Tevyn Tillman has a young team on his hands, but the Decatur boys wrestlers are eager to attack on the mat and return to state this season, he said.
“This team this year, they’re young, really young,” Gators head coach Tevyn Tillman said. Of the 40-member team, the varsity lineup has a majority of underclassmen with just three seniors. “They’re young and they’re pretty hungry this year, which is not something you usually say with young kids, but they are.”
It’s both a benefit and a challenge to have a squad of youngsters, Tillman said. Although with young age comes inexperience, the athletes are open to learning and have time to improve.
“A lot of our guys are tough on their feet and they’re tough on top and move pretty well on bottom,” he said. “They have a desire, not just to win, but to be better.”
Last year, the Gators were one of the top three teams in the NPSL and placed 17th at the 4A WIAA State Mat Classic Championship last February, with state appearances by Elijah Gandert (152) and Bradley Tyack (160).
It’s no secret Tillman makes these wrestlers put in work in order to reap the results they’re after.
“I push these guys pretty hard, not going to lie,” he said. “We told them yesterday, if you think we’re pushing you hard, you’re right because we want you to be the best you can be … If you have a desire to win or a desire to be better, this is where you need to be.”
There’s a few wrestlers to keep an eye on, Tillman said, including sophomore Elijah Gandert (152), junior Bradley Tyack (160), senior Cristian Torres (152), freshman Sennai Heyliger (138), freshman Zechariah Siva (heavyweight 285), and freshman Jose Flores (170).
Tillman, a Decatur grad, made a name for himself as a back-to-back state champion at 285 in ‘08 and ‘09. He’s now a SEB paraeducator at Decatur, and said he enjoys being on the other side of the singlet.
“It’s a whole different world coaching as opposed to actually doing the sport,” he said. He’s been coaching since 2012, and this is his third season as head coach. “And the joy you get out of watching someone’s eyes light up from their first match, or first win or anything else like that, it’s leaps and bounds way better than when I did it myself.”
To say he has big shoes to fill when it comes to living up to former head coach Mike Bressler’s legacy is an understatement, Tillman said.
Bressler coached the Gators for nearly 20 years, bringing home three regional titles, three league championships, 15 state finalists and 37 state medalists, among other successes during his time with the program.
“I’m doing the best I can being a new generation coach where I still have relationships with some of the kids here … I’m young enough to relate, but they still show me respect really well.”
The first tournament of the season on Dec. 1 was eye-opening for many wrestlers, he said.
“The Edmonds invite was a realization of ‘This is high school wrestling,’” Tillman said. “What we got out of it was a desire to be better and so they really started stepping up since Saturday and working even harder.”
Decatur hosts their own wrestling tournament, the Gator Invite, this weekend, welcoming Hazen, Kentlake, Thomas Jefferson, Oak Harbor, Shorewood and Timberline.
The tournament, previously called the Hurricane Harris Invite, honors Decatur wrestler Robert “Hurricane” Harris who drowned in Lake Tapps during a family outing in September 2011.
Harris will be honored in a different light this year, Tillman said, as one wrestler will receive the Hurricane Harris award at the tournament. The Gators also award the same title to one wrestler at the end of their season.
“This invite is our way of giving the community a time and place to watch some wrestling because there isn’t a lot of wrestling in the area, as far as tournaments are concerned,” Tillman said. “It highlights Decatur, other wrestlers from different schools, and the sport itself.”