Al Yauck has seen many great victories over his 14-year career as the Oconee County High School varsity wrestling coach.
He remembers a Hail Mary-like win against Toombs County when his last wrestler in the dual won with a pin and the coliseum erupted in cheers. Yauck also remembers when former Warrior and AAU-All American Rexx Hallyburtun jumped on Yauck and nearly knocked him over after winning one of his two state championships.
Yauck and his wrestlers could not afford to be surprised in the 2020-21 season, but Yauck made an exception on senior night.
After Yauck’s Warriors went 3-0 in a home tournament by knocking off East Jackson High School, Norcross High School and Dacula High School to end the regular season 15-3, Oconee County High School administrators came in holding a plaque celebrating Yauck’s 300th career coaching win.
His team was blindsided.
Eric Thompson, a junior at Oconee County, remembers thinking “like ‘oh snap’. It’s a big milestone that came out of nowhere.”
Yauck told his school’s administrators before his season started that he was 15 victories shy of the milestone, but the Warriors had a positive COVID-19 case after the first tournament of the season.
Amid constant cancelations, Yauck had begun to lose hope that he would attain his 300th win this season. He began to think it might take until next season.
In the end, however, Yauck’s team came through with a clutch performance to close the regular season and give him the milestone achievement.
“I was proud of the kids,” Yauck said. “We've only got two seniors on the team and we've gotten progressively better throughout the year and I’m proud of their work. I'm just glad it happened during the regular season and not during postseason. I want the focus to be on the kids and what they're doing and not on me in any way.”
Yauck said that his team had some issues with COVID-19 at the beginning of the season. The Warriors have been lucky since then.
Yauck got the virus himself at one point but he turned it into an important life lesson. He said that “mental toughness is huge.”
“We talk about in here,” Yauck said in his office located near the wrestling room. “And that mental toughness extends off the mat. It extends to their everyday life and in the classroom. We want them to grow up and be able to attack adversity in life.”
At any point, the Wrestling Warriors could get the notification that postseason matches are canceled or postponed. But rather than harping on that, Yauck keeps his wrestlers focused on improving themselves.
“He's always making sure that you're doing the right stuff in the wrestling room and outside,” Thompson said. “He made you not focus on the bad things, and always look to just keep going and stay optimistic throughout the entire thing.”
Yauck has coached five state champions and five national All Americans during his tenure at Oconee County High School.
Last Saturday, he coached the team to a third place finish in the Region 8-AAA area duals.
With the postseason around the corner, Yauck’s wrestlers are focused now more than ever.
One of the Warriors’ two seniors, Zach Cartrette, said that he takes inspiration from Yauck’s personal wrestling stories.
“When [Yauck] was first wrestling in high school, he was wrestling with one of his buddies that was a state champion, and that guy just would always beat him all the time,” Cartrette said. “But one day, Yauck turned him and pinned him, and then the guy looked at him and said, ‘That's how you should wrestle all the time.’ I really think that sticks with a lot of us and gives us a lot of good motivation.”