BY BRYCE PHILLIPS, Elizabethton Star
When you are ranked at No. 1 there is usually a lot of weight on your shoulders.
And that was the case for Elizabethton sophomore Johnathan “Deuce” Morton.
Morton, however, carried that weight well as he battled to state champion status during this past weekend’s TSSAA State Wrestling Tournament in Franklin. Morton fought his way through four other grapplers as he took first in the A-AA 195 division.
“I was ranked No. 1 most of the year,” said Morton. “I had a lot of pressure on me going into the regionals, and I ended up being runner-up at regionals. Going into state we worked all week to prepare. We all did really good, and it all paid off.”
For Morton, the one thing that had him worried heading into the state meet was the unknown.
“What was really scary was that I hadn’t wrestled any of kids I was going to face at state,” said Morton. “That was a scary thing.
“The kids I wrestled first was a completely different body type than I had wrestled before,” added Morton. “Very short and stalky. He was hard to get through. The next kid, I had never wrestled him either, so I had to be careful and find out how to wrestle him. The third kid, he was a very tough match, and I beat him by one. The championship match was very close also.”
In the state championship, Morton and Forrest High School’s Noah Hill went three rounds before Morton pinned Hill in the third period. The moment Morton topped Hill, Morton said he felt the weight come off his shoulders, but the sophomore is already looking to next year.
“It was a feeling of relief,” said Morton. “But I thought about it, and now I have a lot of pressure for next year. It didn’t feel real at first.”
Morton wasn’t alone in Franklin. Cyclones Tyesha Thomas, Hunter Morrell, Andrew Fontanez, Joseph Kechter, and Chris Taylor all placed in their respective weight classes. Both Thomas and Morrell took runner-up in their division with Thomas wrestling at 119 and Morrell competing at 113.
Taylor finished third in the 182 division. At 285, Kechter took fifth while Fontanez finished sixth at 132.
“We took one less wrestler than we did last year, but we medaled the same amount,” said EHS co-coach Travis Pennell. “We are just ecstatic that our team can equate the hard work in the room to the success we are having. The way that we work out and the intensity that we bring. When we walk on to the mat, we mean business and those podium places showed that.”
Pennell coaches alongside co-coach Eddie Morrell, who echoed Pennell’s sentiment about the Cyclones and their performance at the state level.
“The work ethic started in the room,” said Morrell. “You could see it in all of our athletes when we went to the floor at state. For example, Hunter (Morrell) beat two people in his bracket, that on paper, he wasn’t supposed to beat. They all really elevated their level of competition and level of wrestling when we got there.”