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Higginbotham, Jonson bring home wrestling titles

Jeff Hurndon Photography / Union Grove's Griffin Higginbotham defeated Pope's Tyler Haskins at 126 pounds in Class AAAAA to win his second career individual state title.

Jeff Hurndon Photography / Union Grove's Griffin Higginbotham defeated Pope's Tyler Haskins at 126 pounds in Class AAAAA to win his second career individual state title.

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Jeff Hurndon Photography / Strong Rock Christian's Peyton Jonson tries to evade a move by Gordon Lee's Corey Jewel in the finals at 195 pounds in Class A at the GHSA Traditional Wrestling State Tournament in Macon on Saturday.

Local state placers

CLASS AAAAAA

Luella

Chase Kourajian, 138, fourth

CLASS AAAAA

Ola

Seth Osborne, 106, second; Ean Wilson, 145, fifth; Jaden Smith, 182, fifth; Jimmy Carman, 195, third

Union Grove

Griffin Higginbotham, 126, state champion; Luke Parker, 138, third; Tyler Cooley, 195, sixth

CLASS AAAA

Eagle's Landing

Shawanye Lawrence, 285, sixth

Jonesboro

Jalal Malik, 113, sixth; Calvin Coleman, 120, third

Locust Grove

Peter Baus, 132, sixth; Brandon Benson, 145, sixth; Emilio Conde, 152, sixth; Jacob Austin, 170, sixth; Tyler Rapes, 220, fourth

Woodland

Josh Shelton, 126, fourth

CLASS A

ELCA

Trent Johnson, 106, fourth; Griffin Alexander, 170, fifth; Chase Burdette, 220, fourth

Strong Rock Christian

Robert Maddox, 152, fifth; Peyton Jonson, 195, state champion; Asher Wilson, 285, sixth

MACON — Griffin Higginbotham and Peyton Jonson both felt they had something to prove going into their respective finals matches.

The Union Grove and Strong Rock Christian seniors stated their cases emphatically with individual state titles at the Georgia High School Association Traditional Wrestling State Tournament at the Macon Centreplex on Saturday.

Higginbotham won a 10-2 decision over Pope’s Tyler Haskin to win the 126 pound title in Class AAAAA, the second of his career. Jonson used a pivotal second period to clinch a 6-4 decision over defending 195 Class A champion Corey Jewel of Gordon Lee.

“I feel like I made my mark [at Union Grove],” Higginbotham said.

“It’s unexplainable,” Jonson said. “Four years of hard work never felt so good.”

Higginbotham’s and Jonson’s journey to Satruday’s finals could not have been more different.

Higginbotham had been there before. He was a state champion in Class AAAA in 2011 as a sophomore and expected to repeat last season. Instead, he lost in the quarterfinals and eventually settled for third place.

But redeeming himself wasn’t even the biggest burden for Higginbotham in the weeks leading up to Saturday. The uncertainty surrounding his potential future wrestling for Cornell University gave Higginbotham fits of anxiety.

Those were put to rest this past Tuesday. Higginbotham officially got accepted to Cornell and was free to pursue one last high school state title.

“It really lifted a weight off,” Higginbotham said. “Knowing I didn’t have to think about that all the time, I could just go out here and have fun.”

Higginbotham’s finals match wasn’t fun to begin.

The referee signaled go and Higginbotham promptly took a head-butt right to his mouth.

“Right at the beginning, boom,” Higginbotham said. “It kind of woke me up.”

Higginbotham had plenty of fun with Haskins from there. He went up 4-1 after the first period then pushed the lead to 6-1 after the second period with another takedown.

Higginbotham knew what to expect going into the third period. He’d seen Haskins wrestle from behind before. He knew Haskins would want to begin the period in neutral position and aggresively go for head-locks and big throws.

Late in the period, Haskins got a hold of Higginbotham’s upperbody.

Higginbotham knew exactly what to do.

“I knew he was going to try to throw me,” Higginbotham said. “So I just kept my hips in good position and went with it.”

Jonson had never been in a finals match. He’d never been at the state tournament period.

Injuries had always derailed Jonson’s season — a knee his freshman season, spinal fracture as a sophomore and a dislocated elbow in last year’s state sectionals. So disappointed after three years of abbreviated seasons, the Strong Rock Christian senior briefly considered not wrestling again.

But a summer camp session at The Compound, a wrestling training facility in Stockbridge, changed Jonson’s mind.

“They told me I had a chance to go a really long way,” Jonson said. “They told me I had a chance to win it, that I had talent.”

Another pep talk from Strong Rock Nick Hendrix when the high school season began and Jonson was convinced.

A few months later, Jonson became the Patriots’ first state champion in any sport.

“Ever since I was a little kid I always dreamed of bringing something big to our school, because I have a lot of school pride,” Jonson said. “Now’s the time I get to bring [a state title] home.”