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April 20, 2014

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Devils Overcome Odds, Doubters At State Tournament

Originally published: 2013-02-04 11:18:13
Last modified: 2013-02-04 11:20:11



FRANKLIN - The odds were stacked against them from the onset.

The Greeneville wrestling team entered the Class A/AA state duals wrestling tournament unranked and unheralded.

But the Devils believed in themselves, they believed in each other, and they left the Williamson County Expo Center Saturday night as state champions.

"If you look at all the ranking websites, we're not ranked, they don't look at us," Greeneville senior Atlas Fagundes said. "We're an honorable mention team."

"Coach always tells us that we're a blue collar team. We're the guys that go out and work real hard and never get paid."

The odds were not quite as dismal as David versus Goliath or Leonidas and his 300 Spartans facing a Persian horde at the Battle of Thermopylae, but Hickory High versus South Bend Central from the iconic film Hoosiers would be an apt comparison.

Greeneville even had a Jimmy Chitwood rise to the occasion with only enough time for one last shot. Jon Boatman stepped up in the last match and pinned his opponent to carry the Greene Devils to a state title.

Greeneville started the tournament with a tough draw against the No. 2 seed in the tournament, Hixson. The Devils were not favored and nobody expected them to win.

The Devils had seen Hixson, in the Greeneville Invitational Tournament at Hal Henard Gym back in January. The Wildcats dominated that day, claiming the championship by 99.5 points over runner-up Greeneville.

But the Devils knew they had improved since the GIT.

"When the brackets came out, me and my co-captain John Boatman went into coach Shelton's office and looked at them, and we looked at each other and said 'Dude, we can win this'."

Greeneville took down the Wildcats to the surprise of everyone in the Expo Center in Franklin. Even a TSSAA official did a double take when collecting the score from the book keeper after the match.

But even then, it was assumed that the Devils had had their time in the sun and they would fade back into the oblivion they rose from.

Many thought Greeneville should have just been happy to be there. The Devils should have collected their participation ribbons and headed home, proud to have made an appearance in the state tournament.

Marshall Brown, Justin Carlson, Zach Reaves, Jared Bond, Atlas Fagundes and Boatman had others plans. They came for state gold and it did not matter to them if anyone else believed in them. They just needed the two dozen guys who rode the bus down I-40 to believe.

"The only 22 people in the state of Tennessee that expected us to win rode the bus down here with me," Greeneville head coach Randy Shelton said. "It was just my guys. Nobody...nobody expected us to win. There was not a sole not wearing a green uniform that expected us to win."

Greeneville went on to defeat No. 3 seed East Ridge in the semifinals to earn a shot at history.

"We got here and went through number two Hixon and when we beat them we told ourselves, 'You know what? Nobody can stop us'." Fagundes said. "Then we get in a battle with East Ridge and they're the number three team in the state, but we got by them."

Coach Shelton did not bring his team into the Expo Center in the wee hours of the morning to measure the radius of the mat to prove to his guys that it was just like those at home, but whatever he did worked.

Those handful of guys in green singlets were not going to let anything stand in their way.

Pigeon Forge came in having wrestled in the state finals each of the past two years. They were the top seeded team in the tournament and were expected to come away as state champions.

The Tigers rolled into the tournament as a big time program, complete with a cheerleading squad and a half dozen banners to hang from the arena wall.

"We have great fans, but we don't match up with the Pigeon Forge cheerleaders and the Cleveland cheerleaders and they're fans sections that bring 120 parents," Fagundes said. "We don't match up with that, so we have to rally around the bench and behind each other."

It looked as though the clock had struck midnight on the Devils' Cinderella run mid-way through the championship match when they trailed the Tigers 27-3.

"We said, 'Man, we're not ending our senior year on losses. The five seniors on this team wouldn't end it on losses," Fagundes said.

The Devils were in Franklin to take care of business and that is exactly what they did. They rallied and finished the match by outscoring Pigeon Forge 33-7 down the stretch to take home their first team state championship in school history.

Fagundes said, "Now they'll have to believe in us. They don't have an option. We're the state champs."

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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