Southeast Whitfield High School graduate Carlos Fraire thought he was done with wrestling.
Truett-McConnell College coach Jim Bailey didn’t want a state champion to stay off the mat.
Bailey continued to stay in contact with the former Raider, who graduated this year. Fraire finally came around and decided he wasn’t finished with the sport. On Monday, he signed a partial athletic scholarship with Truett-McConnell, which is in Cleveland, Ga., and competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
Fraire also considered the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as well as Kentucky’s Campbellsville University, but he chose Truett-McConnell for one reason.
“The coach,” he said. “I was going to go to Dalton State College and not wrestle. I told the coach and he said, ‘Sorry, bud. If you change your mind, I’ll be here for you. If you need anything, I’ll be here for you.’ He kept texting me. He never gave up. He really cared. About two months later, I called him back and said, ‘Do you still need a (197-pound) wrestler?’ He said, ‘Yeah,’ and, ‘Come on.’”
The latter conversation took place earlier this month.
“He wanted to be sure,” said Michael Herndon, Southeast’s head coach the past two seasons and an assistant for the Raiders during Fraire’s sophomore year. “He didn’t want to move away. He wanted to stay here in Dalton, but I think he finally decided he wanted to wrestle and he’d move away for it.”
It’s a decision that made Bailey happy.
“We talked and he said he was just going to college,” Bailey said. “Then he said he can’t stand that. He said he can’t not wrestle. ... I let him know the door wasn’t closed. I kept telling him, ‘I hate to see your talent go to waste.’”
Fraire didn’t waste his talent at Southeast. After finishing as the runner-up at 220 pounds at the Georgia High School Association’s Class 4A state traditional tournament as a junior, he won the state title for the same weight and classification this past season. He was also part of the first Southeast squad to reach the Class 4A state duals tournament as the Raiders advanced this year, and he was also a three-time member of The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Wrestling Team. This past year he was the newspaper’s Wrestler of the Year.
“That always helps, because that proves he has achieved well,” Bailey said. “I like the way he wrestles. I saw him early in the year.”
Truett-McConnell’s program is preparing for its third year of competition. All 20 wrestlers on the roster on the school’s athletics website are from Georgia, and only one is a senior.
For NAIA wrestling, there are separate national tournaments for teams and individuals. For the team event, a program must have earned at least a certain ranking the year prior to be invited. Individuals can qualify by being one of the top four finishers in their weight class in one of the four regional tournaments held across the country.
“We’ve had some moderate success,” Bailey said. “We’ve had some guys make nationals. We’re just hoping to turn a corner and get some good recruiting classes in.”
Although there is a 285-pound weight class in NAIA wrestling, the 220 class doesn’t exist, so Fraire plans to drop down to 197. He is accustomed to losing weight, though. Fraire was a defensive lineman for Southeast’s football team and played at a higher weight for that sport, so he began this past wrestling season in the 285-pound weight class before moving into the 220 class later in the schedule.
Bailey believes Fraire has the fundamentals to succeed at the college level, regardless of the size of his competition.
“He’s good on his feet,” Bailey said. “In college wrestling, you have to be able to take people down and defend yourself. He does a good job on his feet and has good technique. I like that with my big guys, being able to take guys down.”