Camden County High sophomore Nicholas Krug had high personal expectations when wrestling season began several months ago.
He failed to make the starting team last year, but he still set a goal to win a state championship in the 106 pound weight division. He wasn’t disappointed, and he wasn’t alone.
Krug and six teammates each won individual Class 7A state wrestling titles last weekend, along with bringing home the state duals championship to Camden High for the third year in a row and the fourth since 2012.
“I knew I had a chance to win because I think we have the best coach in the Southeast,” Krug said. “I certainly knew our three seniors were going to win. I did not think seven would win, especially in the biggest classification.”
Coach Jess Wilder has been head of the Camden wrestling program the past 10 years. Prior to coming to Camden County, he was head coach nine years at University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky.
Wilder said he accepted the middle school coaching job in Camden County to be closer to Florida, where he and his wife grew up. A year after he was hired at the middle school, the high school coach left for another job and Wilder took over.
While he had high expectations as the state tournament neared, Wilder said he never imagined his team would win seven of the 14 weight classes.
“You think you might have seven to nine kids who could compete,” he said. “These kids, they have wrestled some of the best kids in the Southeast.”
The team is so dominant in the area, it travels to competitions throughout as far as South Florida.
Bunmi Smith, who went 42-0 in the 170 weight class, said he was not surprised the team was so successful, despite the competition.
“This team was better than last year’s team,” he said.
Smith, a senior, said he expected to win in his weight class.
“I set more goals for myself, individually,” he said. “I refused to be beaten.”
Wrestlers in the lighter weight classes were one of the team’s strengths, with Krug (106), Tyler Crew (113) and Brandon Orum (120) winning championships.
Orum said he and the lighter wrestlers work to make each other better.
“We practice together. We drill together. Every wrestler expects to win,” he said.
Orum avenged his only loss in the state in the championship match. He and his coach came up with a different strategy to help him win in the rematch.
Still, Orum said he didn’t expect the team to be as dominant as it was.
“It’s crazy to come back with seven state champions,” he said.
Senior wrestler Antonio Stewart also went 42-0 this season, bringing home a second state championship in the 195 weight class.
He said he started wresting at a young age and wasn’t enthusiastic until he started competing in eighth grade.
“I didn’t like it. I hated wrestling,” he said.
Crew said classmates are paying more attention to the wrestling team, with larger and larger turnouts to home matches.
“It’s pretty much taken over the school,” he said. “We’re a pretty stacked team.”
Denton Spencer is ranked No. 15 in the nation in the 145 pound weight class. He said he expected to win a state title after winning a national wresting competition last summer. He has already accepted a full scholarship at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina. The soccer team is currently No. 23 in Division 1 rankings.
“I won a national title before a state title,” he said.
Rayden Wilder, winner in the 138 weight class, said he comes from a family where his father and grandfather competed as wrestlers.
“It’s as much physical as mental,” he said. “You’re pretty much dedicated year round.”
With four returning state champions, expectations will be high for next year’s team. It’s a challenge the coach said the team looks forward to wrestle.
“It’s a lot of fun, but it’s lots of work,” he said. “It’s a one-on-one competitive sport.”