GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — In our digital series ‘High School Standouts,’ Digital Sports Reporter Michael Epps features local athletes with incredible talent, hoping to take that talent to the next level.
These are athletes that stand out both on and off the field.
This week’s High School Standout is Hunter Johnson, a senior 132 lb. wrestler at Greeneville High School.
The Greeneville wrestling program teaches more than pins and takedowns.
“I love putting on the Greeneville singlet, I think it’s a great representation of our school,” Greeneville senior wrestler Hunter Johnson said.
“There’s a little bit of a culture shock you don’t really know hard work when you’re a 15-year-old kid so they come in here and the ones that make it they just put their head down and follow the leader,” Greeneville head wrestling coach Randy Shelton said.
It taught senior Hunter Johnson lessons to hold for the rest of his life.
“Honestly I think it’s about heart all the heart you have to wrestle it takes a lot of heart and discipline and dedication and sacrifice and I think ultimately that’s all it boils down to if you push through it put in the work you’ll be great at it,” Johnson said.
Johnson just started wrestling in 8th grade and had an up and down first couple years at Greeneville.
“My freshman year I made it to state but I just barely made it I took 4th and then my sophomore year I didn’t even make it and I was about to be done with it,” Johnson said.
He almost quit the team, felt swallowed up by the standards this program has.
“I was torn up pretty bad about it and I was about to never wrestle again and I don’t know what made me decide to do it but I decided to come back in the next week and practice all summer to get better and medal at state,” Johnson said.
He came back his junior year and finished 3rd in the state tournament, and reached another huge accomplishment this year by winning the region tournament.
“I was so happy I was trying not to jump up and down and get a flagrant or unsportsmanlike called but I was super happy it felt like I was at the top of the world on that podium and then they gave me the hammer and then they gave me a medal and everything I thought it was great cause I’ve always wanted to get a hammer at a regional tournament,” Johnson said.
Now the senior will compete in this week’s state tournament, ranked at the top of the 132 pound weight class.
“I’m hoping to go there and win it it’s my main goal is to go there and win it give it everything I’ve got don’t leave anything out there it’s my senior year don’t have any regrets just give it all I got
Hunter is one of many great wrestlers to come through this program, but he might not have picked up the sport without his younger brother Cooper.
“He’s a freshman this year he started wrestling two or three years before me and then I used to have no interest in it at all and then I saw him getting good at it and I was like I want to beat him at it one day that was my main goal when I started out was to get better than he was at it,” Hunter Johnson said.
“I started wrestling first and he’s just like I don’t wanna do it and a few years later we went to middle school and he got into it so just competitive like we’d wrestle around at the house and stuff and we’d get kinda mad wrestling around and stuff but we’re just brothers it happens,” Cooper Johnson said.
Greeneville’s got to be happy Hunter came around, and both brothers are happy to share this experience together.
“It’s pretty cool most people don’t get to have that experience with their brother little brother and big brother on a team especially Hunter hopefully gonna win state this year so it’ll be cool,” Cooper Johnson said.
“I don’t know he’s pretty good I think pound-for-pound wise I think we’re pretty close I hope that he can be amazing at it that’s all I really want for him I want him to be a national champion at it,” Hunter Johnson said.
This program is as well-established as any in East Tennessee: a team state title in 2013 and 17 individual state champions.
“I love how you can go out and it’s 1-on-1 it’s not about a team it’s just you and whoever you’re wrestling and you get to represent you’re school and yourself on your own,” Hunter Johnson said.
It makes a long-lasting impact on these kids, like Hunter.
“I think it’s amazing I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life it’s taught discipline all kinds of great stuff to use later in life,” Hunter Johnson said.
Follow this series throughout the year as WJHL’s Michael Epps finds the High School Standout every week on WJHL.com.