The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has pulled off a major coup, wresting Missouri state champion wrestler Jared Johnson away from national powers Oklahoma and Missouri.
Jared Johnson, a 195-pounder that is projected to wrestle 197 in college, chose the Mocs over the Big 12 champion Tigers and Sooners, who are ranked 10th and 12th respectively in the latest National Wrestling Coaches Association poll.
"The coaches are the biggest thing," said Johnson, who visited Missouri, Oklahoma, Central Missouri and Chattanooga and then canceled a visit to Brown. "I felt I had to be happy where I was going to spend the next five years. Coach [Heath] Eslinger and Coach [Rocco] Mansueto were pushing to get me. At Missouri or Oklahoma they were just going to place me. They didn't seem to care whether I was happy. [UTC] definitely pushed, and that put them over the top for me."
A multi-sport athlete at Jefferson City High School, Johnson just completed an unbeaten season on the way to his third Missouri state Class 4A finals and his first state championship. He tied the school record for season wins with 50 and got 44 of those by pin. Four wins came by pin and two by injury default. Johnson also tied the school record for career wins with 182 with 120 of those coming by pin.
"I've coached a lot of kids -- state champions, All-Americans and one Olympian -- and I have never had a kid do what he did this season," Jefferson City coach Phil Cagle said. "He was the district and state 4A wrestler of the year."
Cagle said UTC's program sold itself and that he was not surprised that Jordan picked the Mocs.
"We went down there to camp and were impressed with Coach Eslinger and his staff," the coach said. "It is probably the best camp I've been to in 35 years of coaching. One reason we went was because we heard what kind of job they did.
"I think Jared's a great fit for them. When it got right down to it, Jared said he thought these were the guys that would help him reach his goals in college."
UTC's staff has promoted the total athlete concept, encouraging athletes to pursue academics as strongly as their wrestling while demanding proper social behavior and Johnson saw it during his official visit in February.
"Actually I want that. I have pretty strong values and for other people to value them too, well, you're going to be surrounded by people you're going to like," he said. "I loved the city, and while it isn't Norman (Okla.), they have good facilities. I loved the campus. I liked what I saw. I certainly don't mind the thoughts of spending my next five years there."
A quality student (4.0-plus), Johnson was also an outstanding linebacker in Jefferson City's football team. The all-state player led his team in tackles in three consecutive seasons.
He will be able to sign scholarship papers in April.
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 ...