Josh Condon always was on the edge. He'd skirt trouble and skim by in his classes at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
"I was kind of a punk when I came here," he said. "I have grown up, and I think growing up and being part of the wrestling program go hand-in-hand."
Condon will wrestle his final home matches this weekend when the Mocs host SIU-Edwardsville and VMI on Saturday and Campbell on Monday. The 165-pounder will enjoy his biggest accomplishment, though, when he graduates in the spring.
"Every athlete has his ups and downs, and Josh is no different," Mocs coach Heath Eslinger said. "You get into coaching because of people. This job is rewarding because you make a difference in someone's life, and winning is a byproduct."
Condon was signed out of Harrison High in Powder Springs, Ga., by Eslinger's predecessor, and his first collegiate year was something of a lost cause.
"The first couple of years it was 'Yada, yada, yada,' and I finally realized I had to concentrate on my priorities," Condon said.
"I wish I could've been here his first year," Eslinger said, "because a lot of times the initial path can make the future more difficult or easier. He had to make some adjustments to get on the same page with us."
Condon was running with the wrong crowd, at least a group whose interests conflicted with standards associated with Eslinger's mandates to be a total student-athlete -- athletically, academically and socially. His lifestyle didn't lend itself to wrestling one year at 157 pounds, and he bounced his weight, sometimes gaining as much as 20 pounds after a meet.
"I was an idiot," he said. "I was hanging out with people who had a bad influence on me. Now I'm running with a different crowd."
He is still fun-loving and even mischievous at times.
"My personality hasn't changed. It's more attitude. I'm more positive," he said. "Rather than go to class and try to get by, I'm trying to do well in all my classes.
"During the down times I definitely looked to wrestling to dig my way out. If I didn't have my teammates and the coaches supporting me in my tough times, I wouldn't be where I am today. I'd probably still be stuck being a little jerk."
Condon has won his last three matches by pin and is 3-0 in Southern Conference duals this year. A former conference champion, he never has lost a regular-season league match.
"I'm super proud of what he has become," Eslinger said. "He is one of the most fun kids to coach now. There's a sparkle in him that I haven't seen before. He has matured beyond the wrestling room. Heck, the kid could wrestle the day he got here, and he was good in the room the first day he walked in the door.
"The problem is that 99 percent of life is outside the wrestling room, and it matters in critical situations. I think he's seen that and it's affecting everything he does. He's going to leave here with a degree, and I think he can do so as an All-American.
"People who do the right things are always happier, and I think his happiness comes from him making better decisions day in and day out."
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 ...