As Carroll County’s third wrestling coach in the past three years, new head coach Matthew Tompkins hopes to bring stability back to a program that has traditionally been one of the school’s strongest.
“I was asked if I would be willing to do it, and I told them if I could find a quality assistant that I liked and knew exactly what he was doing, I would be more than willing to do it,” said Tompkins, who has been a baseball coach in Carroll in recent years. “I am not going anywhere. I am in the system, I love Carroll County, I love being here and I want to build on it from there. I would like to give the kids a more concrete aspect of things. We had 16 kids come out and eight of them are freshmen. We only have three seniors and five juniors. Everybody else is a freshman, so hopefully it will give them a concrete aspect of stability over the next four years. I am looking forward to it.”
A 2005 graduate of Carroll County High School, Tompkins was a baseball standout for the Cavaliers, tossing the only perfect game in the storied history of the school’s baseball program. He has never wrestled or coached wrestling, however, but is excited about the wrestling resources he will have available to him, particularly assistant coach Jared Hooper. A young, energetic coach, Hooper was a wrestling standout at Carroll who has worked with the Cavalier Youth Wrestling Program extensively in recent years.
“I am very excited. I have a very good assistant in Jared Hooper, who was very successful in the Carroll County program. I also plan to use (former Carroll coaches) Jason Morris and Joe Shumate. I’ve talked to them a lot. They’re more than willing to give all their input and to help,” Tompkins said. “Coach Shumate lives right down the road, so I asked him who the first person he recommended was, and the first person out of his mouth was Jared. Jared is a brilliant man. He does a very good job with the kids and we seem to work well together. I couldn’t speak more highly of him.”
During high school, Tompkins concentrated solely on baseball. It led him to a collegiate career at Bluefield and Emory & Henry College. He said he’s always been around wrestling, however, and has always had a passion for it. Thankfully, there are many folks in Carroll County more than willing to help out.
“I have learned so much in the past three months, spending hours in that wrestling room with the entire Bowman family. That is one nice thing about wrestling, the majority of the people who have come through Carroll County have a burning passion for it,” Tompkins said. “It’s a small group, but the group is not only passionate for it, they are willing to help and make everyone around them better. From the McCraw family to the Scott family to the Bowman family, I have received multiple phone calls, ‘What can we do to help you? How can we help with this, how can we help with that?”
Even though the Cavaliers will only have three seniors this year, Tompkins is excited about their potential. Jarrett Thomas, in particular, will be back at 106 pounds after narrowly missing the state tournament last year. Seniors Josh Brooks and Zeth Manning are also expected to do big things this season.
“Jarrett had a lot of success last year and I expect a lot out of him this year. I expect a lot from Josh and Zeth, too. Once we can get Zeth’s knee healthy, I expect a lot of good things from him,” Tompkins said. “Same thing with Josh. He has been at every workout we’ve had for the last two months and he has shown a lot of growth.”
Like Thomas, junior Brennan Vaught missed the state tournament by one match a year ago.
“They both were so close last year. And the state tournament is different now than it used to be. If you make it, you are automatically in the top eight and get a medal,” Tompkins said. “Our goal is to at least get two kids to the state tournament this year, but I think we could very easily get a lot more.”
Tompkins has been impressed with Eli Busick, who hasn’t missed a workout yet this year. A couple of freshmen have shown that same work ethic. Also, he’s excited junior Austin Wolford, a lineman on the football team, has decided to come out for wrestling.
“We are really looking forward to it. He has never wrestled and there is a learning curve, but he is a big, athletic kid with a mean streak. We look for him to show a lot of growth. I think he has an opportunity to be very successful,” Tompkins said.
The biggest thing for Carroll will be figuring out the logjam between 137 and 160 pounds. Of the Cavaliers’ 16 wrestlers, nine fall between those weight classes. Rest assured, there will be a lot of wrestle-offs this winter.
“Their experience and their veteran ability in wrestling will I feel like easily plug them in somewhere just because they will be able to win the wrestle-offs. Exactly where, I am not able to tell you right now,” Tompkins said. “But we look forward to it.”
A P.E. teacher at Carroll County Middle, Tompkins is in his fourth year of coaching at Carroll. He is in his 10th year of coaching overall, including stops at Graham in Bluefield and J.J. Kelly in Wise County. Tompkins hopes to apply many of the lessons he learned at J.J. Kelly, the school with the most state baseball championships in Virginia, to the wrestling program at Carroll.
“Learning how to coach championship programs was a phenomenal opportunity. When you breed champions it is a mentality, and that is what I have tried to work with in baseball and I have tried to work with on these kids,” Tompkins said. “If you think you are going to be a loser, you are going to be a loser. It’s that simple. But if you go in with the preparation of I want to be a state champion, then, that is your goal and that is what you go for. And that is my goal with all the wrestlers. Their goal is to be a state champion.”
While Tompkins feels like the Cavaliers should at least have two wrestlers qualify for the state this season, he is not going to base the success of this year solely on that. With such a young team, the main thing he is looking for is constant improvement.
“I do expect at least a couple. We had two last year miss by one match. You could see it in their eyes, that hurt,” Tompkins said. “But if we don’t have any then I don’t consider the season a loss because I know with as young a team as we have we will have a lot of growth this year.”
The Cavaliers will open the season at home Dec. 5 with the Carroll Invitational. The tournament will feature 12 teams, including Carroll.
“I love being able to teach kids things and give them every opportunity to succeed. That’s the reason I took the wrestling job because the wrestling tradition in Carroll County.” Tompkins said. “It has had two state champions, and outside of the last two years it has had a state medalist for the 16 years before that. I would like to continue that tradition.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN