Stanley assembles stellar wrestling staff
Published 1:51 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2023
By Brian Pitts
When Josh Stanley was hired as Davie’s wrestling coach in May, his first order of business was putting together a coaching staff. Fast forward six months and it’s hard to imagine him finding better help than the staff he’s assembled.
Stanley, 39, is a wrestling man to his core, and he’s surrounded himself with three wrestling-loving machines.
• Isaiah Whitley, 25, is a Davie graduate who recorded 121 career victories. He was an assistant under Buddy Lowery for a few years before the legend retired in 2019, and he’s been Stanley’s right-hand man for years.
• Jordon Nolan, 31, was a three-time state champion in high school in West Virginia, and then he wrestled collegiately.
• Caleb Spurlin, 25, was a three-time state champion in high school in Virginia, and he played football at Appalachian State.
Yeah, it’s going to be tough for opponents to outfox this staff.
“I told those kids the first day of practice: ‘You may find one or two guys in the state that have the accolades and stuff like that, but you’re not going to find one team that has the knowledge and experience of life and of sports in one room like this,’” Nolan said.
“I wanted to surround ourselves with high-level guys,” Stanley said. “I’m trying to shut up sometimes and let other guys jump in and coach. It’s hard for me to take a step back sometimes, but we have so much knowledge.”
Whitley was the first athlete that Stanley ever trained at his Combat Athletics business.
“When I started helping (Jason) Hooker at Ellis, Isaiah was part of that group before Combat even had a name, and he was in that group when I was training kids out of Gym 365 in Advance,” Stanley said. “He impacts kids, he knows how to communicate with them. If we have a Good Cop/Bad Cop, he’s the Good Cop. We have a good dynamic like that.”
Stanley met Caleb Spurlin through Caleb’s brother Joshua, who was a four-time state champ at Galax High (Virginia) before wrestling at Appalachian State. Joshua is currently an assistant wrestling coach at Lake Norman.
“We got lucky because Caleb’s brother would come down from Virginia to the club when he was in high school and train with us on weekends,” Stanley said. “So I got to know their family. I found out Caleb had moved to Advance, so I reached out to him to see if he wanted to jump in.”
Caleb’s high school career at Galax was the stuff of legend. He did something that’s almost unheard-of these days – he not played three sports, he was unbelievable in all three.
“My dad (Kevin, the head wrestling coach and a football assistant at Galax) coached us in wrestling and football, so we were just always around it,” Spurlin said. “Coming from a smaller area, one season just rolls into the next. That’s all we knew since we were little kids. I guess we didn’t know any better and we just did it and had a blast doing it.”
As a football senior in 2015, Spurlin moved around from fullback to tight end to offensive line to safety to linebacker. He had 46 catches for 792 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had 128 solo tackles. He was named all-state on both sides of the ball (tight end/linebacker). He led the Maroon Tide to the 2015 Group 1A title, which remains the only football state title in Galax history. After starting 1-3, Galax pounded out 10 straight wins, including a 7-6 nailbiter over Riverheads in the 1A final. Spurlin was named Group 1A Player of the Year.
“I just liked to play wherever I was gonna help us the best that week, and I was more than happy to do it,” Spurlin said.
On the wrestling mat, Spurlin compiled a 161-7 career record and captured three state titles while competing at the 195 and 220 weight classes. Four of his seven defeats came as a freshman.
Spurlin could play a little baseball, too. He hit (gulp) .644 as a senior, going 47 for 73 at the plate while playing third base, catcher and pitcher.
“I liked football the best; that’s why I went and played it (at App),” Spurlin said. “Although it was not my best sport, it was the one I enjoyed the most. (My best sport was) probably baseball, honestly.”
Spurlin turned down walk-on offers from Virginia Tech and UConn and walked on at App State. He did not appear in a game and redshirted in 2016. He made a memorable defensive play in 2018. It was the final regular-season game against Troy. Spurlin ripped the ball away from a receiver, then recovered the fumble. App dispatched Troy to clinch a berth in the inaugural Sun Belt championship game. A week later, Spurlin was awarded a scholarship.
“I went from a walk-on with my family paying my way to being a captain and a starter,” Spurlin said. “That means a lot to me. That (scholarship) was one of the more emotional times in my life.”
