FRANKLIN – The shoes weren’t a perfect fit this week.
But they were a perfect tribute to a teammate.
Blackman senior Tyler Garrison won his first state championship in his final high school wrestling match while donning fallen teammate Daniel Winters’ yellow neon adidas wrestling shoes.
Garrison, a UT-Chattanooga commitment, defeated Cleveland’s Aaron Oliver 10-6 in Saturday night’s 160-pound Class AAA championship at the Williamson County Ag Expo Center.
Winters, a state qualifier at 120 pounds this year, was killed on Feb. 8 during the early morning hours when a car driven by teammate Michael Brobeck crashed on Interstate 24 in La Vergne.
“I can’t be more happy to be wearing those shoes,” said Garrison, who ran to the fenced area used as a holding area for wrestlers and coaches and gave Winters’ mother Tara Harrison Vernon a hug immediately after the match. “I know that Daniel was out on the mat with me.
“I am happy to be able to support his family this way. That means a lot.”
Garrison was one of four county wrestlers that won state championships. Prior to this year, the county had never had more than one state wrestling champion in a single year.
Eagleville senior Hayden Hammonds beat East Ridge’s Hunter Owens 4-0 for the 113-pound title in Class A/AA. Riverdale sophomore Nick Boykin defeated Cleveland’s Koran Kennedy by pin in 3:30 in the 285-pound championship in Class AAA. And Riverdale’s Sean Kennedy won his second straight title at 170 pounds with a pin of Soddy-Daisy’s John Williamson in 3:51.
Boykin, Garrison and Sean Kennedy each finished the season undefeated. Hammonds had one loss.
“They all came from the Sheriff’s Sharpshooters (wrestling program) and my dad (Bill Kennedy) was the coach,” said Sean Kennedy, who is the county’s first back-to-back state champion. “That means a lot to me personally. I think that’s a huge deal for Rutherford County, and great for Region 5.”
Garrison was named the Class AAA state tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler after the tournament.
He signed the borrowed shoes and wrote “couldn’t have done it without you” after the tournament before giving them back to Vernon.
“It means a lot for me to have her here,” Garrison said. “For her to be here after what happened to her family and all of us just means a lot.
“She loves the sport just like Daniel.”
Garrison’s state championship was a bright spot in a rough week for the Blackman High wrestling program. Winters’ brother Hunter Winters had also qualified for the state tournament along with Brobeck. Neither chose to wrestle in the tournament.
“You can’t get lower than what we went through,” Blackman coach Ronnie Bray said. “You know, people did stuff to their hair this week (to pay tribute). But wearing those shoes was kind of a way for him to pay tribute. (Vernon) asked him to wear them, and he said he’d be honored. For him to get it done with those on his feet is just icing on the cake.”
Garrison completed his second undefeated season with the win. He wasn’t able to wrestle in last year’s state tournament despite being one of the favorites in the 152-pound division. He was declared ineligible because of medical reasons for what was deemed “cold-sore like symptoms” on the corner of his lip.
That too led to extra motivation this season.
“Gold medal. Gold medal,” Garrison said. “I’ve put in so much hard work. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to think.”
Garrison and Oliver were tied 4-4 when Garrison used a move called a “spicy tuna roll” to get control of the match, and then rattled off six straight points.
“I’ve never hit it in my life,” Garrison said. “At practice, we’ve just drilled it, and I’ve kind of laughed at it.
“But that move won my state title.”
Hammonds state title was the first in Eagleville history in wrestling.
“This is indescribable,” Hammonds said. “This is my senior year. I knew I had to get it done.”
Hammonds dropped from 120 pounds to 113 just prior to the postseason. He said dropping weight wasn’t easy.
“I’m ready for some pizza, cheeseburgers — whatever,” Hammonds said. “I’m ready for it. I got to 120 and decided at the last minute to go to 113.
“It took a while to get there.”
Boykin nearly made quick work of Koran Kennedy, taking him to the ground in the first few seconds. Eventually the Cleveland wrestler tapped out, giving Boykin a 6-0 lead and the momentum before restarting the match.
“I was just going to go at him in the first period,” said Boykin, who turns 16 today. “I still have two more years to make a statement.”
Riverdale coach Shawn Jones said he was proud to have two state champions.
“These boys have worked their tails off,” Jones said. “Not just this year, but also past years. That’s why they are at today.
“Sean has set the tone for the county, winning it two straight years. Nick, winning it as a sophomore, we’re going to shoot for that three-time.”
Ten other Rutherford County wrestlers earned medals at state.
• Stewarts Creek junior Dylan Coggins finished sixth at 113 pounds in Class AAA. Coggins lost to Soddy-Daisy’s Chase Payne 6-2 in the fifth-place match.
• Eagleville senior Caden Pennington placed third at 126 pounds in Class A/AA. Pennington pinned Chattanooga Central’s Bryson Lemons in 2:57.
• Eagleville eighth-grader Landon Fowler placed fifth at 132 pounds in Class A/AA. Fowler defeated Alcoa’s Ryan Verhulst by forfeit after Verhulst was injured.
• Blackman senior Josh Feuerbacher placed third at 138 pounds in Class AAA. Feuerbacher defeated Rossview’s Adrian Gonzalez by pin in 1:20. Feuerbacher had lost to Gonzalez on a questionable pin earlier in the tournament.
• Blackman sophomore Matthew Sells placed fourth at 152 pounds in Class AAA. Sells lost to McGavock’s Darius Rutland 1-0 in the third-place match.
• Siegel senior Dustin Holmes placed third at 160 pounds in Class AAA. Holmes defeated Knoxville Halls’ Colton McMahan by pin in 4:04.
• Stewarts Creek junior John Oliveri placed fifth at 152 pounds in Class AAA. Oliveri defeated Bradley Central’s Caleb Adkins 6-3.
• Stewarts Creek junior Tyler Barber placed at 220 pounds in Class AAA finished sixth after being injured.
• Oakland senior Te’Juan Henderson placed fifth at 285 pounds in Class AAA with a 13-0 major decision over Summitt’s Hunter Hancock.
• La Vergne’s Shalyn Willard placed sixth at 105 pounds in the inaugural sanctioned girls state tournament.
Contact Tom Kreager at 615-278-5168 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kreager.