Four years after starting the program from scratch, Lakeside coach H.E. Burchard led the Rams to new heights last season, finishing third in Division 1A-5A while being named the Arkansas High School Coaches Association outstanding wrestling coach of the year.
With expectations at an all-time high, Burchard believes this year's team has a chance to achieve even more.
"Administration supports us big time, I've got an unbelievable group of parents and, the big thing is, the kids are buying into me not being nice all the time," Burchard said. "I push them really hard, we work really hard and I don't let them have a time to slack. They've bought into that, and it's huge."
Burchard isn't the only person pushing the Rams to reach their full potential. Lakeside welcomed two full-time assistants to the staff last season in National Wrestling Hall of Fame member Tony Bradley and former Tennessee all-state wrestler Nick Ballard.
"The big thing is it's two sets of eyes and opinions outside of just mine," said Burchard. "Both of them are experienced guys. They've been around the sport and understand it so well. They didn't come in and try to overrun who I was. They came in to help, and that's what they've done."
With a rigorous schedule that includes matchups with perennial contenders Little Rock Central, Russellville and Searcy, among others, Burchard and his staff welcome any and all challenges to improve their program.
"I think we wrestle a strong schedule," Burchard said. "We start the year at Little Rock Central against 5A, 6A and 7A teams. We've gone to Searcy the last four years, and they're always tough. We're going to a big tournament in Tennessee this year. We wrestle everybody."
Outside of the coaching staff, Burchard has leadership on the mat with captains Colton Burchard, junior; Aaron Killian, junior; Judson Spellings, seniorr; and Alex Stewart, senior.
Burchard, Killian and Stewart each earned all-state honors last season. Spellings defeated Greenbrier's Drew Clark to finish fifth in the 195-pound weight class.
"Those four have really picked things up and started taking reign of the team," H.E. Burchard said. "Colton has 12 years of experience, so he pushes Aaron and then they work out with Judson and roll with Alex and the other bigger guys. They're just pushing each other to get better. You hear teams talk about wanting to be family, and we have a pretty tight knit group of guys."
Lakeside's breakout season caught the attention of many around the state last year, including right here in Garland County. For the first time, Lake Hamilton has implemented a wrestling program for this season under the guidance of former athletic director John Utley.
"The superintendent and AD came from Lake Hamilton last year and watched me run our senior night, and they were really impressed with what goes on," said Burchard. "The big thing is staying open with each other. I've talked with coach Utley and offered my help for anything, and I think there's a lot that I can learn from him."
As an assistant offensive and defensive line coach for the Rams, Burchard has the support of head football coach Jared McBride. Of the 32 players that make up Burchard's roster, 12 also compete for McBride in football.
Stewart and Killian started for the Rams' defense as linebackers. Stewart led the team with 15 tackles for loss and five sacks while finishing second on the team with 74 total tackles. Killian racked up 68 tackles with six for a loss and one forced fumble.
"Wrestling is huge for them because they learn how to move and turn their hips," Burchard said. "A tackle is just like a double leg takedown. It's the same concepts. I think coach McBride supports what I do, and I think he would be pleased to have more of his kids in here."
With 15 underclassmen and just three seniors on the roster, Lakeside will be one of the younger teams in its division this season, but the Rams aren't tailoring their expectations.
Burchard believes this season can provide an opportunity to improve on last year's finish while also laying the foundation for future success.
"I think we can be top three for sure, but we ought to be competing for that No. 1 spot," he said. "Coach of the year was a huge honor last year, and I didn't even know I was in the running. That shows me that people are looking at who we are, and they're looking at what we're doing. I think we can be in the middle of it all, and I think we can upset a lot of teams that think they have us beat."
Lakeside travels to Russellville tonight for a non-conference meet before hosting the Ram Rumble at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Lakeside Athletic Complex.
Sports on 12/05/2017
Print Headline: Rams hungry for more after breakout season