The best wrestling move Isaiah Jones ever made may have been one that never reached a mat.
The Phillip O. Berry Academy senior is a contender for a 4A state championship this season. Jones might never have reached this point had he not followed his mother’s advice for him to get his grades straight before concentrating on sports.
That was at the end of his sophomore season and he responded by improving his grades and winning the 4A West Regional last year. His discipline and hard work have turned him into one of the best heavyweights in the state.
“He’s very dedicated,” said Berry coach Charles Clarke. “He’s real coachable. When he first started, he was rough around the edges. He’s learned a lot.”
Jones never had any interest in wrestling in high school until a Berry assistant football coach told him that wrestling conditioning could improve his football skills. Jones immediately enjoyed his new sport but found that his 230-pound frame was giving up an average of 50 pounds to most of his older, more experienced opponents in the 285-pound weight class.
Jones remembers winning just a handful of his 30 or so matches as a freshman. But his spirit never took a hit.
“I never thought about giving up,” said Jones. “I knew if I stuck with it that it would pay off. I felt I would get better and I did.”
Though becoming a better football player was his inspiration for trying wrestling, Jones also found that football training was improving his wrestling skills. He reported for his sophomore wrestling season 10 pounds heavier and with a better understanding of technique on the mat.
His record crept towards .500 in his second season, but Jones was still an unaccomplished wrestler. Citing that he was more “focused on sports and girls,” Jones allowed his grades to slip. His mother, Carole Ingram, insisted that he give up wrestling and offseason football training until his grades improved.
Jones competed in the MEGA 7 3A/4A conference wrestling tournament in 2013, but his season ended before regionals and the state meet. By the end of his sophomore school year, his GPA had climbed back over a 2.0 and his mom let him play sports again.
A new understanding of the heavyweight classification gave Jones added confidence in his junior year. Clarke and assistant coach Darryl Hill, a 2010 Berry graduate, continued to wrestle Jones in practice, which helped him with technique.
“What I figured out is that a lot of heavyweights like to lock up and try to figure out who’s strongest,” said Jones. “I thought if I was able to manipulate that and use their strength against them, it would help me in the long run.”
Jones’ first hint of success was placing fourth at the Mecklenburg County tournament last year. In his first two seasons, Jones did not win a single match at the countywide event.
Jones won the SoMeck 8 4A conference title last season, which convinced him he could finish first at regionals and maybe even at states. Jones was seeded fifth at the West Regional, but he won all four of his matches – including three by pin – to claim the title.
At the state championships, Jones won his first match but dropped both of his contests in the consolation rounds. He finished the season with a 30-9 record, which was more victories than he had in the previous two years.
Now weighing 283 pounds and 5-foot-10, Jones has the size, experience and skills to challenge for a state championship. One week into the season, he had already pinned all three of his opponents.
“I want to win the state,” he said. “I want to go all the way.”