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Natchez presses on without presence of head powerlifting coach

Michael Kerekes | The Natchez Democrat — Natchez High School powerlifter Ernest Chatman Jr. practices bench presses as coach Steve Davis spots him during workouts Wednesday afternoon at the Steckler Multipurpose Building. Davis, along with coach Ivan Evans, have taken over the school’s powerlifting program while head coach Joseph Johnson is on leave due to illness.

NATCHEZ — Joseph Johnson’s visit with the Natchez High School powerlifting team Wednesday afternoon came with much fanfare from his veteran lifters.

For the five athletes that were on his team last year, not having Johnson as their coach this year is an adjustment, senior Charles Bates said.

“Everyone else doesn’t really know him because they weren’t on the team last year, but all of us talk about him,” Bates said.

Johnson, who is normally the head coach of the NHS powerlifting team, has taken a leave of absence this spring due to health reasons. Johnson said he keeps up with Ivan Evans and Steve Davis, who are serving as co-head coaches of the squad, as well as his veteran lifters.

“When they all see me, they ask about me,” Johnson said. “For the most part, I don’t want to be out and about so it won’t slow down my progress.”

Johnson did not want to publicly discuss the details of his health concerns but said he definitely misses being able to help young athletes prepare for meets.

Michael Kerekes | The Natchez Democrat — Natchez High School powerlifter Ryan McDonald practices squats as teammate Kolbi Robinson spots him during workouts Wednesday afternoon at the Steckler Multipurpose Buiidling.

“It’s very hard,” Johnson said. “We put so many years into it, so much blood, sweat and tears, to get the program up and running,” Johnson said. “Not being able to be in the hunt is hard.”

Evans said his goal as co-head coach is simple: To keep the program going.

“It has to keep going, whether (Johnson) is here or not,” Evans said. “He may not be here physically, but he’s with us mentally and in spirit. He comes by any time he can.”

Davis said Johnson has meant a lot to the Bulldogs’ powerlifting program, and he continues to make a big difference in advising Davis and Evans on how to structure practices and teach technique.

“This has been his baby,” Davis said. “When we took over, we called him and bugged him. This is his program — he’s the face of it. He’ll come over, talk to us and show us things, and we’re grateful that he’s given us pointers.”

Workouts started for the powerlifting team in early November, and the Bulldogs had their first meet just last week. The team is trying to prepare for the three big meets this season: the regional meet Feb. 9 in Hattiesburg, the South State meet March 9 Hattiesburg and the state meet on the second week of April in Jackson.

While many on the team use powerlifting as a secondary sport to help improve in football and track, Bates said he also enjoys lifting by itself. Since Bates plans to play college football as a linebacker, he said the lifting will help prepare him for the next level.

“It gets you where you need to be so you can fight off blocks, and working your squats gets you faster,” Bates said.

Junior Avery Jones, who came in fourth place at the state meet last year in the 181 weight class, said he’s trying to improve on last year’s success. Jones was a rookie lifter last season.

“It was a great accomplishment for me,” Jones said. “Someone in their first year of lifting usually doesn’t do that well. I have to thank my coaches and teammates for that.”

Jones squatted 405 pounds, deadlifted 550 pounds and bench pressed 200 pounds in the state meet last year. He said he wants to improve in each lift, but especially on bench presses.

“It’s my weakest lift,” Jones said. “I also benched 200 even at last week’s meet. It was kind of frustrating, because I’m trying to get stronger in every lift, but with the workouts we’re doing to work the upper body, it’s going to increase.”