MUNCIE, Ind. — Delta wrestling head coach Cody LeCount wore a big smile as parents and peers approached to offer their congratulations.
His boys had just swept the Jay County Doubles Duals on Dec. 7, beating Winchester 57-18 before edging then-No. 3 Class 2A ranked Jay County 43-36.
The evening elevated the Eagles' record to 7-2, already more wins than in the 2020 and 2019 seasons. The team consists of just one senior, Dillon Tuttle, and two juniors, yet LeCount and the team feel they're already starting to realize this is the start of something special.
"Delta's always been good but they haven't really had a big spark in the last few years or so. They've been so-called 'down,' and I think a big win like that really got the kids going," LeCount said. "I think it's really going to help us ignite through the rest of this (season) ... it shows the true potential of how good we can really be."
The Eagles did just that by going 5-0 at their Delta Duals meet on Dec. 11, another positive step that put the program on pace for its best record since 2016 and third in the latest IndianaMat Class 2A rankings. With Delta currently 13-2, those who persuaded LeCount to join after years of pursuit have not been disappointed.
"It's my favorite season I've ever had," Tuttle said.
LeCount's wrestling credentials would interest almost any school in need of a coach. A 2014 graduate of Perry Meridian, LeCount was named the IndyStar's 2014 Wrestler of the Year following a stellar high school career. He finished with a 184-2 record and was a two-time IHSAA state champion (132 pounds in 2013, 145 pounds in 2014), as well as the 126-pound runner-up in 2012.
He then wrestled at Central Michigan University from 2015-16, earning a 24-9 Div. I record and NWCA Freshman All-American Team honors before transferring to Marian University. Although he dealt with some injuries previously, a broken ankle in the second match of his senior season effectively ended his days competing on the mat.
LeCount wanted to stay around the sport, though, and quickly turned to coaching after graduating in 2018.
"I grew up watching the IHSAA State Finals, watching it under the lights. I wrestled there under the lights, and I've always said I've wanted to coach under the lights," LeCount said. "My goal is to be able to coach some kids to get to the state finals and pursue their dreams, but also pursue mine since I was 5 years old."
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LeCount joined Carmel High School's staff for the next three years where he was the head assistant and club coach. He helped the program earn three sectional and regional titles, three top-8 placement at the IHSWCA Team State Duals and coached 12 IHSAA state qualifiers and five placers.
It was a good gig at one of Indiana's top high school athletics programs, yet LeCount had bigger aspirations.
"My dream has always been to be a head coach somewhere, and I always said that I wanted to start somewhere different, somewhere new," LeCount said. "I had different offers (from) different places. Obviously, I could've gone back to my alma mater, Perry Meridian ... I kind of wanted to build my own program."
Delta wasn't necessarily the obvious landing spot. Despite Eagles wrestling's rich history, the program hasn't been a state-wide powerhouse for multiple decades.
Assistant coach Keith Rhonemus, who's been at Delta for 12 years, got to know LeCount while the two helped with the school's wrestling clinics. Rhonemus recognized how well the kids retained LeCount's teachings and knew LeCount was the guy Delta wrestling needed.
Rhonemus and others stayed in contact with LeCount during his Carmel days, always highlighting the Eagles' strong crop of young wrestling talent and state-of-the-art fitness center awaiting his potential arrival.
The perfect storm of circumstances arrived in the spring of 2021, validating those years of persistence by Delta's staff.
"I've been after Cody for a long, long time ... it was awesome (when he joined). I couldn't have been more excited," Rhonemus said. "The other part of that is having him in the school system as a teacher. We haven't had that at Delta for 20 or 30 years now."
Wrestlers and coaches alike were energized by someone of LeCount's pedigree coming aboard.
"I wanted to turn a place like (Delta) back to where it was in the '80s and '90s. I thought it was a good place, a good fit, my family lives out here," LeCount said. "When it all came together it all fit like a glove."
LeCount's fresh approach
LeCount started in April, allowing him to integrate himself slowly during the summer. What started as weight lifting with the football team turned into individual workouts and meetings through August. The team officially started after Labor Day with conditioning and wrestling technique training twice a week so little time teaching fundamentals would be spent during the season.
