Kevin Thompson was good, but not the best.
Then, after defeating Gilmer County’s Johnnie Flakes twice throughout the season, he lost in the third meeting — the one that counted. It was the loss that shouldn’t have been, unless you ask Thompson. He’ll tell you it was all a plan.
Following the match that made him the third-place finisher for 138-pound wrestlers in 2012, the now-senior at Eastside set out to make sure that even on bad days, he would be great on the wrestling mat.
“He worked all offseason to try to get so good to the point that not only would he win, he would dominate and he wouldn’t be denied,” Eastside wrestling coach Earl Larimer said.
Entering last weekend’s state championship tournament, Thompson hadn’t lost a match all season. He then mowed through the state field, winning over River Ridge’s Noah Smith on a technical fall, Tristan Catterson of Columbus and Chaz Reimer of Gilmer County on a pin, before facing Carrollton’s Turner Martin in the state championship match for 145 pounds.
Thompson went through the first part of the match like he had done so many times before, using hard work and the athleticism that has carried him to the top of his sport in just the six years since he started in the sport as a seventh grader. Then as Martin made a mistake, overexpressed and got “greedy,” according to Thompson, the Eastside grappler went for the pin move, and put his opponent’s shoulders to the mat 2 minutes, 27 seconds into the match to become a state wrestling champion.
“Words can’t express it,” Thompson said. “It was amazing and I had an overflow of emotions. It’s definitely worth the hard work you put it in.”
While Thompson had been working at wrestling since a buddy of his suggested he try the sport after not making the wrestling team in seventh grade, the summer between last school year and 2012-13 saw that work put into overdrive. Wrestling became more than a sport for Thompson, working on it during his free time and even showing off his preparedness throughout the Eastside hallways, crouching into his fighting stance when crossing paths with Larimer between classes.
“He’s as hard a worker, and as passionate about the sport as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Larimer said.
That translated into the most winningest wrestler Larimer has ever seen, and claimed to have ever been in Newton County.
“He finished 64-0,” Larimer said. “I believe he’s not only the first Eastside wrestler, but also the first in the history of Newton County to have an unbeaten championship year.”
That championship year not only came on the heels of a disappointing third-place finish but also, Thompson believes, because of it.
“It was a hard feeling to go out there and work hard and know that you’d beaten the guy twice and know that you can do it again and fall short,” Thompson said. “It was bad but it was in God’s plan. He knew it wasn’t my time. It pushed me further to work harder and achieve and go after higher goals.”
Now that Thompson is a state champion, he has his sights set on wrestling in college with plenty of offers coming in. His current top schools are Coker, Gardner-Webb and Truett-McConnel.
“He’s good enough to do it,” Larimer said. “More than that, you have to want it, and — this is my third year of coaching him — he said from the moment I met him, he wanted to wrestle through high school and keep wrestling in college.”