RIVERSIDE — Derick Ball was ready to become a head coach.

Ball, who spent the last nine years helping make the Washington High School wrestling team one of the best Class 2A programs in the state, kind of stumbled into his first head coaching gig this year at Highland High School, a school with a deep and rich wrestling tradition which had become a victim of low numbers in recent years, a problem which is reaching epidemic proportions across the state.

But Ball, well, took the ball and ran with it.

While the results haven't really shown in the win column — the Huskies are 2-5 coming out of the break — the numbers are astounding. Highland, which had just four varsity wrestlers a year ago, now has 17. The athletes Ball is coaching are putting in the time and effort, learning every step of the way.

And the Huskies have good numbers on the way, with 60 wrestlers in the youth programs.

Ball hopes it is just the start of something big for the Huskies, but knows it will take plenty of hard work and patience to get to where he wants to go.

"I have always lived in this area and I have lived in Riverside for eight or nine years," Ball said. "When I was present with the opportunity to bring the program here at Highland back, I jumped at it. I had been at Washington the last nine years, but I knew Highland has a great wrestling tradition. They had just fallen on some hard times. I like a challenge. I have an opportunity to take a program that's been down a little bit and bring it back, especially with the great tradition they have here. It's always been my dream to be a head coach. I'm ready to take the next step. I can't say enough about the opportunity I've been given."

Ball knows plenty about the history of wrestling at Highland. Ball was a 2003 graduate of Columbus Community High School, where he competed against the Huskies as a member of the SEI Superconference. Ball, who placed fourth in Class 2A in both his junior and senior seasons, was part of the great run of powerhouse teams the Wildcats churned out for the better part of a decade, winning five consecutive team titles in the process.

Ball got the chance to learn the intricacies of the sport at Columbus from three of the best coaches in the sport — head coach Bill Plein and assistant coaches John Siegel and Andy Milder. Siegel already is a member of the Hall of Fame and Plein will be at some point. Ball learned his lessons well and now is applying them to his own athletes.

"We went to regional duals three or four times. We had a class of seven seniors and we had a lot of success," Ball recalled. "That staff is the best. You won't find any better coaches than Plein, Siegel and Milder. I can't say enough about what those guys did in my life. They have had such a big influence on my life. I owe a lot to those guys for what they have done for me."

Ball's path to a college degree was anything but a straight line. The road was fraught with plenty of obstacles, but Ball stuck with it and finally reached his goal. He used the perseverance, hard work and determination he learned through wrestling to help him get there.

"I started off at Coe and I ran cross country and wrestled for a year," Ball said. "I put a lot of time and effort into it in high school. I was a four-sport athlete, but my heart just wasn't in it anymore in college. I moved to southwest Missouri for a year and lived with some family down there, then I came back and got my degree from Iowa. It was a little bumpy road through college. It took me five schools to get a four-year degree, but it all worked out for me."

Ball landed a job at Washington as a middle school teacher and joined Brent Van Weelden's staff. Ball spent nine years helping build the Demons into a top-notch Class 2A program, one which has become competitive on a statewide level. The Demons finished sixth at state duals in 2016 and fourth last year and finished 11th in the traditional state tournament a year ago.

"We were really fortunate that we had the same core group that was together for 10 years and we were able to get the thing rolling," Ball said. "We had the camaraderie and family atmosphere at Washington. It was literally the same as we had back at Columbus in the day."

Ball was hoping to land a head coaching job at some point, so when the opportunity arose at Highland, he seized the chance.

"I took a job here as a counselor for grades six through 12 and it spiraled into helping with the wrestling team and then into being the head coach," Ball said.

Ball originally was to be co-head coach with Clint Jones, who had coached the Huskies the previous 16 years. But Jones decided to step down, leaving Ball in charge.

"It was something where they were interested in taking the program in a different direction. Clint didn't think it was a god situation for him, so he stepped down," Ball said. "Clint and I have had some good conversations. There is no hostility there. We get along great. He did a good job with the program, but (the administration) just wanted to go a different directions."

Ball's youthful enthusiasm and new ideas have helped point the Huskies in a new direction. With Ball in the hallways of the middle school and high school on a daily basis, the numbers in the high school program have swelled, quadrupling in just one year. Of those, six are first-year wrestlers, including three freshman who came up through the middle school program. Ball and his staff — Eric Stewart, Jeff Wieland and Tom Harbison — are enjoying teaching the young athletes, watching them grown and learn. It is a rewarding part of the sport.

"We have four guys returning and they are really great leaders. Now we go into dual meets knowing we have a shot, that we're going to be in every single dual. That's is a great feeling for these guys," Ball said. "I don't try to transform them. I push these guys hard and their hard work is paying off."

Ball knows this is only the tip of the iceberg. To establish Highland as a true power, success has to be sustained over a period of years. And that is part of the process, combining hard work with patience. Ball is embracing the grind and his wrestlers are following his lead.

"We have a long way to go. This is the right time for Highland wrestling. We have a lot of bloodlines here, a lot of second generation kids coming through the program," Ball said. "This is almost like a new beginning. I still bleed blue and white and orange and black, but now I'm starting to bleed some red and white, too."