MARTINSVILLE — Justin Smith, Franklin County’s head wrestling coach since 2017, has resigned to accept the head coaching position at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC), which is adding wrestling to its intercollegiate athletic program.
Smith and FCHS Athletic Director Crystal Worley confirmed Smith’s resignation in emails to The Franklin News-Post.
Smith said former Cave Spring head coach Tim Nininger will serve as his assistant coach.
“Together, Tim and I have (more than) 20 years of coaching experience and (more than) 40 total years of experience with the sport of wrestling,’’ Smith said in a prepared statement.
“We have a proven track record of building strong wrestling programs and we are excited to be given the opportunity to do the same at Patrick Henry,’’ Smith said.
Patrick Henry competes in Region 10 of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).
Smith said he plans to built his inaugural Patriots squad with local talent. The college said in a prepared statement that it plans to “recruit up to 30 wrestlers by the fall.’’
“We are very well aware of the strength of wrestling in our area,’’ Smith said. “We aim to be a force in the wrestling community in Southwest Virginia.’’
Smith led the Eagles to the 2018 Piedmont District championship. In 2019, nine FCHS wrestlers qualified for the Class 6 state tournament, and former standout Brian Richards won the Region B individual championship at 160 pounds.
Smith is a former NCAA Division I wrestler at Liberty University, and an alumnus of FCHS.
A four-year letter winner in wrestling for the Eagles, Smith won district championships during his junior and senior years at 130 pounds and 145 pounds. Outside of the program, he captured two state Judo titles.
FCHS’s new head coach will be its fourth since Emanuel Brown resigned following the 2014 season.
Smith’s position is a part-time one, he said in an email to the News-Post, thus he will continue to serve as an investigator with the Rocky Mount Police Department.
“I’m already getting a handful of verbal commitments,’’ Smith said.
Richards has given Patrick Henry a non-binding oral commitment, Smith said, adding that Richards is projected to compete in the 165-pound weight class. Also former FCHS wrestler Tanner Young has made an oral commitment, according to a published report.
Following his prep career at Christiansburg, where he claimed a state championship, Nininger wrestled at NCAA Division I Clemson (South Carolina) University where he earned All-America honors.
During Nininger’s coaching tenure at Cave Spring, the Knights captured multiple individual championship in Class 3.
“We absolutely believe we have the right coaches to lead our wrestling program,’’ Patrick Henry Athletic Director Brian Henderson said in the prepared statement.
“I’m excited to support them as they create many new opportunities for the student-athletes of our area and beyond,’’ Henderson said.
Patrick Henry is renovating a wrestling practice room, the statement said. Henderson said he has been in talks with college president Angeline Godwin regarding the addition of wrestling.
“For years, ever since I was first hired, Dr. Godwin had expressed interested in wrestling. We’ve just not had the space available for it,’’ Henderson said.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdowns and cancellations related to it has given college officials, “time to evaluate and discuss new opportunities and develop creative solutions to make the program feasible,’’ the release said.
“We are entering this exciting new adventure with extra care and caution. We, the PHCC athletic department, coaches and student-athletes will continue to adhere to all national and state guidelines as it relates to COVID,’’ Henderson said.
“While we’re keeping an eye on the COVID situation — we’re aware that we may need to be flexible with our plans for the fall — we are moving forward with recruiting student-athletes,’’ Henderson said. “We have an extreme amount of interest and a new for two-year college wrestling program in our area,’’ Henderson said.
“As for all sports, NJCAA leadership is monitoring the COVID situation closely and will make the best decisions for the safety of our student-athletes. Season start dates my be delayed. Whatever decision is made, PHCC will be ready to continue providing academic and athletic opportunities for all student-athletes,’’ Henderson said.
The Patriots are scheduled to open their inaugural season Nov. 14-15 in the Star City Open, hosted by Ferrum College, according to a published report.