Zach Sanford is in his first season as the head coach of the Bulldogs.
Zach Sanford has a passion for fighting that has been developed over years of practice and discipline.
He first got into wrestling while he was in high school at Sebastian River. After graduating high school, he attended the University of Central Florida and walked onto the Knights’ wrestling team. He was a three-time All-American and a national finalist for the Knights, who compete in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association. He was also a part of the Knights’ national title winning team in 2005.
After graduating from UCF in 2009, he returned to his high school alma mater to begin his career as a teacher and wrestling coach. He was at Sebastian River from 2010 to 2014.
Sanford moved in 2014 to Brazil, where he taught wrestling, practiced jiu jitsu and fought in professional mixed martial arts.
“I love the sport. I love seeing the kids succeed and improve. When you have someone in your corner cheering you on, it gives you a boost.”
Zach Sanford, FPC wrestling coach
He moved back to Florida in 2016. He spent the past year trying to get back into high school coaching. He owned an MMA gym in Sebastian and operated a wrestling club to pass the time.
Then came a job opening: One of the state’s most storied teams, Flagler Palm Coast, had a head coaching vacancy.
The Bulldogs’ former coach, Thomas Bartolotta, accepted a position as the head wrestling coach at Brunswick High School in Georgia.
After applying for the opening, Sanford was officially offered the position by FPC Athletics Director Steve DeAugustino — the man who built the Bulldogs’ wrestling program into what it’s known as today: a title-winning powerhouse.
“I was pretty honored that he thought of me to take over this program,” Sanford said. “There’s no excuse not to find success here.”
The 2018-19 season has been an up-and-down one for the Bulldogs. When Bartolotta left for Brunswick, he took some of the Bulldogs’ top wrestlers with him. The Bulldogs return two varsity players from last year’s team: juniors A.J. Cinelli and Andrew Dance. In addition, eight freshmen are feature in the starting lineup.
Regardless, the pressure to perform is still there. The portraits and banners of past state champions that hang on the walls of the Bulldogs’ training room are daily reminders of the expectations for the program.
“There’s big shoes to fill here,” he said. “We’re a team of freshmen, but we have to see progress or I feel like we’re letting this program down. We can do it. I know that our teaching is working. We have to stay the course and we’ll get back there.”
To accomplish that, Sanford is energetic with his wrestlers. At each match — whether they’re dominating or struggling — he can be seen hunched over in anticipation on the edge of the mat, relentlessly coaching his grapplers until the last point is scored.
“He pushes us every day. He has a mentality that he tries to build into us,” Cinelli said. “He wants us to hate losing more than we love winning. He’s extremely passionate about the sport and tries to give everybody what they need to be successful.”
Junior grappler Preston Cremeans, who wrestled on the junior varsity team the past two seasons, said Sanford has drilled the team much harder than the previous coach.
“He has no mercy on us. He drills us hard — all the time,” he said. “He’s awesome.”
Sanford said he expects the Bulldogs to return to prominence as the freshmen class gains more experience. He also helped start an AAU team, the Flagler Dogs of War, to expedite development.
“All in all, it’s going to take some work,” he said.