Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar often tells the story of how his college coach, UCLA legend John Wooden, never expected anything of the Bruins that the coach didn’t expect from himself.
Of course, Abdul-Jabbar pointed out, Wooden was a three-time collegiate All-American and a straight-A student.
Wrestlers at Central Catholic High School better get used to the same lofty expectations because Louis Bland, a three-time state champion for the Raiders, has been hired as the school’s new coach. He’ll replace Anthony Gonzalez, who left for another coaching opportunity.
Bland actually starred in two sports for the Raiders before graduating in 2008 as a four-year member of the varsity football and wrestling squads.
“My first order of business, inside the wrestling room, is to establish the work ethic and the expectations that I have for this team,” said Bland, who graduated from Washington State in 2012, majoring in sociology with a minor in economics.
On the gridiron, Bland helped the Raiders to Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championships each year he played. He held the Stanislaus District’s career rushing record (5,140 yards) until it was broken last season by Central Valley’s Ja’Quan Gardner (6,014) and Ripon Christian’s Andrew Brown (5,909).
On the mat, Bland reached the CIF finals four consecutive seasons, winning state crowns in all but his junior season. In 2005, Bland became the first freshman above the 103-pound weight class to win a state championship.
In a school noted for its outstanding athletic achievements, Bland’s legacy is unmatched by any other alum.
“First of all, Lou brings instant credibility,” athletic director Billy Hylla said. “His résumé speaks for itself. And the athletes will know that the things Lou is asking them to do … he’s done them, and at the highest level. As a 14- to 18-year-old wrestler, how do you not want to learn from a guy who was a three-time state champ?”
Hylla and football coach Roger Canepa hinted they’d eventually love to have Bland as part of the football program.
“It takes a lot of time to be a coach,” said Hylla, who wants Bland to focus on the wrestling program for now. “But yeah, at some point. How do you not take advantage of a resource like that when he’s walking around your campus?”
Bland’s younger brothers – the now-graduated Reggie Bland and sophomore Montell Bland – helped the Raiders last season to a second consecutive CIF Division IV state championship. Reggie also wrestled, but Montell, who wrestled as a youth, opted to play basketball.