Central Athletic Director Justin Broughman didn’t need to look far to find his next wrestling coach.

Dustin Thomas, who teaches at the school and who took over as the Falcons’ golf coach last fall, has been tapped as the school’s newest wrestling coach, an appointment that received School Board approval at last week’s meeting.

Thomas spent some time on the wrestling mat while a student at nearby Stonewall Jackson High School, and he said this week it’s a sport that’s held his interest even after his graduation in 2016.

“I’ve always paid attention to Virginia high school wrestling. It’s something that I’ve always had an interest in, so when the opening came up here I thought it was a good time for me to step in, make some changes and do my best to improve the program,” Thomas said. “We’ve got some great pieces here. I think it’s something we definitely can really build on here.”

Central’s previous coach, Greg Stickles, spent his three seasons trying to foster a greater interest in the school’s wrestling program and worked to build up the team’s participation numbers. Stickles was successful in increasing those numbers last winter, though many of the wrestlers who joined the ranks were young and were either not yet eligible or not yet physically ready for varsity competition.

Broughman said Thursday that he’s hoping Thomas can continue the push to encourage more participation and draw more student-athletes to the wrestling mat.

“One of the things that I think we’ve long desired for wrestling at Central is having a full competitive squad,” Broughman said. “We’ve had tremendous success on an individual basis. We sent one kid last year to the state tournament, three the year before, but with that we only had just a handful that were actually on the varsity squad. I’m hoping Dustin, being as energetic and as young and as likeable as he is among the kids, that he can really help us grow the program and see more kids come out.”

For Thomas, he’s not just going for quantity, however. He noted that while he was in high school Central’s wrestlers wore shirts that bore the phrase “iron sharpens iron,” and he wants the Falcons to get back to that type of attitude while attracting quality wrestlers to the Falcons’ program.

“It’s not all about having a million kids in the room, it’s about having good kids in the room,” Thomas said. “Like I said, iron sharpens iron – just having good kids be able to drill with each other, making kids better by going against one another every single day is one thing I want to achieve. I just want to really stress to the kids … to give the best they can, and the best they’re gonna get is by working with each other, during this time especially where there’s restrictions and limitations (due to COVID-19).”

Thomas, who said he’s excited for the challenge of taking over a program in the middle of a pandemic, is hopeful that being a familiar face in the building and in the athletics program will help in his quest to make the Falcons more competitive.

“One thing I learned is being in the school, being a presence, kids seeing you every single day and being involved with things, it’s encouraging for the kids seeing you doing that stuff,” he said. “… If they see you putting in 100% … during the day to make the program better, they’re gonna buy into you.”

Broughman said that through frequent conversations with Thomas, the Falcons’ new wrestling coach seems confident that he can garner enough interest, even while the threat of COVID-19 transmission may deter some students and their parents from sports, to lay the groundwork for a competitive squad this winter.”

“He’s done a lot of reaching out to kids by email and trying to catch them if they’re in the building or whatever to talk to them,” Broughman said. “I’m hopeful. It’d be really great to have 14 kids, to be able to run a full starting lineup out there and build up from that. I think that a lot of the kids that we had start out last year kind of had the mindset that they were gonna win immediately and wrestling is not that kind of sport. It’s, to me, the hardest, most challenging sport there is at the high school level and I think our kids kind of got a little humbled by it last year, that they weren’t immediately a state champion. But if you can get the kids out and show them that there is progress, I think that can go a long way.”

– Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com