When Kyle Larson began wrestling at Hermiston High School, the accolades, banners and expectations that dominate the Bulldogs’ program weren’t yet around. Hermiston wasn’t a wrestling power, but it soon would be.
Larson, a sophomore on that team, helped and watched as Curt Berger transformed the Bulldogs from wrestling also-ran into state juggernaut, winning eight of the last nine 5A team titles.
Now, Larson has moved to the other side of the equation, taking over as head coach of the Bulldogs after the sudden resignation of previous head coach Shaun Williams in August.
“I’m just excited to be involved as much as I can,” Larson said. “We just want to get the community support.”
Larson wrestled at Oregon State University under Jim Zalesky. Wrestling at 141 and 144 pounds, Larson tied for the Beavers lead in pins with eight in 2007, and is 44th all-time in pins with 17. In 2006 at 141 pounds, he posted the best Beavers record at 26-7 (.788).
After graduating in 2008, Larson coached in Hermiston for one season under Berger before moving to Boise and Borah Senior High School, where he spent four years as an assistant. Then, in 2013, former Bulldogs coach Shaun Williams brought the former Bulldog back onto his staff where he has remained since.
While at Oregon State, Larson decided he wanted to coach. He entered the sport at 4 years old and has done nothing since. Now 30, Larson has been around wrestling for 26 years. As a head coach, he’s inexperienced and admits it as this will be his first season running a program. But he isn’t inexperienced in wrestling or coaching wrestling at all. He’s know he’s wanted a head coaching job since his early 20s, when his career was still alive. That said, he doesn’t look at his new job as special of a former Hermiston wrestler, and one from the foundation-building years at that.
“Hermiston deserves it,” Larson said. “There’s a huge tradition in Hermiston.
“There’s a huge wrestling community here. And from what I understand, we want to win. It’s not just me who wants to win. It’s not just the guys. When we go out to Tri-State, when we go to the Reser’s Tournament of Champions, people are seeing that and they want to see Hermiston at the top. That’s good. That keeps our coaching staff, our coaching staff at the (middle school), youth program, it keeps them on their toes.”
Larson is a product of Hermiston’s youth wrestling program, and feels it is an integral part of maintaining a state championship-caliber program. There will always be guys joining the team late — as eighth graders, freshmen or later — he said, but it’s important to be coaching the fundamentals and techniques at the lower levels that are being taught at the varsity level. It simply creates cohesion and continuity. Techniques don’t have to be un-learned then re-learned. It’s all the same.
“The high school head wrestling coach has to be involved at all levels — (middle school) as well,” Larson said. “If we’re not all on the same page between the kids program and transitioning into (middle school), we could end up with a mess. It’s definitely something that’s on my mind. Myself and all the other coaches have to have a foot in that program.”
Larson put a special emphasis on the middle school program. There isn’t anything wrong with it, he said, but he feels it’s arguably the second-most important level of the program, to the varsity. Like the youth program, the middle school program doesn’t get the visibility of the high school, yet the middle school is crucial to Larson’s plan.
“The kids coming in have to know what we’re coaching,” Larson said. “If they already know what we’re teaching in high school, then they’re a step ahead when they come in.”
Larson just understands the value of the youth and middle school programs and his role within them.
“When you have a core group of kids that started in our kids program, (then) transitioned to (middle school), that’s how you win state championship,” he said. “It’s that important.”
Larson is relaxed at the helm. As a product of the program, he understands the expectations, internal and external, applied to his program. The amount of state championship banners don’t make him nervous, they make him proud. But he isn’t content on merely living with the past glory of the program. He wants more. He doesn’t want to merely win state championships. He wants to win national championships. He doesn’t want a handful of state champions, he wants 14
“We definitely have goals, and our goals are set high,” Larson said. “We’ve proven we can win in Oregon. Now what’s the next step? And that’s where we want to go. We won last year with a group of kids and it was a tight race at the state tournament. We need to get better.”