Zach Watson can’t believe it’s almost over, but the Baylor senior is looking forward to beginning his collegiate wrestling career at Virginia.
Before he packs up, though, he hopes to win his fifth Tennessee state championship.
“It feels good,” he said of his career to date. “I don’t feel like a senior, but I’m not stopping there.”
Watson could become the second Chattanooga wrestler to win five state titles, joining McCallie’s T.J. Duncan, who was a former teammate at Baylor.
When asked about his biggest accomplishments, Watson agreed that being a four-time state champ ranks fairly high, but he also said he was looking forward to getting to Virginia where Jordan Leen, a four-time state champ at Baylor and an NCAA champion for Cornell, is an assistant coach.
“I don’t know that I’m overlooking anything, but I’m looking toward an NCAA championship, and I still have tons of improvement to make,” Watson said. “I’m not the guy out there that’s ranked No. 1 in the nation. I haven’t won the Super 32 and I didn’t win the junior nationals and all that stuff. I don’t think I have any huge accomplishments, but I don’t think I have tapped my potential.”
There are those who would disagree with Watson’s assessment of his accomplishments, and his .980 win percentage is without equal in Tennessee. He entered the season with a career record of 147-3 and since has added a string of 20 victories with each providing bonus points, including 17 pins and a technical fall. He has been extended to the third period only twice.
“As a high school athlete I think he would easily be among the top five [wrestlers] all-time at Baylor,” Red Raiders coach Ben Nelson said. “There are some guys that came before when they couldn’t wrestle [varsity] at such a young age, but it would be hard to say that somebody had performed any stronger than he has.”
Watson is president of the honor council, the highest elected student office on campus, and he carries a 4.06 grade point average. He’s never made a B. Still, though, he’s a wrestler at heart.
“Wrestling is a big part of my life,” he said. “When I was an eighth-grader I used to think I’d never wrestle in college because it was 10 more years of wrestling. I remember thinking I don’t know if I can do it. Now I’m obsessed with working out. I don’t know what I’d do without wrestling and practice.”
He said that even in the summer he works out twice per day and that during the school year he usually is in bed by 9 p.m.
For someone so absorbed by the sport, Watson had no idea what his record was, but Nelson said that simply points out the type person Watson is.
“It doesn’t seem to me that winning five state championships is what’s driving him,” the coach said. “He is more concerned with being successful each time out. He’s very match-to-match focused, and the total compilation is what it is.”
In other words it’s fine if the fifth championship medal comes his way. If not, that’s OK, too.
“It would be a big accomplishment and, yes, it’s a major goal. I’ve wanted it since middle school. I wanted to be the first to do it, but being second would be awesome,” he said. “But it is just another step to help me achieve a national title. If I don’t win, it isn’t the end of the world. I feel pressure but I don’t let it get in my way. There isn’t as much pressure because I’ve already been accepted to college.
“If I don’t win it, it isn’t the end of the world. It will just show me how much work I still have to do.”
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...