CARRBORO — “Opportunity” is a big word for Carrboro High wrestling coach DeWitt Driscoll.
He inherited a wrestling program four years ago that had struggled to get off the ground, but the former UNC assistant coach saw the potential for success if his team could take advantage of the right opportunities.
“I tell them every year, I can’t physically grab you and make you a better wrestler, but I can give you the opportunity to become a better wrestler. It’s about the opportunities you get, and what you do with them.”
“My first year,” he says, “I had a lot of inexperienced kids, and I tried to focus on developing a passion for the sport, and for being on this team.”
Of his first year roster of 13, two qualified for the state tournament. Driscoll felt it was appropriate to raise the bar for his team.
“I’ve raised the bar every year, and the kids have always met my expectations,” says Driscoll. “It’s not just a couple of individuals hoping to do well anymore, it’s the whole team; everyone.”
Last year’s Carrboro team qualified six wrestlers for the state tournament out of their 14-man roster. Overall, the Jaguars finished seventh in the state.
Stephen Dreher, the 2013 runner-up at 120 and George Carpenter, state champion at 113, have returned for this year’s team.
Carrboro has entered two tournaments this season and won them both, including a big win last weekend in the annual Bull Durham Classic, where the Jaguars out-pointed wrestlers from multiple 4A programs. Carpenter led the way by winning the Bull Durham’s 120-pound championship.
The Jags are 5-1 in dual meets, with a lone loss to 4A Jordan, a team they’ll see again.
According to Driscoll, the team is more mature, and has seen success and learned to expect it. Their most recent meet, a 66-6 outright thumping of Bartlett-Yancy, was important for the team in addition to being “kind of fun.”
Carrboro’s team still struggles with depth. The Jaguars’ roster has never exceeded 20, and Driscoll believes that his team could have won many of they meets they lost last year with a full roster.
Wednesday’s blowout of Bartlett Yancey let his wrestlers see what they’re “capable of” in a matchup where the Jaguars didn’t have to give up many forfeits, Driscoll said.
George Carpenter’s wrestling career has mirrored his team’s development.
Four years ago, Carpenter was a freshman with one victory to his name. He committed to wrestling more, and according to Driscoll, that additional mat time during the offseason has made a difference, both for Carpenter and several other wrestlers who have made the same commitment.
Carpenter’s junior year started slowly, due to a deep playoff run by Carrboro’s football team on which George – even at 113 pounds – was a major contributor.
This year, Carpenter wrestled 95 matches in the off-season alone, by Driscoll’s estimate. With attention for wrestling coming in from several colleges, he made the “very difficult decision” to forego his senior football season.
“He wrestled all fall,” continued Driscoll.
Carpenter believes in his team’s culture of winning.
“Success just comes down to us working hard and staying on the grind,” Carpenter said. “If we keep working, we have to believe the chips will fall the right way. The sky’s the limit for us as a team.”