nation at the time. There, he said he was blessed to wrestle several national champions from all college divisions. The wrestling program was shut down while he was a student, however, so he transferred to Cumberland College in Kentucky, where he went on to win a Christian College national championship.
“I had to battle the defending national champion at 118 pounds, which is what I wrestled in college, and I beat him by one and I won a national championship in 1997. So I was very blessed because I never thought I would be where I was at,” Wray said. “I know how it is when you are in the wrestling room – your confidence isn’t always the highest because you get beat up, you get beat down, sometimes you get your feelings hurt. So I try to stay focused and keep my eyes on the prize because you never know where you will end up in the sport if you keep putting everything into it. I never thought in a million years I would win a state championship in high school or a national championship in college. I knew I was athletic, but it took a coach believing in me and leading me in the right direction.”
And now Wray wants to impart those same kinds of values and traits into the young wrestlers at Carroll County High School. He says he will instill respect and honor into his wrestlers. It is a warrior’s sport, he said, and he wants to work hard with the Cavaliers to make them that way.
“I don’t have any sons. I have three daughters and I love my daughters to death, but at the end of this road man, these are my sons. I feel like we have a bond there,” Wray said. “It is a young bond but by the end I hope they feel the same way I feel about them because it is a blessing for me to be here. This is my first time coaching in high school so we are doing something together for the first time and we are the foundation.”
More recently, Wray coached the Mat Monsters in Ashe County, North Carolina. One of the biggest wrestling clubs in the Tar Heel State, the Mat Monsters won a team state title last year with six individual state champions. He was ready for a new challenge, however, and taking over a high school program is an opportunity he wanted to take to better himself as a coach.
“I can’t be the same person I was last year if my kids are going to get better. I have to go out and learn from other coaches that know more than I do. It is a humbling thing,” Wray said. “If you think you know everything in this sport, man you are in trouble, you are in big trouble.”
A bundle of energy, Wray’s high-impact coaching style already seems to be rubbing off on Carroll County’s young wrestlers. The team is young with no seniors and just three juniors, but the Cavaliers seem to have already bought into what Wray is selling. Likewise, Wray is ecstatic to start this journey with the team.
“This group, man I am excited. I want to give them my energy. I believe this is the group to start out what I am trying to do. The foundation lies with this group,” Wray said. “There are no seniors, but everybody is athletic and they are hungry and they want to get better. Somebody told me the other day, ‘Coach Wray, we have our tournament every year and I would like to win it one year.’ And I was thinking to myself, I planted a seed, because if you want to do something you have to speak it into existence if you want it to happen. And that is our tournament. I don’t want anybody else winning our tournament. That is our trophy. I want that trophy. If I am going to do anything, I can’t do it without them and they can’t do it without me. It is a team thing man. Teamwork makes a dream work. They have to have the vision I have and I have to have the vision they have if they want to get to where they want to get to.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN