In two years coach Buck Watkins has led Wildcat wrestlers from second to last in the Western Piedmont Conference to a shared conference title, a first for the program in 11 years.
“It’s been an amazing ride. I feel like the luckiest coach in the world being here at West Stokes. We’ve accomplished a lot of goals this past year, but we have guys on the team who are hungry for more and I am as well,” Watkins said.
The coach grew up around wrestling and had perfected a number of moves before his first day of kindergarten.
“I started at four years old. My brother, whose seven years older than me, came home with a paper and wanted to sign up. I started going to his practices with my dad and tried mimicking what I saw. We made a lot of memories on road trips and tournaments,” Watkins said.
He believes the sport is a unique one that offers a team aspect as well as individual accountability.
“I love all of it and what it teaches. You can’t hide in life nor on the wrestling mat. Everyday you’re challenged in life and for my athletes I challenge them in the wrestling room to be prepared for that,” he said.
Watkins accepted his own challenge last season when he set out to strengthen the Wildcats fledgling program. The coach relied heavily on earlier influences in his own wrestling career.
“I wrestled for one of the top coaches in the country, Rob Waller. I saw the success he had winning over 300 matches with two division one national champs and one division two national champ. I saw the impact he made not only in my life but many others as well,” he said.
Another motivator to Watkins was Johnny Cobb, who coached Brandon Slaw, a gold medal winner in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
“He really mentored me as a young coach. He, along with Chris Elliot, my college coach helped me understand the importance of setting goals, and setting them high. I do the same with my athletes. We’ll do it at the end of the year to get where we need to be for next year and beyond.”
Watkins is convinced that winning can open doors, but it isn’t the only way to be successful.
“My goal is to make our athletes great men not just on the wrestling mat but in life. The wins and losses to me are a byproduct. I want to send better people into the world than what was brought to the program here at West Stokes. I want to see integrity and discipline,” he said.
For the past five years, Watkins has coached wrestling. He spent two years at Wayland Baptist University as a graduate assistant and then one year at Mt. Tabor. After two seasons, he said West Stokes is beginning to feel like home.
“The administration, parents and community have been amazing. I used to walk around a stranger, but now people say hello and want to talk about wrestling. I absolutely love all of it,” he said.
The Wildcats square off at regional individuals this weekend at South Stokes.
“No matter what happens the rest of the season I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. To me, we’re already winners. We have some individuals who are ready to make the trip to Greensboro, but when it’s time to put their foot on the line they have to be willing to shine.”
Amanda Dodson can be reached at 336-813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.