Published Thu, Jan 31, 2013 6:42 pm Dateline
On a team with such youth, red shirt sophomore Harrison Hightower finds himself in a rather different role than many sophomores would be in – leadership. By now it is no secret that the freshmen on Ohio’s roster greatly outnumber upperclassmen. On a team with little experience, Hightower’s experiences are invaluable.
“It’s pretty important (because) he is a pretty consistent performer,” Ohio head coach Joel Greenlee said. “He does everything right, (so) he’s a pretty good leader in all those things.”
Greenlee’s sophomore leader however, modestly shrugs off his identity as a leader.
“It is a lot of responsibility, but the guys on our team, even the young guys are real mature,” Hightower said. “They realize they need to step it up. It’s pretty much a team effort, it’s not one guy. We are all kind of building off each other.”
With the modest demeanor that Hightower displays, it would appear that he is more of a quiet leader – a leader by example. His achievements then, are examples to younger wrestlers on how to “do everything right”.
Last year, as a freshman, Hightower compiled a very respectable 20-16 record. In his first full season he placed fourth at the Mid-American Conference Championships. To add to that, he earned pins against some of the best wrestlers from schools like Central Michigan, Penn State, Duke and Chattanooga. At the Southern Scuffle, Hightower earned four wins, with three coming by pins.
The successes achieved last season have carried over into the 2012-13 season for Hightower. It also helps to be going through the season a second time around. Traveling, home meets, pre-match rituals and the surroundings of a college atmosphere are all aspects of college wrestling that Hightower notes being more comfortable with. Something else that has worked in Hightower’s favor this year is the transition he made from 157 to 165 pounds.
“Last year I had to cut a lot of weight. This year I am more natural,” Hightower said. “It makes training easier. I don’t have to worry about my weight I just go in there and wrestle as hard as I can.”
With a record that currently stands at 17-14, the red shirt sophomore already appears to be in good shape to eclipse last season’s win total. Hightower, or “Harry” as he is called by coaches and teammates, has had strong turnouts in open competition. One finish that stands out to him is his finish at the Southern Scuffle, where he posted another four wins to give him eight career wins in the highly competitive tournament.
Hightower attributes his good fortune in Chattanooga to rest.
“A lot of that (success) came from my body getting a nice break from (winter break),” Hightower said. “I am more of a guy where it is not necessarily the grind (that drives me). It’s me just going in and wrestling and I think my body just adjusted well from coming off of break and it was just well rested,” Ohio’s 165-pounder said.
“Harry” has not always been Ohio’s 165-pounder; as stated previously he started at 157 pounds for Ohio, but he has not always been a Bobcat either. Before Hightower sported a Bobcat singlet, he was a Hokie.
During the recruiting process, Hightower, a native of Strongsville, Ohio, received a lot of attention. Two of his biggest suitors were the Ohio Bobcats and the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Both schools set up visits with the young Hightower. Virginia Tech’s visit came first and Ohio’s visit was just a week later. Coach Greenlee remembers receiving a call, in which he was told that Hightower had committed to being a Hokie upon his visit to Blacksburg, Va.
“Out of high school (Virginia Tech) recruited me real hard, they gave me a pretty good scholarship so I kind of had to take that, and they also have a really good program,” Hightower recalls.
After spending his first season as a redshirt in Blacksburg, the Ohio-native transferred to Ohio University.
“I realized that going far from home isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be, its seven hours from home,” Hightower, who also has a brother that attends Ohio University, said.
“(Virginia Tech) just didn’t work out for Harry,” Greenlee said. “He didn’t know he was going to be a 165-pounder, they wanted him at ‘57, and they were deep at that weight. It just wasn’t going to work out for him so he decided to come here.”
Coach Greenlee is certainly happy to have Hightower wrestling for him:
“I think the big difference is that you go (to Virginia Tech) and they’re like, ‘Who’s that dark-haired guy in the corner?’ Here, we actually know (everyone) and pay attention to them. That’s a big difference.”
It is really no surprise that Hightower garnered so much interest from college wrestling programs. His high school wrestling career speaks for itself. At University School, a young Hightower would amass 156 wins and 18 losses. Many wrestlers that go on to compete at the college level typically have impressive records and trips to state tournaments, but what separates Hightower from the rest of the pack is his three state championships.
His triumphs at the high school level are something that has helped the Bobcats’ 165-pounder transition into the college game.
“I think the biggest thing is not being nervous for big matches. I’ve been there before; I’ve wrestled in front of 16,000 people so it’s no different from wrestling at The Scuffle and other big places. You’re used to it, and the pressure (that comes with college competition),” says Hightower.
Harrison and Coach Greenlee both agree that the former Prepper’s strength is his top game, which he has used to earn quite a few pins at Ohio. As evidence of his abilities at the top, Hightower cites that he once had the 10th most pins in the nation. In his two years in Athens, at least 13 of his wins have come by pins. Both coach and wrestler also agree that the room for most improvement is in the bottom position.
Hightower knows what he can be better at, and he shows a strong drive to improve. He has spent several weeks ranked in the WrestlingReport.com NCAA Divison I Top 33, and currently stands at the 33rd spot.
“It’s a big deal to be ranked,” Hightower said, “but also you see all the guys ahead of you and realize how hard you have to work.”
With the Mid-American Conference Championships coming up in just over a month – they start March 10 – the 33rd ranked Hightower knows that he must work harder still.
“(I) just need to keep building on the successes I’ve had over the course of the year…I know that this is my second of four, so I know that I need to crack down and qualify for nationals,” he says.
Because of the experience that Harrison Hightower has, combined with his drive to become better and what he has accomplished already, there seems to be no reason that the sophomore leader cannot attain his goal of reaching the NCAA tournament.