Alex Hudson was the most notable. He finished third in the state in 2006 before claiming three consecutive titles for the Yellow Jackets and completing his career as the all-time wins leader in team history.
There have been other standouts, too, including Colby Reinhart, who was a state runner-up in 2010 and placed fifth in 2009, as well other talented wrestlers like Michael Kaminski, Mike Hudson and Robert Hudson.
The latest in this line of successful Sprayberry wrestlers is Thomas Cook, who has squarely established himself as the Yellow Jackets’ leader in 2012-13, and he has the wins to back up the claim.
The 5-foot-9 senior took a 35-1 record into Wednesday’s dual with Walton and this weekend’s Cobb County Invitational. Cook’s accolades include a third-place finish at 152 pounds at last year’s Class AAAA state traditional championship, a third-place finish at county and a region championship.
In 2011, Cook placed sixth in the state at 145 pounds and was fourth in the county and region tournaments, continuing a steady progression since taking up the sport in the seventh grade.
Cook is expecting to finish out the year on the podium once again, and thus extending the Yellow Jackets’ success for another season.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better and better each year,” said Cook, who is wrestling at 152 pounds this season. “I’ve placed at state the last two years, and this year my technique is much better, so I fell like I should get there again.
“I’m good on my feet, and I think it’s hard to take me down. As long as I wrestle my match, I think it’s tough to beat me.”
When Cook started wrestling in middle school, he was already playing football and wanted to try something new in the winter season. He began to realize he liked wrestling more as he got better at it, and he decided to quit football altogether after his freshman year at Sprayberry.
Now a team captain, Cook is displaying the talents coach Gary DeHaven saw in him years ago.
“Cook is a kid that, compared to a lot of the really good wrestlers at the other east Cobb schools, got a late start,” DeHaven said, “but he’s showed promise. Nobody picked him to do well as a sophomore and he did. He made huge strides late in his junior year and beat a lot of the guys that eventually went on to win state championships.
“He’s beaten a lot of quality kids over the years, and we’re looking for him do some big things.”
DeHaven knew he had a talented wrestler when he saw Cook wrestle Rinehart during practice and didn’t quit.
“I knew Cook was going to be special because he kept coming back to practice,” he said. “Colby was a senior when Cook was a freshman and Colby would just wear him out in practice. They were partners, but Cook kept coming back to practice, even though Colby kept abusing him. I knew then that he really wanted this.”
Cook is excited for the remainder of the season and hopes to have the opportunity to finish at the top of the podium this year instead of having to look up to the champion the past two years. Part of his motivation stems from last season, when he beat Pope’s Jake Henson for the 152-pound region championship, but then had to watch from his third-place perch as Henson was crowned the state champion.
“It would be a great feeling to be on top of the podium,” said Cook, who is considering offers from several different colleges, including Limestone, Luther, Life and Shorter. “I’ve been at the bottom, and I’ve been third looking at the guy I beat at region. To be on top would feel right. It’s what you train on for years and you accomplish what you work for. That’s what I’m working for.”