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Wilson’s path to college wrestling got off to a bumpy start on mat

Former Demon standout signs with Truett McConnell University

Posted: March 12, 2018 3:52 p.m.
Updated: March 13, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

LUGOFF-ELGIN’S DEVIN WILSON SIGNED a National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and wrestling pursuits at Truett McConnell University in Cleveland, Ga., while flanked by his parents, Melissa and Tracey Wilson. Standing and looking on, from left, are Truett McConnell head wrestling coach Jonathan Jackson, L-E assistant athletic director Dr. Mike Armstrong, L-E head wrestling coach Ted Monroe, Wilson’s freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling coach, Chas McLaughlin, and L-E principal Worth Thomasson.

By his own admission, Devin Wilson used to get knocked around the wrestling mat, a lot, when he was a kid. Then again, there was good reason.

When Tracey Wilson went to wrestling practice at North Central High School, where he was an assistant coach for the Knights, he would take his son with him. More times than not, Devin would find himself up against high school wrestlers and, as expected, found himself getting the worst of things.

Those days seem like a distant memory now but one which the Lugoff-Elgin senior has not forgotten.

“I remember not winning … at all,” he said with a smile last Thursday inside the L-E weight room. “I used to get beat a lot. I cried a lot. I thought about quitting a lot but, I’m glad that I didn’t. I just fell in love with it right then and, I love the sport, now.”

The beneficiary of Wilson’s sticking it out on the wrestling mat were his coach at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School and, for the past three years at L-E High, Ted Monroe, and Truett McConnell University head wrestling coach Jonathan Jackson, whose Bears signed Wilson to a National Letter of Intent last Thursday in a ceremony held inside the L-E Wellness Center.

The road from being tossed around by older wrestlers to becoming a state middle school champion as an eighth-grader to finishing third in 4A at 132 pounds this past season, was long for Wilson. So, too, was a more recent trial.

A freak early season elbow injury curtailed Wilson’s junior campaign for the Demons. He missed out on his team’s 2017 run to the 4A Lower State championship match, not to mention being able to compete in the 4A state individual tournament. It was a year which was as equally frustrating as those spent on his back after having been put there by members of the NC wrestling squad.

What did Wilson learn from having to watch his teammates from the sidelines last year?

“Don’t take life for granted,” he answered. 

“I just got thrown in the first 10 seconds of the match,” he went on when asked the circumstances surrounding the injury which he still does not remember. “I blacked out.”

Monroe said the injury changed Wilson, who was part of the Monroe-coached back-to-back state middle school state championship teams at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School which went 45-0 in Wilson’s seventh and eighth grade years. As an eighth-grader, Wilson went undefeated and won a state individual title, beating a wrestler in the finals of the Carolina Invitational who had not lost a match to a Palmetto State opponent in two years.

“Obviously, it made Devin not take things for granted, like your health which, all of a sudden, can be taken away from you at the drop of the hat,” Monroe said.

“The injury itself was a fluke thing. He was returning to the mat and his elbow just got punched out. It destroyed his elbow entirely. We felt like he would have been in the finals at state last year if he was healthy.

“Coming back from that is like a NASCAR driver wrecking and coming back. There is fear involved there. Devin put that aside, came back, worked really hard in his rehab and set himself up for a solid senior season.”

In spite of missing most of his junior year, Wilson still managed to win more than 150 career matches in a Demon singlet. Once cleared to wrestle, Wilson worked even harder for his final high school go-around.

“It was a long year,” Wilson admitted. “I started out really rough and lost a couple matches that I shouldn’t have lost. Then, I talked to Coach Monroe, got back into the wrestling room and worked harder. Toward the end of the season, things started panning out a little bit. I got to state and to the semifinals match where it got away from me in a moment.”

One of, if not the main reason for Wilson’s slow start was the brace which he wore to protect his left elbow. Opponents would grab at the brace and pull at Wilson’s elbow to the point to which he took it upon himself to see if there was something he could do about an apparatus which was becoming a hindrance to his performance on the mat.

“I did have to ease back into it and I did have to change my wrestling style,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, I was wearing a really big brace and kids started pulling on it. I asked the doctor if I could take it off. He said that it was up to me so, I ended up taking it off and I went back to my old style.”

Once back in his comfort zone, the wins piled up for Wilson and the Demons. Without the brace to slow him down, Monroe said he saw the Devin Wilson he knew from the time Wilson first came to Monroe’s youth wrestling program as a youngster who would take on all comers.

“Devin had the mentality that he would wrestle anybody. He never dodged anybody. He looked for the toughest match,” Monroe said.

“I remember Devin when I was dealing with him in our kids’ program. Sometimes, I thought his dad might have been a little over the top by putting Devin in multiple divisions and multiple weight classes. And Devin would get pounded on and destroyed. But he was building a champion-type wrestler. Devin embraced it.”

Monroe said Wilson showed the heart of a champion in last month’s 4A state individual championships in Anderson. After losing in the semifinals, Monroe and Wilson met. The Demon boss told his wrestler to finish strong.

“When Devin got beat in the semifinals,” Monroe said, “I said to him, ‘Focus and go out a winner.’ He did and won those final two matches and medaled. That set him up for a good week (3-0) at North-South.”

The road did not end at the North-South All-Star matches as Wilson, whose was 45-8 as a senior, will continue to wrestle at Truett McConnell University in Cleveland, Ga. The Bears, an NAIA member, are led by head coach Jonathan Jackson who was one of the main reasons why Wilson decided to cast his lot with the program.

“I really like the coach. He really did everything he could in his power to get me there. I really respect and like that,” Wilson said of his collegiate decision.

With the paperwork completed and his high school career over, Wilson can now focus on the next stage of his educational and wrestling journey. He knows it will be a change for him both on and off the mat.

 “I’m going to have to get a lot stronger. I’m a defensive wrestler and in college, I know I’m going to have to start getting more offensive,” he said of his style and how it translated to college wrestling. “Basically, you have to go in the practice room and work hard every day.”

With points coming at a premium at the college level, Wilson will have to take a bit of a different approach than that which he took in middle school and high school. Fortunately, he said, having wrestled in many national tournaments has prepared him for the rigors of college wrestling.

“The speed, the environment in the practice room; you’re going to have a lot of top guys in there,” Monroe said of what wrestling will be like for Wilson at Truett McConnell. 

“The competition level is also going to increase. It’s not like he didn’t have good competition at our level in our practice room but, now you’re talking about that upper-echelon wrestler you see at the next level. All of them were good high school wrestlers at one point in time and he is going to have to compete every day.”

Wilson said he is still unsure as to what weight class he will wrestle in as a Bear. He could go as low as 125 pounds but would probably be more comfortable wrestling at 133 in college.

“I’m going to try to wrestle at 133 but 125 is a possibility. I will probably wrestle at 133 and try to get bigger,” he said of his possible options. “I walk around at about 145 to 147 pounds, most of the time. Going to 125 … I can do it but, there will be a lot of energy gone from me.”

The energy which Devin Wilson took to the mat with his each day in high school, Monroe said, was infectious. On this day, Monroe tried to keep his emotions in check as he said good-bye to a young man whom he had worked with and coached for the better part of nine years.

“It’s very emotional for me,” Monroe said. “Devin wrestled for me for two years in middle school and he had a great career over there. He’s a good teammate and he has been a force in our program. We’re going to miss him.”


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