It might not have been pretty, but that’s pretty much his wrestling style. After surviving somewhat of a controversial first-round match at the
state wrestling tournament at Ohio State’s Value City Arena, Tony
Jameson of Austintown Fitch High School went on to advance to the final
round at 145 pounds and win his fourth state title in four different
It might not have been pretty, but that’s pretty much his wrestling style.
After surviving somewhat of a controversial first-round match at the state wrestling tournament at Ohio State’s Value City Arena, Tony Jameson of Austintown Fitch High School went on to advance to the final round at 145 pounds and win his fourth state title in four different weight classifications.
“I had a bad tournament, a horrible tournament, but I still came through and I did what I had to do and I did it with my style even,” Jameson said. “Just to come back and win like that, for me, was awesome.”
And with the championship match victory over T.J. Rigel, a junior from Tecumseh High School, Jameson became just the 16th wrestler to ever accomplish such a feat in the state of Ohio and only the third one to ever do it at the Division I level. Accordingly, Jameson was named as the Huntington Bank/Ohio High Wrestler of the Year.
“It was sweet but then again it was humbling I guess you can say to think just like that, it can be over and just like that, my run could end,” Jameson said. “So it felt good. Especially because on Friday night you weren’t expecting that match, but it happened and I adjusted and I came out a winner like I should be and like I’ve been practicing to be all year.”
A chorus of boos rained down on Jameson from the crowd at the Value Center Arena. They thought the future Buckeye might have been pinned in his opening match of the tournament.
“People are going to think what they think and they’re always going to want the underdog to win but I wasn’t pinned and everyone thought I was pinned,” Jameson said. “And that’s fine. They can think what they want. He had me on my back and he did what he had to do and I think that if I had a ref that hated me, he might have even called me pinned. But I came through and did what I had to do.”
Despite the way it might have looked, Jameson never felt he was in danger of losing the match but he was concerned.
“I wasn’t worried about me being pinned, but I was worried about a bad ref that might want the underdog to win,” he said. “That’s the only thing I was worried about.”
Jameson, after all, has never been pinned in his competitive wrestling career and, although it might not have looked like it, he felt that he was still in control during the very time that he may have indeed been in the most danger during that match.
“I know in that situation, I’m not ever on my back in practice, there’s just something inside of me that says ‘You’re not going to pin me,’ ” said Jameson, who claimed the last time he can even can remember being pinned was when he was 5 years old. “I don’t care if you’re 500 pounds or 1,000 pounds. It doesn’t matter. You’re not going to pin me.”
There were as many as three close calls during that first-round match but Rudy Hendon of Bowling Green High School wasn’t able to earn the pin and lost a 23-20 decision.
“The referee that did the match was very solid and very fair,” said Brett Powell, the 23-year Fitch head coach who was inducted into the OHSAA High School Wrestling Hall Of Fame this year. “Unless you were down there and you saw the boy’s arm position underneath his shoulder, he wasn’t pinned, he couldn’t be pinned and that was the amazement of the officials and myself. The guy that was wrestling him was the guy that kept him from really getting pinned. He probably could have been pinned but I know Tony and if that would have happened, that would have left a gap for something else for him to counter.
“Tony wrestles in very dangerous waters. He likes that challenge, he likes being on the edge and he puts people on the edge of their seats when he wrestles. But he was fine there. The coaches on the other side knew what was going on. There was a mat judge right there that had the ability to call the pin just as well as the official on the match and nobody ever thought that he was close to even being pinned.”
And after surviving that close call with Hendon, Jameson came back and eventually redeemed himself with a victory in that final match against Rigel to win it all.
“The whole final match was surreal because I was on my game,” said Jameson as he described what it was like for him to be in that proverbial zone against Rigel. “It just feels like I can lay on my back and still win. It almost feels like that. That’s why, when he was ahead in the third period, I was calm, I was fine. I just felt like I knew I was going to win no matter what he did and no matter what happened. I don’t want to sound cocky but that just was my mind-set, how I felt.”