He wanted the boys to hit the ground running. Not focusing on the broader aspects of wrestling in-season allows LeCount and his staff to fine-tune techniques and skills individual to each kid, helping accelerate development week-to-week.
Rhonemus said LeCount's strategic and technical teachings have been the biggest change. He was excited for LeCount to bring his setups and offense to the program, and it's quickly yielded results.
"Just showing them a couple techniques that I've learned over the years that can help them has taken them from Level 1 to Level 5 in just a matter of three or four months," LeCount said. "Little details is what I preach all the time. I think it's the biggest thing that's part of my system."
LeCount had the benefit of learning from great teachers almost all of his life. He competed at a high level for 17-plus years and coached successfully for three more, all under the influence of some of the best.
LeCount absorbed all that knowledge completely rather than gravitate to those he preferred. It wasn't the tutelage of one or a few that mad him successful, but the combined wisdom of many.
"I've been around so many good coaches ... I (still) talk to all these different coaches all the time," LeCount said. "I nitpick and take a little bit from each one that I like and make it my own style. My style is mixture from 50 coaches I've had in my life."
This approach helps LeCount adapt to the needs of each of his wrestlers. One kid might respond or learn differently than another, and the team has reaped the benefits of LeCount tailoring his instruction to the individual.
Several Eagles are on pace for improved seasons as a result, none more than Tuttle. The eighth-ranked 138-pounder in his semi-state division, Tuttle has come up short of qualifying for the state tournament for the last two seasons.
LeCount recognized Tuttle's athleticism immediately but knew there was still untapped potential. He's worked with Tuttle on sharpening his mindset and little details in technique, hoping that it'd simplify matches for his lone senior.
With Tuttle 15-0 on the season, the partnership has generated both newfound success and enjoyment.
"I've never had more fun. I've truly turned my whole thought process around about this sport," Tuttle said. "Before I didn't really care as much as I do this year ... but he's just put a new thought in my mind about the sport, and I love it ... It's just who he is and his attitude toward the sport, it's made me want to have the same attitude as him."
Future of the program
LeCount's initiation has been assisted by a mostly experienced coaching staff. While Rhonemus is most tenured coach, Joe Mosier was the interim head coach last year. Both have sons on the team and know the ins and outs of Delta wrestling.
Assistant coach David Locke has coached the Eagles for a decade and was a state champion for Delta in the 1980s. The only other new hire is assistant coach Jacob Gray, a 2017 state champion at Delta whom LeCount convinced to come along.
Although LeCount may not have Delta roots, his fellow coaches do in spades. It's eased his transition to new surroundings as a first-time head coach and helped the team quickly hit its stride.
"I think we've all been able to click real easy ... we kind of all balance each other out," LeCount said. "The biggest thing was talking about delegating things, and we all work together really, really well on that."
Having that foundation has eased some of LeCount's additional burdens — scheduling, lineups, departure times, parent communication. He admits he's still adjusting to that side of the job.
Even after a big win at Jay County, the planning keeps him up to 2 a.m. It's different, but LeCount said it makes the sweet victories all the more rewarding.
"Whenever you're doing that type of work it's a just a 'want to,'" Athletic Director Tilmon Clark said. "He wants to communicate well, he wants to be there for the parents and he wants to make Delta wrestling the best it can be."
That's LeCount's mission. He sees the success this group has enjoyed thus far and knows the future is bright with all but one wrestler returning next year. He said the middle school talent is promising as well.
It's an exciting time for Delta wrestling. LeCount has brought infectious energy, hoping he and his kids again compete on those mats "under the lights."
"This team is only going to continue to get better," LeCount said. "We're really young and we've got a really good youth program. So I think we're only going to continue to rise up."
Gus Martin is a sports reporter at The Star Press. Follow him on Twitter @GusMartin_SP, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-729-4742.
This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: Delta wrestling coach Cody LeCount looks to lead Eagles back to glory