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Haynes with THS assistant coach Rod Gaddy

Haynes a state champ

By Michael Butler

Thousands of hours of preparation and dedication have paid off. Zak Haynes is a state champion.

Haynes won the Class 5A 126-pound division on Saturday at the AHSAA State Championships at the Von Braun Civic Center in Huntsville.

"Last year I had a pretty rough knee injury," Haynes said. "This year I came back and prayed every day for God to keep every one of us healthy. He did that for the most part. I had high hopes in my last year. Once I got there I felt like it was meant to be."

Haynes was banged up for a portion of his senior season, but overcame the setback to reach the pinnacle as a wrestler.

"I kind of got down on myself a little bit. I pushed through it, rehabbed and got my shoulder right. At Huntsville I was good to go. It was rock-n-roll time."

Haynes has wrestled with the high school team since being a seventh grader. The five-time placer at the state championships admits that being a seasoned senior helped in winning the gold medal.

"Every year you realize time is ticking. When you get older you tend to get better. The crowd doesn't matter. You've got the support in the stands, but you've got to focus on your opponent and toe the line."

The high finish at state previously was third for Haynes, so this was his first time in a title match.

"It was tough to go to sleep. I was more excited than I was nervous."

Haynes (43-3) beat Hayden's Evan Phillips (52-4) in a 7-4 decision.

Haynes speaking with Phillip Nelson and Mark Bell at Senior Night during Tallassee Times TV's webcast on YouTube

"I felt good about it once I got up 7-0. I should've kept trying to score, but I was really just trying to ride it out."

THS head coach John Mask spoke about his co-captain in his final match.

"They went out of bounds with 20 seconds left and Zak smiled at us and the Tallassee fans. We knew he had it under control. Zak had the recipe. We weren't cocky, but confident."

Haynes closes out his career with a 227-24 record.

"It's thousands of hours of mat time, running, technique and diet. People don't know what it takes to be a state champion. Words can't describe it. It felt like a monkey off my back to bring it back to Tallassee. I'm going to miss that feeling. I'll be chasing that feeling for the rest of my life. It was awesome."

Tallassee had a 12-year string of producing individual state champions that had been put on hold for the last two years until Saturday.

The Tigers other five state representatives will be back next season; Land Bell (106), Brendan Emfinger (113), Christian McCary (132) John Burnham (138), Mason Bell (152) and Jake Debardelaben (160). McCary, an eighth grader, placed fifth at the VBCC.

"We've got some mighty fine young men," Mask said of the returning class. "We were very young. The sky is the limit. I'm tremendously proud of all the kids and their hard work."

Arab was the Class 1A-5A state champion. Jasper was second, followed by Ranburne. Tallassee was 12th out of 49 teams represented.

Photos by Mark Bell