By Mark Maxwell
From wrestling back in the early 1990s to coaching several state titles, there isn’t much that coach Mike Powell hasn’t seen in his days with the Oak Park-River Forest wrestling program. Now, they have burst onto the national spotlight as the second-ranked team in the entire country.
Even amid attention and accolades, Powell still believes this team can accomplish much more. After entering the year with a high offseason ranking, the Huskies coaching staff urged their athletes to turn a deaf ear to the praise that was coming their way.
Instead, Powell thinks the team may have fallen victim to reading their own press clippings, a pitfall they intend to elude in the future. The lauded squad fell to Blair Academy (New Jersey) and St. Paris Graham (Ohio), at the Ironman Tournament in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio on December 14. The Huskies finished in third place with 154.5 team points.
While third place fell beneath their initial projected ranking, it was still an impressive outing at the top wrestling tourney in the country. Seven Oak Park-River Forest wrestlers placed in the event, while Jason Renteria represented them as the only finalist, finishing in second in the 106-pound weight class.
Senior leader and Michigan commit Davonte Mahomes acknowledged the truth in his coach’s admonition and reaffirmed that, while their talent is outstanding, they still have crucial improvements to make.
“We’re not great yet I would say.” Mahomes told CSNChicago.com. “We're working on being great. After this [Ironman] tournament, we still got things to improve on. We got to build toughness and stuff like that. I wouldn't say that we're great yet, but we're working on being great. It's still early in the season so we got a long way to go. We're still working hard and trying to become great. Right now, we're good. We're okay but we're working on getting better every day.”
“Whatever we end up in the rankings or are we better than this team or that, our goal is to get the most out of ourselves,” said Powell. “Get a hundred percent of what you're worth.”
One of the most surprising notes about the Huskies squad is their youth as they feature only three seniors, one of whom, Emonte Logan, is on the mend after a disastrous injury nearly two years ago. Logan, a starting defensive tackle in football, was participating in a light wrestling practice his sophomore season when a classmate accidentally rolled over Logan’s knee. Initial MRI results revealed only minimal damage, but after the swelling subsided, they learned that Logan had torn his ACL, MCL, PCL and the meniscus all in the same knee. Instead of missing four to six weeks, Logan didn’t wrestle for his entire junior season.
“My motivation was basically getting back on the mat and basically making a comeback,” Logan said. “I just wanted to prove to everybody that I'm actually worth something and they need to look at me.”
Logan is certainly attracting attention post-injury, as he packed on 40 pounds of muscle during his rehabilitation. In the fall, Logan said he was “just playing around with his team” when he bench pressed 325 pounds multiple times.
The strength, agility and balance acquired on the wrestling mat have contributed to Logan’s football prowess as well. So much so, Logan had this to say to any younger competitors considering their athletic pursuits:
“It's a big plus on the football side if you want to play both sports. I just encourage everybody in the 7th or 8th grade or the youngsters to go out there and get the opportunity to broaden your skills. Be proactive with your time.”