Updated Thu, Apr 24, 2014 1:25 pm
Walking into the practice room in the Convocation Center, the stench of sweat is overwhelming. Wrestlers slam into one another as they drain every ounce of their strength. The walls are lined with padding because when two wrestlers are wrapped up in a match, their sense of location gets lost.
In between bouts, each wrestler gets to choose a workout to complete before stepping back into the ring. Most of the athletes do crunches or push-ups as a way to break from the intensity.
For heavyweight Jeremy Johnson there are no breaks. He does sprints.
Even with the intimidation factor each Ohio wrestler brings to the mat, nothing intimidates more than the sight of Johnson.
When Johnson walks into a room, he fills the doorway way. All 285 pounds of Johnson are known for plowing through opponents, giving him the nickname “Train” that he has carried with him since Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School football practice. Johnson is such a threat that even his teammates don’t want to face him on the mat during practice.
“I just have a motor and keep going,” he said. “I would say that the intensity that I practice with everyday is hard to compete with. I’m also larger than everybody, so that’s to my benefit.”
While Johnson is a teammate to be feared at practice, he is also one who is respected. Johnson is notorious for not letting a day of practice go to waste, coach Joel Greenlee said.
“When we go lift weights, he’s the guy that’s lifting as hard, if not harder, than everybody,” Greenlee said. “He’s a dang heavyweight, and he’s top four or five in every run we have.”
This work ethic played a large role in why Johnson, a 22-year-old redshirt senior, was successful. In his freshman year, Johnson was named Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year. As a sophomore, he achieved All-MAC Academic and All-American honors.
Last season, Johnson received academic honors once again, but fell one match short of All-American.
Getting so close to back-to-back All-American honors left him determined to get there again during his senior season.
“I think my losses have taught me a lot about myself,” he said. “The three losses that I (had) this season, I could go through and tell you what was going through my mind, what was going on physically.
“I think losses teach you so much more about who you are as an athlete and as a person since you can reflect on it.”
Johnson received All-American honors this season with his 143rd win as a Bobcat. The win marked the most by a wrestler in Ohio history.
But Johnson didn’t achieve this feat with a rare set of tactics. Greenlee doesn’t teach wrestlers to adjust their basic strategy. He said Johnson always relies on his speed and fundamental strengths.
“You’ve got to be good at one thing on your feet, one thing on the bottom, one thing on top that you can do to everybody, and he does basically that,” Greenlee said of Johnson. “He’s got a few other things, but not a ton, and that’s what makes him good. He wrestles in the positions that he’s good at, and he’s very good at those positions.”
One of the things Johnson got very good at is mastering the pin. He boasted 11 pins on the season, second on the Bobcats to Harrison Hightower, who led all NCAA 165-pound wrestlers with 12 pins.
Johnson’s skills and determination put him in a position to be a leader on the Ohio team. But for a quieter athlete like Johnson, a psychology major, leadership is more natural through his actions instead of his words.
“My teammates look to me as a leader on the mat because we need those extra bonus points,” he said. “We need wins, and we need someone to get the momentum started.”
His leadership role is undeniable. And underneath the tough, determined wrestler, Johnson sports a soft side. He’s also a bit shy.
“He’s like that big, green guy in that cartoon,” Greenlee said. “Shrek!”
Greenlee and Johnson have built a strong relation, and their relationship and the friendships with his teammates are something Johnson will miss most about his time at Ohio.
“Having those really tight-bonded relationships are really important in any aspect of life,” he said.
Upon graduation in May, Johnson hopes to make it to the U.S. Olympic team in 2016.
“But Olympic wrestling differs from collegiate wrestling.”
Olympic wrestling, which is called “freestyle,” puts a greater emphasis on quick attacks in comparison to body control collegiate wrestling demands. In both styles, a pin will give a wrestler an immediate win.
Johnson attended the U.S. Open and All-World tryouts last summer. Learning a different style of wrestling will take him some time, but the translation of the pin and Johnson’s overall athleticism leave hope for a successful transition.
Regardless of his post graduation success, the Bobcats will not soon forget Johnson’s spirit and accomplishments.