Not much has gone as planned athletically for Caleb Mariakis, but the tribulations were put to rest this past weekend when the Ridgeland High School senior wrestler committed to West Virginia University.
Mariakis committed to the Mountaineers and new coach Sammie Henson on an official visit, capping a wild ride in which he has overcome a childhood illness and disappointment due to injury on the prep level.
"I've had a lot of catching up to do," said Mariakis, who did not start wrestling until the sixth grade due to instances of "absence seizures" as a child. "I've known my goals and my potential even though I got a late start. Coach Henson and my dad have become close over the years, and he understands my best wrestling is still ahead."
The seizures, which would come on randomly and last only seconds, usually go away in adulthood, and Caleb said he hasn't had one in four years. He has, however, had to endure a separated shoulder after winning a region title as a sophomore and other nagging injuries that have kept him from achieving his goal of a state championship.
"It feels so good to get this done, and now I can concentrate on finishing my senior year undefeated and winning a state title," he said. "I also plan on going to two national tournaments this fall, where I hope to finish in the top six and earn All-American status."
At West Virginia he will join a staff full of celebrated coaches, including Henson, who earned three world medals for the United States, including a world championship in 1998. He also is the head coach for the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club, which has more current world and Olympic wrestlers than any other club in the United States.
Keith Mariakis, Caleb's father and Ridgeland coach, said the family's relationship with Henson helped by giving the WVU coach an understanding of what Caleb has gone through and how much he still has to learn.
"He started talking to Coach Henson last year, so he knew where Caleb started and the struggles he went through with the seizures and all that and had gotten a late start in wrestling," Keith Mariakis said. "He saw him at a couple of tournaments on the national level, and even though Caleb hasn't had the success he's wanted, he knew the kid has a huge ceiling.
"It's just a good fit at West Virginia. He got to meet all the team, and when you've got four coaches that are either Olympic champions or world champions, it helps Caleb's goal in that he's always wanted to win a national title."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...