With the 11-4 decision, Langford walked off the mat and into the Walker Valley history books as the first Mustang to ever win a wrestling state championship.
“That is something we are going to be able to build on for the future,” said Mustangs coach Al Morris.
Morris also had high praise for his 195-pounder who brought home a second-place finish for the Mustangs.
“I’m just as proud of Billy Raulston. He went out there and battled a very tough opponent. He definitely gave a respectable effort. The good thing is Billy is coming back,” said the Walker Valley coach.
Morris said the overall performance by the Mustangs only further strengthens the already strong foundation of the program.
“We had two other guys place, Chase Gregory and Zack Miller. They are coming back as well. We are only losing a few guys. As great a season as I feel we had at Walker Valley this year, the future is bright for us. We had our highest finish in the state tournament that we’ve ever had,” he said.
Langford’s win came against a familiar foe in Tullahoma’s Austin Richard. The two had squared off twice before with Langford winning both matches. But, the outcome of Saturday’s finals were far from decided when the pair stepped into the circle to decide the state champion.
“Both of us know each other and it was pretty much anticipated. There was no telling how it was going to go. It ended up being for me,” admitted the new King of the 138-pound Hill.
“We wrestled each other last year for fifth and sixth place at 132. I came out on top in that one. We wrestled again at the beginning of this year in the Ooltewah tournament finals and I won that match, 8-6, a close match.
With a final record of 47-0 headed into the final match, it would seem nerves would be of small consequence to a seasoned veteran like Langford. But such was not the case. Fortunately for the new champion, the butterflies flew away before the beginning of the match and a solid game plan helped see to it Langford finished his senior year with a perfect 48-0 record and a state championship.
“I’ve been so close every year and I finally got it. I was scared and nervous, but it all went away when I stepped onto the mat and everything calmed down,” he recalled.
“I was really nervous, but me and the coaches went over the game plan and we stuck to it beautifully. They said get up, take him down. If you can’t turn him, cut him loose and keep attacking. I did and it all paid off. In the end everything fell together.”
Once the match started and skill and instinct took over, the confidence quickly returned and only once in the six-minute bout did Langford feel anxiety.
“The only doubt I felt was when I got hit with the one stalling call. I knew that I was probably sitting still a bit too much and I had to pick it up. But, I knew pretty much by the game plan that I could definitely secure the win if I just kept wrestling the way I was. The coaches set the game plan, I followed it and it worked beautifully,” said the senior wrestler.
“When I saw the 17 seconds up in the third period and I was on top, I pretty much knew I was going to win it. There is nothing better.”
After the match was over and Langford had received congratulatory hugs from his coaches, a moment with his father was when the real emotions and reality of the moment set in.
“I got up and I was fine. As I started to leave it finally hit me as I passed the gates and saw my coaches and all my friends that I had won the state. It was overwhelming,” he said. “There were a couple of tears shed in a moment with my dad. I actually tied my dad’s record when he was a senior in high school with 48-0. I was very happy and we shared a moment. It was exciting.”
Basking in the afterglow of the moment during the awards ceremonies, Langford said although his is the first championship for the wrestling Mustangs, the program is just beginning to fly.
“I think Walker Valley is going to do big things. Our junior Billy Raulston (195 pounds) got second. We are the first two state finalists the school has ever had. We ended up with four medalists. We’ve never had more than two. I was the first, and just from my four years at the school it shows how far the program has come,” he said. “With the coaching staff there, there is no doubt in my mind, whether it be next year or a couple of years, the program will be right up there with the top teams in the state.”
Walker Valley’s first win in the state wrestling championships is important in more ways than one, according to Morris. The victory signifies a new era in Mustangs wrestling, one Morris says shows how far things have come since Walker Valley sent its first wrestler to the mat.
“Someone asked me why is it important that we finish ahead of Bradley. Well, that’s not our goal, but it is a statement for our program as far as how far we have come,” Morris said of Walker Valley wrestling’s rising star. “I respect that program (Bradley) and the facts are Walker Valley is a team now that will be talked about in the same conversations as some of those other teams. We don’t have the history, but the history is not what we’re doing here. This is about now.”