STRASBURG -- Things are a bit different for Daniel Reynolds these days.
Reynolds has long been associated with Strasburg’s wrestling program, having wrestled for the Rams at the turn of the last decade and having been an unofficial assistant coach for several years before eventually joining the coaching staff in an official capacity as a volunteer assistant three years ago. But now Reynolds is calling the shots as the head coach of the program he helped lead to a third-place finish during his senior season in 2011.
“It’s a little bit different from just popping in, pushing a guy, drilling with this one guy or just helping a guy get a good work out,” said Reynolds, who replaced Mike Wood after the latter served at the helm of Strasburg’s wrestling program for six seasons. “I’ve got to make sure the technique is right. I’ve got to make sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s just everything on a larger scale, basically.”
It’s all very new territory for Reynolds -- the dealing with parents, the setting of rules and disciplinary measures, the role switch from relatable young volunteer assistant to the “enforcer” of the program -- but he already has an idea of the things he wants Strasburg’s wrestling team to be built around under his leadership.
Speaking last week of his new venture two weeks before Strasburg opens the 2019-20 season, Reynolds delved into great detail about the culture he hopes to bring to the Rams.
He wants the program to be tightly run, one in which its wrestlers hold each other accountable, not just on the wrestling mat but in the classroom. He wants the upperclassmen to assume strong leadership roles, to the point where they have the trust of coaches and teammates to initiate and conduct certain aspects of practice.
Reynolds wants the culture to be one of “embracing the challenge,” one that prioritizes toughness in a sport that requires plenty of it. He’s emphasizing sportsmanship, respect for the officials and respect for the opposition, and “cutting out the shortcuts.” He wants the program’s younger, less established wrestlers to prove to coaches and teammates that they’re ready to contribute through relentless hard work.
And after a down year in 2018-19, Reynolds wants to return Strasburg to its winning ways.
“I want to get the team back to the championship caliber,” said Reynolds, who was the Group A state runner-up at 135 pounds as a senior in 2011. “It’s been a couple years since we’ve had individual state champions but I want to take the focus off of the individual. I know it’s an individual sport. One guy’s out there at a time, one-on-one, but I want there to be a strong team aspect. I want our wrestlers to put team goals first. If you do the right things for yourself and you do everything you can to better yourself, ultimately it should help the team as a whole. Each piece should fall in line.”
Last season was a stray from the norm for Strasburg, which battled declining participation numbers and injuries and tumbled to a 14th-place finish at the Class 2 state tournament, a sobering outcome for a program accustomed to annually contending for top-three finishes. But the Rams, who won the Bull Run District tournament and placed third in the Region 2B Championships last year, could be built to bounce back in 2019-20.
Strasburg lost just two seniors from last year’s squad and returns four of its five 2019 state qualifiers, the experienced quartet of Peyton Stickles, Jaylon Burks, Alec Campbell and Luke Jenkins that combined for 151 wins a year ago. Stickles (132 pounds) and Campbell (170) won the Rams’ two individual regional titles last season, while Burks (138) led Strasburg at the state tournament with his third-place finish. All three of those wrestlers earned medals at the state level.
“We have guys that have a lot of years under their belt as far as experience, a lot of guys that have come up through the youth program, so I’m hopeful that we should be able to crack the top 10 (at the state tournament) at least,” said Reynolds, who takes over a program that has finished outside the top five at the state tournament the past two seasons and hasn’t had a wrestler win a state title since 2017.
“I’m optimistic. I want the guys to shoot high. I don’t want them to be afraid to fail. That’s like another thing that I don’t want to happen, is kids not pushing themselves. They care but they’re afraid to invest because they’re afraid to fail. I don’t want them to be afraid to invest all of what they have because if they don’t reach that goal, I don’t want them to be afraid of that, basically.”
Reynolds, who noted that Strasburg could struggle to fill lineup spots at 113 and 285 pounds, added that some newcomers to the program could jump right into impactful roles.
Freshman 106-pounder Ethan Asher, the younger brother of junior Zach Asher (who went 29-17 at 120 pounds for the Rams last season), won a handful of state titles at the middle school level, according to Reynolds, and Reynolds expects the freshman could be state tournament-bound this season.
Reynolds added that freshman Chuck Fake, who practiced with and wrestled exhibition matches for the varsity squad last season, could be the Rams’ starting 170-pounder, and senior Bradley Ferrell, a first-year wrestler who was recruited from the football team, figures to certify at 195 pounds and could get bumped to fill a spot at 220.
Two returning wrestlers with starting experience, sophomores Cole Ramey (20-17 at 126 pounds last season) and Anakin Burks (16-12 at 113), will compete for the starting spot at 120 pounds, Reynolds said.
“All I ask is show up every day, show 100 percent effort and do what you can to get better,” Reynolds said. “Just have the will to get better, don’t just go through the motions every day, try to be excited for practice, have a goal, have a goal every day. … You can start with a simple goal. If you don’t know what your goal should be, you want to get better today and just go for it.”