The 5-10, 260-pounder was the Mountaineers’ defensive end in 2020 and 2021. He started his last 26 games. He helped them win 52 of 66 games from 2017-21. He was a part of four Sun Belt titles (2016-19) and five bowl wins (2016-20). He played both ways, lining up at H-back on offense. He ended his career with 6.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, four receiving touchdowns on four career catches and seven lead blocks on goal-line rushing TDs. Only one other player this century has produced six career sacks and four receiving TDs (Cincinnati’s Connor Barwin). Spurlin shares the App record for career games played (66) with two others.
The last two years, Spurlin assisted his dad in wrestling at Galax, but now he can offer plenty of expertise to the War Eagles. That’s all possible because he landed a job as a Farm Bureau Insurance agent and moved to Advance in April.
“He’d like to have me, but he knew I had to make a move, and he supported me the whole way,” Spurlin said of his father. “I’m impressed with how hard the kids are working. It makes your job as a coach a lot easier when you have kids who are bought into the program and the culture. It’s going to be cool to be associated with something so special.”
Another boon to the Davie wrestling efforts is the addition of Nolan, who went 133-19 during his high school career and helped perennial powerhouse Parkersburg capture state titles in 2007 and 2008.
“(Parkersburg has) a lot of history since the 1950s,” Nolan said. “We have 21 state (wrestling) titles (which was the state record at one time). Now the rival school across the river, Parkersburg South, holds the record with 23 or 24.”
Nolan was a freshman sensation in 2006-07, going 33-7 and winning the state at 103.
“My older brother (Zach) was a junior my freshman year,” Nolan said. “He was the heavyweight and I was the 103, the lightest weight.”
Jordon repeated as a sophomore, finishing 40-5 at 119. Making the moment even more special, Zach won it all that same year.
“We are one of four sets of brothers (in West Virginia) that have won a state title in the same year,” Jordon said. “It was heartbreaking my freshman year because I watched him fall short of his goal. His junior year was probably the hardest thing, but it made it really rewarding for his senior year. To be able to stand beside him with his state title was pretty cool.”
Jordon experienced an ill-fated junior year. He came down with mono, missed considerable time on the mat and failed to make weight at the regional. He’ll never forget the sinking feeling in his stomach when he realized he’d be on the sidelines throughout the state meet. That year he finished 16-5 at 130.
“It kind of humbled me going to the state tournament my junior year and watching a freshman that I had beaten earlier in the year (win the state),” Nolan said. “He’s a great friend now, but watching him take the state title that I felt like I should’ve had pushed me into my senior year.”
What about Nolan’s bounce-back senior year? He reminded everyone of his talent, went 44-2 at 145 and picked up his third state title.
“It was a redemption year,” he said. “I went into that season with a lot of doubters, a lot of people saying I was done and I wasn’t going to reach the potential that I had. I had an amazing state tournament and ended up All-American.”
All 19 of Nolan’s career losses at Parkersburg came against out-of-state competition.
“We wrestled in Ohio a lot,” he said. “My freshman year we were ranked in the top 25 in the country.”
Nolan earned a scholarship to Ohio University. He spent one year there as a redshirt. He transferred to West Liberty University and was a starter all four years.
After graduating from West Liberty, he returned home and was an assistant wrestling coach at Parkersburg for four years. He and his wife moved to Mooresville in 2019. He assisted Stanley at Lake Norman for three years. Now he’s commuting to Davie every day to be a part of an amazing staff.
“(Stanley and I) have the same style of coaching,” Nolan said. “We’re both lunatics. We both eat, sleep and drink wrestling. That’s the kind of coach you want to be in the same corner with.”
While Spurlin and Nolan combined for six state titles and 294 wins in high school, Stanley and Whitley were not exactly chopped liver.
Stanley went 40-6 as a Davie senior and finished third in the state at 135. When he graduated in 2002, he ranked second in career wins with 133. (Patrick Lowery was first at the time with 150.) Stanley went on to wrestle at App before getting into coaching and starting his Combat business.
Whitley wrestled at Davie from 2012-16. He was a starter all four years and racked up 81 wins as a junior/senior.