Thomas Williams’ junior season was about redemption.
Williams made his senior season about validation. What Williams validated was his place as one of the best wrestlers in recent Licking County history and Northridge history.
Williams bumped up a weight to 145 pounds and matched his fourth-place finish from 2012, earning another fourth-place medal at the Division III state tournament earlier this month. He became the Vikings’ first two-time placer since Joey Simcoe.
“There were definitely a lot of nerves, being my senior year,” Williams said. “I feel there was a lot more pressure on me this year than last year. You don’t have another chance after this one.”
Williams just missed matching Simcoe’s school-best third-place state finish, but he won a career-high 60 matches and finished with 218 wins for his career, which could rank him as high as third on the Ohio High School Athletic Association list when the season’s final numbers are compiled.
Williams is The Advocate’s Wrestler of the Year, the second consecutive season he has earned the honor.
“He is just one those kids that has done the right things, trained right, stayed focused and worked to be where he is at,” Northridge coach Eric Potts said. “He definitely has always set his goals high and expected to achieve.”
Williams’ story began in the Licking County Youth Wrestling League. He and his classmates, many of whom have stayed together for a dozen years, ran roughshod over area teams, dominating the league’s standings.
Williams’ crossroads came at the end of his sophomore season. He carried a once-beaten record into the district tournament, but he was upset twice, falling short of the state tournament. The next two years, Williams removed any doubt of his abilities.
The OHSAA’s decision to add a team tournament could not have come at a better time, coinciding with Williams and many of his teammates’ final season. After the Vikings won the Licking County and Mid-Buckeye Conference tournaments, they qualified for the first state team tournament.
“They have been wrestling as individuals for years,” Potts said. “All of a sudden, we got into this team concept, and they kind of changed. We had a few kids that were either pin or get pinned. They started keeping matches close. The brotherhood of them changed, and (Williams) was a big part of that as a captain.”
Northridge — which beat Heath, Mount Gilead, Northmor and Bishop Hartley to reach the state tournament — was locked in a back-and-forth dual with Amanda-Clearcreek in a quarterfinal. The Vikings trailed 33-29 when senior heavyweight Anthoney Verhovec stepped onto the mat.
With time running out in the third period, Verhovec secured a pin as the Northridge corner of the mat erupted. Williams was one of the first to meet his classmate. The Vikings then were beaten by Massillon Tuslaw, finishing as state semifinalists.
“We have been saying since the season started that we have a dream team,” Williams said. “Everyone came together and stuck it out. We didn’t have injuries. Everybody battled tough the entire season from (106) to heavyweight.”
With sophomore Jake Adkins already having earned an eighth-place state medal at 106, Williams soon could have company as a two-time placer or be surpassed. History shows, however, it will not be easy to accomplish what Williams did.
“I am not one to say someone is the best there has ever been at Northridge or anything like that,” Potts said. “I wasn’t around to watch Simcoe wrestle. I don’t like comparing individuals like that, but in my mind, I haven’t seen anybody better out here.”