Baylor wrestler Zach Watson has committed to the University of Virginia and says he will sign a national letter of intent with the Cavaliers on Nov. 11.
"I'm so excited. I'm still trying to process [the recruitment and decision]," he said. "I was trying to decide between Virginia, Princeton and Stanford. I went to a camp in late June at Virginia. I knew Coach [Steve] Garland before and knew he was a great guy, but I wanted to meet the guys on the team since I'll probably be spending 99 percent of my time with them. We hit it off."
Watson is a four-time state champion who can become only the second five-time state medalist in Tennessee high school wrestling history. He has a career record of 147-3.
"I think it's ging to be nice having him as a captain this year," Red Raiders coach Ben Nelson said. "He leads by example and he has a lot of intangibles regarding work ethic. He believes that he's always in a match, that losing is a state of mind. It will be neat, him stepping into a leadership role.
"It also will be good for our younger guys to see that he puts as much into academics as he does wrestling."
Watson won the Division II state title at 103 pounds as an eighth-grader and advanced a weight class each year, winning the state again at 112 as a sophomore, at 119 as a junior and at 125 last season. He'll likely be at 126 in the revised classes for this year.
"He has that ability to be so consistent," Nelson said. "He had such success early in his career, and even with our schedule getting tougher he has been able to maintain that success. As I told the coach at Princeton, Zach is a young man with impeccable judgment. Zach is a great wrestler and a phenomenal student, and even as good as he is at both of those things, he is a better person."
Watson has worked hard to follow in the footsteps of former Baylor wrestler Jordan Leen, who won an NCAA championship at Cornell. While he'd already made up his mind to accept Virginia's offer, Watson got what he called great news from Garland. The coach told him Leen had signed on as an assistant with the Cavaliers.
"At the beginning of my junior year I was thinking about Duke because that's where Jordan was," Watson said. "I didn't think, though, after visiting that Duke was for me. Then I found out Jordan will be at Virginia. Having him there every day will be awesome, and I'm so thankful that things worked out as they did."
Watson did not consider the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, but only because of the school's location.
"I really want to get out of town and out of Tennessee and experience something new," he said. "But it was about location, because I absolutely love the coaching staff at UTC."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.