STONEWALL — Matt Moeller grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a city within a state that has a devoted high school and college wrestling following.
Moeller knows the ins and outs of wrestling, from holds to takedowns to escape moves. He also knows how to sell his sport.
In the 2011-12 school year, Moeller started the wrestling program at North DeSoto, and he knew just how to find prospective wrestlers.
“(Football) Coach (Scott) Abernathy actually wrestled growing up, so he was all for it,” Moeller said. “The parish was able to purchase us a mat, which is a big thing to get started. Once we got that purchased, we started talking to kids, tried to get kids out. We tried to make that connection between football and wrestling, especially with our defensive linemen and our linebackers — tell them how wrestling makes them better football players.”
Whatever the selling point Moeller used, it worked.
The Griffins have improved both on the mat and on the roster, as wrestling has gained a foothold with Griffins and future Griffins.
“Every program I’ve been involved with, whether I wrestled for it or coached it, the great programs have great kids programs,” Moeller said. “We ended (the winter) with 15 seventh- and eighth-graders. We ran them from October-December, which was the first time we’d done that. We started a USA Kids program, and we thought 30 would be a real good number to start out with. We had 54 kids signed up with their cards. We’re at a point where we’re going to have to add a second mat. We’re going to need to have some practice space. It’s a great problem.”
Some of North DeSoto’s wrestlers have seen their skills grow in step with the program.
Senior Dustin Brossette won all nine of his matches during the Griffins’ trip to Dallas last weekend. Brossette normally wrestles at 220 pounds, but Moeller decided to bump Brossette up to heavyweight for three matches during the trip.
In addition to being a member of the Griffins’ first wrestling squad, Brossette was part of North DeSoto’s 2012 Class 3A state baseball championship team, giving him a pair of notable achievements during his junior year.
Brossette wrestled with which accomplishment meant more.
“It was special to win state, but starting something new was equally as special,” said Brossette, also a Class 3A All-State linebacker. “It was great, as it was starting, to see all the kids sign up and everything.”
As the youth program grows, Moeller has found a way for it to benefit his high school squad.
“We go to the practices and help them learn,” said freshman Drennon Keen, whose older brother, Stetson, is a senior wrestler. “It helps you in your mind that you can help teach. When you help teach them, it helps you learn.”
Having Moeller around has been a boon for the Griffins.
Brossette, Keen and the rest of the Griffins are still relatively new wrestlers, putting even more emphasis on Moeller’s breadth of knowledge.
Growing up in Iowa gave Moeller an early introduction to the sport and a network of contacts he didn’t know existed. When the Griffins traveled to Dallas for a 27-team tournament, Moeller estimated 12 or so of the coaches were from Iowa and spent time rehashing their common histories.
“He’ll teach you whatever you want to know,” Brossette said. “Sometimes, he’ll give us websites to look at, but he knows pretty much all of it.”
Moeller knows what community support can do for fledgling programs, something he has pegged as one of his cornerstones for building the Griffins’ program, starting with hiis youth-level coaches.
“They 100 percent supported wrestling and bought into it,” Moeller said. “We have some great dads involved that are really, really excited about the sport and are putting in time with the kids. That’s one of the special things we have going for us at here at North DeSoto is it’s such a community. We’re all going for the same goal, and when we have it that way, everyone wants these kids to win at the high school level. Therefore, they’re going to put the right things in place for them to do that.
“That, and the community support, is really what’s going to drive this and all of our sports.”