FORT WALTON BEACH — Tobi Marez doesn’t want any of the credit.
Unfortunately, the Fort Walton Beach wrestling coach, who just wrapped up his 15th year with the Vikings, is the Daily News Wrestling Coach of the Year. That title comes with a little recognition.
Of the seven area athletes who advanced to the Florida High School Wrestling State Championships at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, four — Brandon Mallin, Patrick Adams, Eddie Alexis and Kaleb Williams — were Vikings. Four were coached by Marez. And one —Williams — is the Daily News Wrestler of the Year after placing sixth in Kissimmee at 220 pounds.
But still, Marez, who guided the Vikings to a second-place finish at the District 1-2A tournament in February, deflects the glory. His athletes, he said, they won this honor.
“Really, and I believe this wholeheartedly, it really is the kids and are they gonna buy into what you’re selling. Do they believe in what you’re doing as a program?” Marez said. “I think that that not only this group, but hopefully the next group through is the same way. They kinda understand that what we’re doing is good stuff, and they want to be a part of it. They want to leave their legacy.
“When the kids start doing that stuff, that is great as a coach. That’s what you hope to achieve.”
That message, he said, is simple.
“I really just try to make it fun for them because wrestling is a grind,” Marez said. “It’s a long season. Somewhere in there, you have to break up the monotony. And our schedule is really tough and we travel a lot during the season. I think that’s a big key for us; we spend a lot of time together and we become a family.
“They trust me as much as I trust them.”
Williams echoed that sentiment. Although Marez might be tough, it’s clear he just wants the best for athletes, Williams said.
“Coach Marez has the best work ethic and knows how to get the best out of his wrestlers,” he said. “He’s not gonna sit there and go kill all his wrestlers the week right before districts like he knew a lot of teams were. He basically set (the schedule) up, so it was bulding blocks each tournament. Each tournament was supposed to be harder than the last. That’s how he makes the schedule. And he grinds us out at practice. He’ll teach us stuff, but he really wanted us to go drill and get comfortable doing moves, doing moves when you’re tired and when you don’t really feel like you can.
“He made you want to succeed.”