Heath Eslinger says he is always hustling, and this time his hustle paid off.
With senior 125-pounder Bucky Johnson's career likely over following a second knee injury, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling coach contacted former UNC Greensboro standout Manny Ramirez. Thus UTC now has a defending Southern Conference champion replacing a former conference champion beginning with the Mocs' home meet against Cleveland (Ohio) State on Jan. 12.
"It really fills a huge hole. It meets a need at the right time, and I feel we're doing it with the right person," Eslinger said. "He's a kid who's full of life and personable. He's a guy who identifies with our goals."
Ramirez graduates Dec. 15 from UNCG, which dropped its wrestling program after the 2010-11 season. The El Paso, Texas, native then will be in Chattanooga for a couple of days, go home for Christmas and return on Dec. 26.
"I'm in pretty good shape even though I haven't competed since last March," Ramirez said. "I worked out through the summer, and I really started working out after the call from Coach Eslinger."
Ramirez plans to begin graduate school upon his arrival and could wind up staying with the Mocs for a couple of years as a student coach.
"I would love to stay in Chattanooga and finish my master's degree and help the team there," he said.
Ramirez wrestled the Mocs' Prescott Garner twice last year and won both, including a major decision for the SoCon championship.
"I want to prove myself. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765.