By Lee Noles
INDIAN TRAIL – When Brad Aceta took over the Metrolina Christian wrestling program seven years ago, his biggest concern was getting enough students to come out for the team.
But Aceta solved his dilemma by paying a visit to Warrior football coach Thomas Langley.
“In talking we were like, ‘Some of the football players needed to be wrestlers, and some of the wrestlers needed to be football players,’” Aceta said.
Langley soon became the wrestling team’s biggest recruiter, as the bulk of its athletes were players from his program.
Now, seven years later, the friendship and idea of getting athletes to try out for the other coach’s sport continues with positive results. The wrestling program has produced five individual state champions during that span, and football captured back-to-back conference crowns and played in the private school state title game this past fall.
Indiana Moen is a perfect example of how it all works. Moen started at linebacker for the Warriors this year, but had never wrestled before. Langley mentioned to Moen, a junior who finished the football season with 90 tackles, about joining the wrestling team to help with his agility in getting off blocks from offensive linemen.
Moen is 9-5 this season in wrestling and ranked sixth in the 195-pound weight class for independent schools by Rankwrestlers.com. He anticipates the hard work he is putting in during wrestling will pay off when football starts.
“I have become more comfortable with my footwork and my balance,” Moen said. “Plus, I know my opponents’ weak points and how to move when they move.”
Jacob Hattaway has had tremendous success for both programs as the senior came into the wrestling season as a two-time defending state champion in two different weight classes (134 and 152 pounds). He is currently the top-ranked wrestler in the 160-pound classification and holds the program record with 115 wins. In football, he finished last season with 64 tackles and three sacks. Hattaway said while most football players try to tackle around the shoulders he went for the legs, using a double-leg takedown he said he learned from his time on the mat.
“People joke with me in football about it,” Hattaway said of his tackling style. “But it works.”
Coaches aren’t the only recruiters as Aceta said athletes use social media to attract wrestlers, and some have even come out for the team because of friends.
Such is the case for freshman Bryce McFerson, who also kicks for the Warriors. McFerson originally was a soccer player in middle school, but switched to wrestling after a friend joined when they were in the eighth grade. McFerson is 16-5 this season for the wrestling team, and also connected on 90 percent of his field goal attempts in football.
“I think wrestling does help with my kicking,” said McFerson, who is third in the state in the 152-pound weight class. “My hips are a lot stronger, so, yeah, I do see a difference.”
Metrolina has 10 wrestlers who rank in the top-10 in the state. In addition to McFerson, Moen and Hattaway, the Warriors also have Alejandro Perez (fourth in 106), Christian Palmer (fifth in 113), AJ Hoyle (third in 120), Josh Fahrenkrog (third in 126), Gabe Perez (fourth in 132), Niles Debnam (fifth in 138) and Mason Miles (seventh in 145).
According to Aceta, going back and forth between the two sports is beneficial athletically and also mentally. Aceta said wrestlers have to figure out matches on their own because of being by themselves on the mat.
He said he could see that same thought process transfer over to the football field.
“In football, you know what you’ve got to do,” Aceta said. “So you are relying on your technique. So you are used to doing it by yourself.”
The Warriors are 7-2 this season as of Jan. 10 and ranked fourth in the private school classification. Even with their success, Aceta expects his team to do better.
“We can finish in the top two in the state,” Aceta said. “What can I say? I’m a tough coach.”
Part of the reason Aceta says the Warriors haven’t hit their stride is their challenging schedule. Aceta said the early part of the season is top heavy with individual tournaments, but the Warriors then switch to dual tournaments so his program can go against larger schools – like Piedmont, Weddington and Porter Ridge – before those programs start their conference season. Aceta then winds down the season by going back to individual tournaments to prepare his wrestlers for states, which are Feb. 15 in Asheville.
“We’re battling. We’re not getting the top spots, but we are progressing,” Aceta said. “And I know our end results will be good.”