And when the championship match was over and Jameson earned the decision, he experienced an almost overwhelming feeling of relief. In his four-year high school grappling career, Jameson won titles at the 103-, 119-, 135- and finally the 145-pound classifications.
“There was just a tremendous weight off of my mind and shoulders,” he said. “That’s the best way I can explain it. It was more of a physical feeling than anything. I could just feel it physically, the weight actually coming off of my shoulders.”
And that was followed by an extreme sense of pride. Jameson accomplished something that only a select few prep wrestlers in Ohio have ever done before him.
“I was very proud of myself,” he said. “No matter how I wrestled that week I was a four-time state champion. When I look at some of the other names that are on that list, it’s amazing to be a part of that group.”
With the victory in the final match secured, Jameson knew that his high school career was all but over and, for all intents and purposes, he was a Buckeye. He’ll officially be a freshman member of the Ohio State wrestling team in the fall. And since Jameson had a captive audience he wanted everyone there to know that he was proud that he was going to be a Buckeye.
“At the beginning of the tournament, I wasn’t really liked too much,” Jameson said. “I guess you could say that was because of what happened.”
But Jameson credited Powell for coming up with what he thought was a brilliant idea.
“My biggest concern, and I think he knew it, was how was I going to leave that arena and what was everyone going to think,” Jameson said. “So he got this bright idea to get out the OSU flag and walk around with it. And if they don’t like that then at least I’m supporting my college you know.”
The response from the crowd when he did just that was something he won’t soon forget.
“When I heard how everyone reacted to that, I never really understood the word breathtaking until that happened, honestly,” Jameson said. “I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to cry and I couldn’t cry. There was too much emotion at once. I didn’t know what to do.”
Jameson finished 16-0 in his career at the state tournament with every one one of those wins coming at the Schott. The fact that such a fairy-tale career came to an end where it did only made it even more special.
“It can only make it so much more special than it already was,” he said. “(Winning it there) made it feel really good and it felt awesome to know that all of my future (Ohio State) teammates were there supporting me as well. But when you win your fourth state title there’s only so much more you can do to make it that much better.”
Finding himself in the arms of his head coach was as spontaneous as some of the moves he comes up with during one of his matches.
“That just happened,” Jameson said. “I didn’t plan that. Just the way that (the flag) was his idea and the crowd loved me for that and for all the stuff that we’ve been through together … that definitely wasn’t planned and I think it made it even better.”
Jameson couldn’t have written a better script for the way his stellar high school wrestling career came to a conclusion.
“I think it’s every wrestler’s dream and every wrestler’s passion but I never imagined it happening this way,” he said. “Every day, I think, I thought in the back of my head there is no way you can be a four-timer. There’s no way. But at the end of the day you still got to chase your dream. You still got to go after what you want to get out of it.”
And now Jameson’s place is forever cemented in the annals of Ohio high school wrestling. Just like those 15 others who accomplished the same thing before him.
“I would have lost a lot of sleep over not being a four-timer, but do I think that’s all there is to wrestling? No. There’s always the next level,” Jameson said. “But I definitely think it’s great. No matter what, no one can take it from me. For the rest of my life I’m going to be a four-time state champion. That’s how it’s always going to be.”
But as he said, there is always the next level. Winning four state titles is not the be all and end all for Jameson at this stage in his wrestling career.
“Look at J Jaggers. He was a four-time state champ (St. Peter/Chanel) and I think he’s the best wrestler in the world,” said Jameson, referring to the current 141-pound NCAA champion and future OSU teammate. “But it took him until his junior year to win an NCAA title. So there’s always the next level of greatness you can achieve and he experienced that this year.”
Jaggers and Mike Pucillo (Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit), the NCAA champion at 184 pounds, are wrestlers that Jameson hopes to emulate when he joins them at Ohio State.
“Pucillo is a role model just because he won a national title and he’s a very tough kid,” Jameson said. “I don’t know him quite as personally as I do Jaggers but he’s still a great kid and I like him. But Jaggers is just a bigger role model just because of how he wrestles. He’s kind of similar to me and came up the same way. He gets a lot of rap about how he wrestles, but he still succeeds kind of like I do. So that’s a significant thing there.”
