Despite returning 18 state qualifiers, 13 state placers, and three state champions, the Cowboys strive to get even better

The Crook County Cowboy wrestling team is loaded with talent.

The Cowboys return 18 state qualifiers, 13 state placers, and three state champions from last year’s state championship team, yet Head Coach Jake Huffman believes that the team still has room to LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Jason Williams works to control Trevor Rasmussen during a drill at a recent Crook County High School wrestling practice. Williams is the defending state champion at 285 pounds, while Rasmussen also qualified for the state championships last year. The Cowboys open their season at the Central Oregon Referees Tournament which will be held at Mountain View High School beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7.

“I’m pleased, but I’m not satisfied,” Huffman said. “Just like a wrestler, I can’t come in here and be happy with everything. Obviously I’m happy with the talent level and I’m happy with the attitudes, but there’s things that I can do better — there’s things these kids can do better. It’s a never-ending battle with perfection. I mean, you are never going to reach it, but you are always trying to attain it. The goal is to get better every single day. We need to coach better, teach better, and these kids need to practice harder and smarter. Every single one of them has a weakness in their wrestling and you’ve got to continually get better.”

Not only do the Cowboys have a lot of returning state qualifiers, the team also has several talented wrestlers who just missed qualifying for the state tournament a year ago. Add several talented newcomers and there is no doubt that Crook County has one of the most talented and deep teams in the state at any level.

Still, Huffman is working hard to make sure that, like himself, the team is not satisfied with what they have already accomplished.

“I think our biggest opponent right now is satisfaction,” he said. “Satisfaction in the fact that we were first last year and satisfaction in the fact that we have a good team now, but our kids have to come in here and have a purpose every single day because we now are known and we now have a target on our back and we’ve got to get better. There’s not a single kid in here who can’t improve.”

Huffman believes that one of the keys to improvement is the quality of wrestling opportunities that individuals get in practice.

“People talk about when these guys graduate then you aren’t going to be any good,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what — what better opportunity for the guys who are young than to wrestle these guys. If you manage things right and you want to work in here, then you are going to be going against the best kids in the state and there’s no way you can do anything but improve. It’s a great situation that we are in. They’ve got some of the best examples in the state of what hard work looks like right here.”

Add in the leadership from the older wrestlers on the team, plus the quality of the assistant coaching staff, and Huffman believes that the program has all the pieces necessary to continue to be strong for years to come.

“We have some of the best kids in the state regardless of how they wrestle,” he said. “Just wonderful kids that have a lot of character and kids that have a lot of leadership ability. On top of that, we have probably the best assistant coaches in the state of Oregon if not everywhere.”

Huffman added that part of what makes the assistant coaching staff strong is that everyone is on the same page and any one of them has the ability to take over and run practice. On top of that, each coach has a different teaching style.

Our assistant coaching staff offers a lot of different things to these kids and allows every kid to connect on some level with one of them. Kids learn differently — coaches coach differently. Hopefully we have enough coaches in here that have different teaching strategies and different styles that we can reach all of these kids in some way. The big picture is exactly the same, the delivery is different. The philosophy and what we are trying to do for kids is all the same and we all know and trust each other.”

The Cowboys are so deep that it is impossible to mention all of the possible state qualifiers in a preview story. However, several wrestlers clearly stand out.

Colbran Meeker won the Class 4A state title at 138 pounds last year and has moved to 152 pounds, at least for now. While at Hermiston last year, Tyler Berger won the state Class 5A championship last year at 138 pounds, and wrestled at 160 pounds during the Cowboys' recent blue and gold scrimmage. Also winning a state championship a year ago is heavyweight Jason Williams.

Trayton Libolt, Grayson Munn, and Gunnar Robirts each finished second at state a year ago in their respective weight classes, while Hayden Bates finished third and Kurt Mode and Ryder Shinkle each finished fourth.

Also placing at state a year ago were Brendan Harkey and Curtis Crouch (fifth), and Clark Woodward and Zach Smith (sixth).

Other wrestlers to watch for include district champions Johnny Avina and Trevor Rasmussen as well as state qualifiers Brent Bannon, Michael Seyl, and Aaron Swindle.

The Cowboys open their season on Saturday at the Central Oregon Officials Tournament, which will be held at Mountain View High School, beginning at 10 a.m.

“Everybody’s going and they are all getting matches,” Huffman said. “We are bringing 58 kids to wrestle. It’s a neat opportunity for all of our coaches to see everybody wrestle at the same time.”

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