LEXINGTON – Andrew Heath’s first meeting with his team as the new head wrestling coach at Lexington was met with dead silence Friday.
It was a scene right out of an episode of “Punk’d.”
“I told them everything was going to be different, everything was going to change and they got bug-eyed,” Heath said. “Then I assured them, ‘Guys, nothing’s going to change.’ Obviously, it’s going to be a little different, but we’re still going to focus on the fundamentals, do the work in the practice room, focus on the process and let the results take care of themselves.”
Heath, 29, inherits a program built into a state power by Brent Rastetter. He left earlier this month to oversee a start-up wrestling program at Otterbein University.
Under Rastetter’s watch, Lex has won eight consecutive Ohio Cardinal Conference titles, eight of the last nine J.C. Gorman Invitationals, produced the school’s first four state champs and finished among the top 10 Division II schools six of the last seven years.
Heath admitted to having some reservations about succeeding a north central Ohio coaching giant like “Ratty.”
“We’re talking about one of the best coaches ever in this area,” Heath said. “Obviously, he set a standard I can only hope to reach, not just in wrestling but in his relationship with kids.
“I’m proof of that because of the relationship he had with me.”
Rastetter and Heath spent the past 17 years together, either as coach-athlete or coach-sidekick, starting when Heath was in seventh grade. He began coaching at the junior high right out of high school, took over that team his second year and then was promoted to head junior varsity coach and varsity assistant last winter.
“Maybe it was a premonition, but I wanted closer contact with him (last season) in case anything like (me leaving) happened,” Rastetter said. “He’s a great kid. There is nobody, absolutely nobody, nobody even close, who loves Lexington wrestling as much as he does.
“He was an average varsity wrestler; he’ll be the first to admit it, but he’s one of those guys who loves giving back, who loves coaching. When I recruit kids now, I don’t care if they’re an elite kid; I want someone who has a passion for the sport. I want those kind of kids in the practice room. Andrew has always had that passion for the sport.”
Heath will retain former Lex star Dave Smith and Jeff Meyer off Rastetter’s staff to be his right- and left-hand men. Lex has been holding open mats on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the first official day of practice is Nov. 9. The Minutemen need to replace 10 senior starters in their lineup and return only two district qualifiers in Aidan Ammons (170) and T.J. Gerhardt (182).
Heath doesn’t shy away from using the “R” word, but his isn’t “rebuild” or “reload.”
“It’s a reboot,” he said. “We’re going to be young. We not only lost 10 seniors, we lost 10 four-year lettermen who have been in the lineup since they were freshmen. When that happens, the grade behind them doesn’t get any varsity time, so we’ve lost a year. We won’t have any seniors that I know of. The good thing is the juniors have had a chance to develop.
“We’re not going to be what we were, but we’re going to go hard and we’re going to compete.”
It’s not widely known, but Heath would often meet with wrestlers Drew Kasper, Brandon Leynaud and Nate Temple at a local gym after school for weight-training sessions. This went on for a couple years. Nobody told him he had to do it. It was Heath building a bond with wrestlers like the one he shared in his youth with Rastetter.
“He’ll put the time in; he knew how important that was to me building the program,” Rastetter said. “I think he exceeded his ability as a wrestler and football player and once he finds his own niche as a coach he’ll pull that out of the kids. I’ve had a lot of wrestlers come back and coach, but none have put themselves into it and invested the time like he did.”
Heath was in the seat next to Rastetter on the raised mat when Kasper won a 182-pound state championship in March.
“I had been coaching him since he was a baby,” Heath said. “To experience that with him … I want to do that again. That’s why I’m doing this. He said in fifth grade he wanted to be a state champ and I told him I’d do whatever I could to help.
“Brent taught me not to put a ceiling on kids, that they can achieve anything they want.”
That approach certainly seems to have worked with Heath, who went from being an unheralded wrestler to overseeing one of the best programs in Ohio.
“His desire reminded me of the opportunity I had to come home to my alma mater,” director Joe Roberts, a Lex grad,said. “Not many get that opportunity. I kind of got emotional seeing the passion he had for wanting to coach his alma mater.
“He’s not going to reinvent the wheel. He wants to build on the foundation coach Rastetter has built and expand it. He has the same mindset with young kids as Ratty. Be patient, push them and hope they’re ready come the end of the season.”
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