Winning a team national title is first and foremost on the mind of Jameson as he prepares for his next career as a Buckeye.
“I’m happy that I committed before they took second (nationally) because I was already on the wagon whether they were taking 20th or 100th this year,” he said.
“With them taking second, it’s saying ‘Yeah we can do it now.’ Well, I knew we could do it before I committed. I knew we could do it, win a national title, they explained that to me and they told me that. I knew the kids on the team, I knew who I would be working out with every day, I knew the coaches and I knew (OSU head coach) Tommy Ryan before I knew everyone else.”
When it came right down to it, it was an easy decision for Jameson to opt for Ohio State.
“With stuff like that and the fact that it was in my back yard made it real easy,” Jameson said. “I couldn’t be happier about it.”
The oldest of seven boys whose father worked hard just to provide the basic necessities for the family as he was growing up, Jameson knows what he wants out of Ohio State and he plans on going for it full throttle.
“What I want is a college degree,” Jameson said. “If I don’t win a match in college, I hope that doesn’t happen but so be it, at least I won’t be a knucklehead without a job. I don’t mean this to be disrespectful but my dad had me when he was 18 and he couldn’t be a kid, he didn’t have this opportunity. And for me to have this opportunity and not maybe do better than him but succeed further than him would be a wasted opportunity. Like I said, if I don’t win a match, I still have a life and I still have my degree. I can start my family the way I want it to be. Maybe not go do the same things he did or make the same mistakes.”
And if he just happens to win an individual wrestling championship along the way, then so be it.
“You train to be a wrestler, you don’t train to be a champion,” Jameson said. “Everyone trains. You train for track, you train for football and you train for wrestling. But training for wrestling is different than everything else. But when you want to be the best you have to push yourself to the next limit. What you have to do to win is disgusting.
“It’s not bad, it’s just the time and the energy and the focus and the preparation and the heart and the sweat and all of that that you have to put in to be number one is amazing. That’s why it’s the best sport. Win or lose, it’s still the best sport.”
And Jameson intends to win a lot, eventually, at Ohio State. But at 141 pounds Jameson might have to redshirt a year before he even has an opportunity to wrestle for the Buckeyes.
“Jaggers is going to be a senior next year so after next year he’s gone,” Jameson said. “And Jaggers is going to be my workout partner so what a better way for two kids that wrestle almost exactly alike to win it back-to-back-to-back.”
He’s definitely excited about his grappling future. He only lost five matches in four years at the high school level.
“I get excited but then again I don’t know what to do about it,” Jameson said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I prepare for the best but you have to keep that open mind in case maybe I’m not going to be the best as soon as I step on the mat in college or maybe I’m not going to win every single match in college or maybe I might get my butt whipped until I graduate. You just have to keep all of that in mind.”
He’s confident about his wrestling career at Ohio State and yet apprehensive at the same time.
“There are kids like Jaggers, a four-time state champion that smoked everyone (in high school) but it took him until his junior year to win a national title,” Jameson said. “But I’ve prepared myself for how it’s going to be and I’m ready to take it to the next level training-wise. So we’ll see what happens.”
But no matter how his career shakes out at the next level, Jameson is all set to be a Buckeye now.
“That’s the most special thing because in 100 years I’ll still be a Buckeye and no one can take that away from me,” Jameson said. “Once you’re a Buckeye, you’re always a Buckeye.”
And once you’re a Falcon you’re always a Falcon. Jameson put the already proud Fitch wrestling program under Powell on the map. To say it was a privilege for Powell to coach him is a glaring understatement.
“Guys like Tony Jameson are like comets,” Powell said. “You’re very lucky to see a comet in your lifetime that will shine as bright as this kid shined for Austintown, the state of Ohio and now for the Buckeyes. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime wrestler and you’re pretty damn lucky to get to sit in the corner for him. I just love the kid.”
And there’s a really good chance Ohio State wrestling fans are going to fall in love with Jameson, too.