Ohio Wrestling: Replacing A Giant

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Replacing a legend is never an easy task, but in college athletics, it’s inevitable. Ohio wrestling faces that challenge as it will be without heavyweight Jeremy Johnson for the first time in five seasons.

Johnson graduated in the spring, as the winningest wrestler in school history with 143 victories. And while no one is going to immediately replace the hole he leaves behind, that task will be harder, still, because the wrestler that will assume the starting heavyweight spot will be someone who has never wrestled at the collegiate level. Zack Parker and Jesse Webb, both true freshmen, are the ones duking it out for the right to replace the two-time All-American.

Parker and Webb both know that each day they practice against each other is an audition for the spot. Most recently, Parker shined in Ohio’s Green vs. White intrasquad meet, defeating Webb in the heavyweight match.

They also know how hard they have to work to gain the upper hand on a team where every spot is a challenge to obtain.

“It definitely raises your intensity level,” Webb said.  “It motivates you much more. Every day you know you have to be on you’re A-game so you really want to perform.  It pushes you and at the same time it makes both of us better.”

Parker also said that he enjoys the added competition that comes with high-stakes practice, but also that he never knows how things will shake out in a real match against Webb.

“You get to know what their moves are, but in a match, anything can happen,” Parker said.  “It’s still difficult, but in the wrestling room you bash heads [and] anything goes. [But] out of the wrestling room, we’re all friends.”

Webb, a four-time Vermont State Champion, and Parker, a two-time Delaware State Champion, both acknowledged how challenging, but also how motivating, a task it is to come into a program as storied as Ohio is. Fortunately both have gotten some extra help with the adjustment; from Johnson himself.

Johnson has been working with the team, and the heavyweights in particular, while he finishes his undergraduate degree this fall semester. Head coach Joel Greenlee says that Johnson has been a great help not only for the coaching staff but for Parker and Webb as well.

“He helps us decide [the heavyweight starter], but he helps them out tremendously,” Greenlee said.  Among other things, Johnson puts each one through a morning lift and wrestles with them.

“He’s obviously very good and just getting beat up by him a lot of the time, that helps,” Webb said on Johnson’s coaching.  “Just the little things and the technique that he can help me with, he knows what works and what doesn’t.”

“He’s tremendous.” Parker said. “I’m trying to use as much time as I can with him.”

There’s no doubt that working with a two-time Mid-American Conference champion and two-time All-American will help Parker and Webb, and Johnson and the coaching staff expect an adjustment period for both wrestlers.

“Right now they’re still kind of figuring it out [and] figuring out what it’s like to be in college, let alone in college athletics,” Johnson said.  “They’re each young, they each have things they’re really, really good at, [and] they each have things that they need to work on.  They’re going to take some lumps along the road but I think lumps along the road only make you stronger as an individual, in wrestling and in life. By the end of the year they’ll get it.”

Greenlee says both Parker and Webb will probably be used in his starting lineup all year long, at different times, because of the different things each one brings to the table.  Parker is thinner than most other heavyweights and likes to use his sleek build to his advantage while Webb is a more prototypical heavyweight who likes to wrestle on his feet and push the opponent around.

The duos lack of experience will only be changed over time, but there is one thing that Johnson knows will help the newcomers – hard work.

“It’s a learning process for all of them,” he said. “But whoever the tougher one is, whoever the one that shows up [is, and] works his butt off every day, is going to be the one that succeeds.”