ADA — Heading into his first dual meet of the season at home Tuesday night against Little Axe, first-year Ada wrestling coach Kyle Bohannon is playing a numbers game he hopes to be winning by season’s end.

Bohannon was the junior high wrestling coach at Mustang High School when he was tabbed by Ada officials last spring to replace Will Evans — who resigned amid a storm of controversy after only one year at the school — and inherited a program that had made great strides the past two seasons under Greg Dean and Evans.

“Before Coach Evans left, he had talked to me about coming down here as an assistant,” said Bohannon, an ECU graduate who was a student assistant at Byng for one season before going to Mustang. “After he left, they had my name, and they talked to me about coming down.

“I knew the potential was here, and I really wanted to come back to Ada,” he said. “I really like it here. I thought this would be a good place to teach and raise a family.”

By the time Bohannon arrived, he had already lost his top wrestler from the past two seasons (Bryan Solomon, who moved to El Reno) and had just one state qualifier on his roster — Micah Mackey, who qualified for the state meet as a sophomore. He found a junior high program that had flourished under Evans and enters the 2007 season with 48 wrestlers in grades seven through nine, but he said he won’t have the varsity numbers to put a wrestler on the mat in all 14 weight classes Tuesday.

“For this first dual, we’re going to go ahead and bump up a few freshmen to fill spots that would have been empty,”

he explained. “We still might forfeit one or two, but bumping those kids up is going to help us out.

“I just want to see our guys go out and compete,” Bohannon said. “I want to see guys showing heart and show me they have the ability to learn and they want to wrestle.”

Although Bohannon has very little returning experience other than Mackey (who is wrestling at 171 pounds this year after competing at 160 last season) on his varsity squad, the first-year coach said he expects to get a boost from a group of wrestlers who didn’t compete for the Cougars last season for one reason or another.

Seniors Cody Hayes (160 pounds) and Rance Rue (189) were both injured last season, and another senior, Nick Jackson, has joined the wrestling program this year for the first time. Josh Nail (215) has shown promise, and fellow sophomores Justin Todd, Aaron Wallace and Tyler Carter are also expected to contribute.

“Josh was a freshman last year, and he did well in junior high, and Rance had an injury that hampered him last year,” Bohannon said. “Both of them should compete really well for us this year and get us a lot of victories. I don’t know exactly what Justin’s numbers were last year, but I saw him wrestle at junior high state last year, and I’m expecting great things out of him this year.

“I thnk Cody (Hayes) had an injury that caused him to sit out last year — he fluctuated in some weights last year, but he’s going to start at 160 and he’ll probably go down to 152,” he added. “I think this is the first year that Nick (the team’s heavyweight) has wrestled at Ada. He has a good work ethic and he’s a quick learner.”

Bohannon took four wrestlers to a meet in Noble two weekends ago and saw three of them place. Hayes was second, Nail was third and Rue finished fourth, with Mackey ironically the only Ada wrestler out of the money. Despite that showing, Bohannon said he expects Mackey to be one of his leaders this fall.

“Micah shows a lot of potential,” he said. “He has the experience to give those kids something to look up to since he’s been to the state tournament.”

While the varsity team is still looking for some depth, Bohannon said his junior high program — under the direction of Dan Pettigrew, Terry Don Teel and Brandon Rosa — couldn’t be in better shape.

“We still have great numbers in junior high,” he said. “We have 11 ninth graders right now, and all 11 will wrestle someday. It just hasn’t been determined which ones we'll bump up.

“We went to the Durant Junior High Tournament, and out of the 13 weights, we placed in all but three.”

He was quick to add however, that, while the junior high program should translate into a bright future for his program, he hasn’t given up on the present as he prepares for the 2007-2008 season.

“I’m going to work with the junior high as much as I can, but I don’t want these kids in high school to think they don’t have the potential to compete right now,” Bohannon said. “As long as they work hard and continue to keep their heads up, the sky’s the limit.

“I think these guys I have now can compete,” he added. “We might not have the numbers right now to compete for a state title, but we have guys who can compete with wrestlers in all classes.”

With no tradition to speak of, wrestling at Ada has always taken a back seat in years past to sports that have had a higher profile. Bohannon said he expects to build on the foundation laid by Dean (who, along with former Cougar athlete Philip Tweedy, will be a varsity assistant this season) and Evans the past two years.

“We’re going to be okay,” Bohannon predicted. “The program is in good shape. Will (Evans) did a great job of getting it up and running. He brought some life into the program and and got these kids motivated about wrestling. I just hope to keep that torch burning.”