Chris Collier wrestled when wrestling wasn’t cool. At least up here.
When Collier took the mat for the Parkway Panthers more than two decades ago, he had less than a dozen teammates, and the local competition was thin.
“There were only five teams in the area,” said Collier, a 1996 Parkway graduate.
My, how things have changed.
Friday, the LHSAA state wrestling tournament kicked off at Bossier City’s CenturyLink Center and North Louisiana is well-represented. Collier’s alma mater is in the running for a Division II state championship.
There’s the rub.
Collier is the head wrestling coach at Live Oak High School in Denham Springs.
The Eagles enter Saturday in fourth place in Division II, 16 points (122.5) behind second-place Parkway. Teurlings Catholic (152) leads the Panthers by 13.5 points.
Parkway and Airline (fourth place, Division I) are the only local teams in the top five entering the final day of competition, but, from Collier’s perspective, north Louisiana is gaining respect throughout the state.
“It’s a different culture down (south),” said Collier, a Times’ All-City offensive lineman in 2015. “My kids are ate up with wrestling, week in and week out. It’s good to see that wrestling has grown (here).
“Parkway does a good job, so does Airline and North DeSoto tries to travel a little bit. The rest of (north Louisiana schools) — it would be nice to see them a little bit more.”
Collier, a science teacher and assistant football coach at Live Oak, played football at Northwestern State University under head coaches Sam Goodwin and Steve Roberts. The Demons won a pair of Southland Conferences titles (1997, 1998) during Collier’s time.
Collier’s tenure in Natchitoches was filled with success on the gridiron, but there’s just something about his career on the mat for Parkway that stands out.
“Those are the guys I keep in touch with,” said Collier, who finished fourth in the 275-pound weight class at the state tournament as a Panthers senior. “Blood, sweat, tears — working with those guys day in and day out, knowing what I went through was the same thing my teammates went through.
“That’s the whole reason a lot of us coach — to give back to the sport.”
Friday, half of Live Oak’s team (seven of 14 wrestlers) went undefeated and will attempt to capture state crowns Saturday. Four other wrestlers are still alive for a third-place finish.
Saturday, two of the Eagles’ semifinalists will face wrestlers from Parkway right off bat. Live Oak’s Jordan Chenevert will face Zachary Harper of Parkway for a spot in the 113-pound DII state title match. In the 120-pound class, the Eagles will send Camdyn Ingram out against Darryl Nicholas Jr. of the Panthers for a berth in the final.
A Live Oak 145-pounder, Cameron Hebert, will face Parkway’s Toby Fontenot to stay alive for third place.
Naturally, Saturday is when Colliers’ affection for north Louisiana’s increased focus on wrestling and the loyalty to the Panthers will be put on hold.
“It’s good to see Parkway doing as well as they are; of course, I’d love to beat them,” he said.