GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Clay High wrestling coach Jim Reape, standing in on a Wednesday workout for head coach Hunter Hill, quickly answered when asked about Clay High wrestling maybe having some off years.
"We had one off year, last year," said Reape, the architect of a bucket-load of top three state finishes and a even bigger basket of individual state champions in his tenure as the Blue Devil head coach. "We were second three years in a row before that. That's not bad. We'll be strong."
In fact, the Blue Devils lost a step last year with a 21st place finish in 2019 after seconds to Lake Highland Prep in 2018, 2017 and 2016. Clay was ninth in 2015.
Changes this year will be in the new district and region lineups with powers Wakulla (6th in 1A last year), Suwannee (17th in 1A), Arnold, South Walton and Florida High (8th in 1A) at the region level and Ridgeview, University Christian, Wolfson and Bolles in district 4-1A.
"Wakulla becomes the target this year," said Reape. "Not much has changed except that Wakulla will be team to beat in our region. Florida High is also a top team. There are some 2A teams that have dropped in at 1A."
The top guys returning for Hill; senior Tazz Hampton, region 1-1A champion, fourth at 106; junior Cale Hoskinson, a region champion and state qualifier at 132 and senior Joe Grelli at 220, a state qualifier after a fourth place region finish.
The rest of the room included region qualifiers last year and state hopefuls this year freshman Josh Kumpf at 120 last year; senior Luke Davis at 126; sophomore Luca Fiannaca at 170; senior Jordan Bell at 195 and sophomore Derrick Mosley at 285.
"Those guys will be expected to get to the state level this year," said Reape. "We have had a great summer at nationals, got them on a good, solid diet to keep weights where we want them and a good attitude to come back with after last year."
In the room last week, among the current Clay grapplers were alumni Kaleb Collins (third at 195 in 2016 and 2017), Tristan Sichmeller (fourth in 2015 at 170) and John Whiting (a region qualifier in 2015) who added their state level expertise to the program.
"Having those guys come in here says 'this means something to me'," said Reape. "Wrestling is a big part of their lives. That connection is what makes the program strong. John Whiting is a guy who probably did not achieve a lot of his goals with no podium and here he is, five years later, in the best shape of his life. Wrestling carries with those guys in life."