To Jackson’s surprise, Lewis gave his approval, starting in motion the events that culminated in Piedmont’s tenth individual state wrestling championship although Jackson admitted his first reaction was, “What have I done?”
Wrestling is a sport where repetition is considered the path to success. Most wrestle for years and wrestle frequently each season. Jackson’s three opponents in the state tournament in Huntsville Friday and Saturday had 45, 39 and 49 matches this year alone. Spending most of his time with basketball, Jackson ended with 18 matches. He had attended just four practices. None of that stopped him from becoming the 2014 Class 1A-4A state champion at 285 pounds.
“The way I wrestle, I’m not very technical because, of course, I’ve only been to four wrestling practices. I’m very good at knowing how to use my body and use my body weight,” Jackson said Monday evening. “I’m not as clumsy as a lot of bigger guys are. I have great feet and I use it to my advantage.”
As the North Super Sectional winner on Feb. 8, Jackson‘s first opponent in Huntsville was Austin Blanton of Lincoln, the No. 4 wrestler from the South Super Sectional. He pinned Blanton at 1:02. Then Jackson faced Brad Murry of St. James in Montgomery, who had beaten Jackson in overtime at Cleburne County’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ tournament the first weekend in January – his only loss of the season.
Having wrestled Murry earlier gave Jackson insight into how to defeat him in their state tournament semifinal meeting. He said he felt Murry’s hands slip as Murry made a move to throw him, caught Murry off balance and scored takedown points. When the three two-minute periods had expired, Jackson led 7-2 and had avenged his only loss.
“My sense of balance and sense of knowing my opponent’s body’s balance, that was the key concept of my whole game,” Jackson noted.
In Saturday’s championship match, Jackson faced Robert Armstrong of St. Clair County. He said other wrestlers wished him good luck but told him he shouldn’t expect to win as a first-year competitor. Only Murry and Hunter Barclay of Ohatchee told him they thought he would defeat Armstrong. When Jackson and Armstrong were introduced, Armstrong’s name brought the biggest crowd reaction. Jackson said Armstrong even had St. Clair County’s wrestling cheerleaders completely lining one side of the mat. The cheers and the cheerleaders that were supposed to intimidate Jackson had the opposite effect.
“Stuff like that drives me. … I thrive on stuff like that,” he said.
Neither Jackson nor Armstrong scored in the first two minutes. Early in the second period, Jackson got a point for an escape. He was awarded another point when Armstrong head butted him and led 2-0 after two periods.
As the third period opened, Jackson said he let Armstrong up for an escape point. Trailing 2-1, Armstrong had to force the action.
“He had to do something to get points and that’s my game,” Jackson said. “If I’m forcing you to do something to get points, you’re falling straight into my trap. I’m going to counter-react to whatever you do.”
Jackson said he felt being shorter than Armstrong forced Armstrong to bend down farther than he was comfortable doing in order to reach Jackson and that aided him in getting Armstrong off balance. He said he used one of the “two or three moves” he knew for a takedown and a 4-1 lead, released Armstrong and got a second takedown.
On the second takedown, “He came so out of control that all I did was basically squatted down and made his hands go over the top of my head and I just pushed him to the ground.”
With a big lead late and knowing that only a pin could cost him the state championship, Jackson said he just avoided Armstrong the final 10 to 15 seconds. The final score favored Jackson 10-4.
“I felt like that was probably the best match I wrestled my whole life,” he recalled.
It was late when Jackson and Lamey returned to Piedmont Saturday night. When Jackson went to check on his grandmother, Vicky Jackson, “She let the loudest screech out I’ve ever heard. She was just so overjoyed.”
Lots of folks in Piedmont shared his grandmother’s reaction. Jackson said he left the house to get a loaf of bread over the long weekend and the trip took an hour and a half.
“I got a lot of ‘Thanks’ and ‘Good jobs’ all day (Sunday) and (Monday) and even Saturday night, too,” Jackson said. “A lot of people make you feel good about being from Piedmont.”