Strange things are afoot with the West High wrestling team.
Gone is iconic coach Pete Mullen, the only mentor many of the Wolf Pack grapplers knew. Gone also is the cramped classroom that served as the varsity team’s practice space.
The entire squad — all 40-odd wrestlers, junior varsity and varsity — are in the cafeteria. And if you didn’t look twice, you might confuse the head coach with one of his wrestlers.
Twenty-six-year-old Ed Carlos, a three-time section qualifier at Tokay under coach Rob Gaines, accepted the position in late October only two weeks before the winter sports season began. And despite the small window of time to prepare — and the difficulty of balancing his first-year teaching duties with coaching a varsity sport — he’s taken it upon himself to build the foundation for a program.
“With this first year, I want everyone to know what I’m about,” he said after practice Tuesday. “The goal is to get a team league championship — the school doesn’t benefit when just one guy goes to state.”
“And hopefully from there, we can get the respect — and get a wrestling room,” he added, hitting on what’s been the Wolf Pack’s bane for some time. “I’m new; I’m not going to ask for it. You gotta earn it.”
Luckily for Carlos, he doesn’t have to build a team from scratch. Returning are senior Michael Simmons, West’s sole section meet qualifier from 2005-06, and a core of other solid wrestlers in Juan Villerreal, Phanh Le, Paul Silatolu and Alvaro Tellez. All four came close to qualifying for the section meet last year.
But tournament qualifier or novice, all West wrestlers are sweating, even in the relatively cool cafeteria. Carlos instituted a tough conditioning program that includes a 2-mile run before the grapplers start sparring.
“The coach is hard on us,” Tellez said. “But it’ll help us a lot — especially in the third round.”
While Carlos’ focus is on endurance for the second and third rounds of matches and bringing new wrestlers up to speed, Simmons and the older wrestlers are bent on qualifying for sections and beyond.
Simmons attended a two-week camp in Reno in the off-season, and the experience “made me want to come back this year and just dominate,” he said.
That’s exactly the kind of attitude a winning wrestler needs, and Simmons and his teammates have been working to make his outlook infectious.
“Juan and Alvaro, I can ask them for support,” Simmons said. “The three of us can stick together and keep the team in check.”
And it’s not like Mullen’s influence disappeared completely. The veteran coach swung by practice last week for a day to teach some moves and will likely reappear by the time the February tournaments arrive, if not sooner.
But it’s still Carlos’ show, and the task of melding new and old into a successful team won’t be easy. Luckily for him, however, he doesn’t have to look far for inspiration: The defending Tri-City Athletic League champs are Gaines’ Tigers, his old team. The Wolf Pack host Tokay on Jan. 25.
“I really, really want that match,” Carlos said. “Not just to win, but to show coach Gaines my own program and to say, ‘I’m doing well, thanks to you.’”Enrique Gutierrez/Tracy Press