Doug Mosier isn’t kidding when he says wrestling is about family.
Two sons, Bryan and Brad, are on his coaching staff at Madison. Billy Stevens, coach at crosstown rival Mansfield Senior and a fellow officer at Mansfield Correctional Institute, is almost like a brother. Wife Deb does a lot of work behind the scenes, especially at the high school’s annual Coke Classic. Now one of his wrestlers, among the best one-two punches in north central Ohio, is living under the same roof.
Sophomore 106-pounder Alize Merrell, a Division I sectional champion last Saturday along with 113-pound sparring partner Trae Coopwood, moved in with empty-nesters Doug and Deb Mosier in August.
They have custody of Merrell, who takes a 31-4 record into this weekend’s combined Division II district tournament at Bowling Green.
“He adopted us,” Mosier said. “This was not about wrestling. It was about his mentorship and being supportive of his family. It was about teaching him about relationships and family structure and developing character as a human being.
“We did it for Alize, not for wrestling. Wrestling is just a bonus.”
Mosier has a deep fondness and a long history with Merrell and his family. In 1992, Merrell’s father, LeConte, was a state champion, and LeConte’s step-brother “Scooter” was a state qualifier for St. Peter’s, which was coached at that time by Mosier.
In 1996, Alize’s uncle, Roger Merrell, won a state championship for Mosier at Mansfield Senior. When Mosier took over at Madison the next year, Roger Merrell followed his coach and qualified for his fourth state tournament, placing fourth.
Leconte Merrell and Alize’s mom, Roz Kennel, are still very visible in their son’s life and supportive of his school activities, attending his meets. LeConte even assists his old coach from time to time.
“We have a special relationship because I’ve known the (Merrell) family for so long, and because family is important to us,” Mosier said. “My wife and I have five kids between us. Wrestling is a family thing for us.”
Family life extends beyond the mats, whether it’s going to church together on Sunday or making sure Alize buckles down in school.
“There’s been a little adjustment,” the soft-spoken Merrell said. “(Deb) is helping me with my schoolwork and grades. She asks me at least two times a day how things are going.”
On Sunday, when reached by phone, Mosier and his wife had just finished an “Insanity” workout with Alize.
“(The living arrangement) was difficult for him at first,” Mosier said. “But we’re doing everything we can to encourage him. He’s a good young man.”
Merrell wrestled for Mansfield Senior as a freshman, reaching the district tournament. Transferring to Madison didn’t make things ticklish between Mosier and Stevens, who used to coach together at St. Peter’s, Senior High and Madison. They have been friends for more than 30 years.
“Billy understands; we’re still good friends,” Mosier said. “We were talking (Sunday) about getting our kids together for workouts. We’ll probably get together as much as possible (if the season extends beyond districts).”
Coopwood, a junior and 2012 district qualifier, is even quieter than Merrell, if that’s possible. But he’s helped ease Merrell’s transition to a new school and wrestling environment. In fact, they’ve been good for each other.
“It’s all about confidence,” Mosier said. “These two push each other and work hard in the practice room. Alize was a little overweight at first and worked with Trae to get the weight off.”
Coopwood, 23-6, is a workout fanatic. Mosier, his lifting partner during the summer, couldn’t get him out of the weight room.
“When I told him I was going to take the month of July off, he said ‘Can I still come in and lift?’ ” Mosier said. “I told him in August you’ve earned the right to be team captain. He went to a lot of tournaments and Roughhouse (workouts in Ashland) and gave up football and track. His record shows it.”
By winning sectional titles, Merrell and Coopwood duplicated their feat at the Ohio Cardinal Conference tournament.
What Mosier admired most was that his lightweight tandem was able to persevere in one-point matches for their sectional titles.
“They both had so much gas left in the third period, and that makes a difference,” Mosier said. “Sometimes it’s ugly, but that’s OK as long as you win. Bill Flanegan (legendary Mansfield Senior coach) used to say if you get a takedown and an escape you can win 3-1.”
In the sectional finals at Medina, Merrell nipped Parma Padua’s Paul Petras 1-0 and Coopwood edged Bay’s Ben Tepper 2-1. It was Tepper who eliminated Coopwood from state meet contention last year with a controversial overtime decision at districts.
“That match was on my mind a lot,” Coopwood said, “but this time I was able to hold (Tepper) down. I have a lot of close matches, but I get after it in the third period.”
Madison’s dynamite duo will have plenty of company at Bowling Green in teammates Chaz Price (220, a sectional runner-up), Zane Speelman (126), John Scheurer (170), Darin Cox (182) and Mike Holzworth (285).
It’s the most district qualifiers the Rams have had since advancing 10 in Division I in 2008. That year, Josh Speelman was a state runner-up for Madison.
“I’m praying all seven make it (to state),” Mosier said. “I’m hoping my seniors (Price and Scheurer) can get there.”
It would be nice if Merrell could watch some video of his father’s ’92 state title run for inspiration, except there isn’t any. He has, however, seen footage on flowrestling.com of dad’s loss in the ’91 finals to Tim Dernlan, a three-time champ for West Liberty Salem and now head coach at Ashland University, where LeConte Merrell went on to earn All-America honors.
“I see my dad in me,” Alize said. “Whatever I do, I got it from him. He’s still a tough match.”