User ID: Password:

March 9, 2009

Wrestling's wunderkind

By: Matt Kovatch

Jarrod Garnett

Eight pounds.

No, it’s not the sequel to Will Smith’s latest movie, Seven Pounds.

But it is one of the main themes in Jarrod Garnett’s real-life story, one in which a true freshman at Virginia Tech sweeps the wrestling world by storm with his rapid ascension to the top.

Garnett wrestles in the 125-pound weight class for the Hokies, who finished the regular season ranked 14th in the nation with a 20-2 overall record and an unblemished mark in the ACC. Though he was recruited as a 133-pounder, the rookie from Newark, Del., was asked to make the move to 125 upon his arrival in Blacksburg, something that took him some time to adjust to.

“I actually never even thought I’d be able to make 125 again,” admitted the talented rookie, who actually has the digits ‘133’ in his e-mail address because that’s what he thought his wrestling weight would be back when he had to set up his ‘’ account. “I hadn’t wrestled at that weight since my junior year of high school – it had been about two years since I actually made that weight.”

Eight pounds might not sound like all that much, but we’ve all seen how quickly the tonnage can pack on after a Thanksgiving meal or during the dormant months of winter. Plus, Garnett is a strapping young man, and dropping weight is normally the opposite of what a growing 18-year-old is trying to do.

“It really took a lot of discipline and hard work to make sure I kept my weight down,” he said. “I’ve gotten pretty good at it. It took me about a month or so to get adjusted to it, but once it actually started happening and I was able to control it, it has become a lot easier.”

Like anyone trying to lose weight, Garnett had to watch what and how much he ate, but a big part of the process was controlling his fluid intake.

“It’s very important for wrestlers to stay hydrated because we exert so much energy and we sweat so much during practice,” Garnett explained. “But you can’t drink too much because water weight puts body weight on you really fast without you knowing it. You can’t come into practice being too heavy because you end of having a lot of problems.”

It was a fine line monitoring how much to drink, but Garnett says he’s found the right combination of water, Crystal Light, Propel, Gatorade and Powerade. But why the change in weight classes? After all, Garnett was projected as a 133-pounder in high school.

For one, head coach Kevin Dresser envisioned him more as a 125 when he finally saw him step through the door in Blacksburg. Also, Tech didn’t yet have a solidified wrestler at that spot and there was a transfer, sophomore Will Livingston, coming in who looked better suited to work at 133.

But once Garnett finally made his desired weight, there was another obstacle to overcome – a promising Pennsylvania freshman in Brock LiVorio. The two essentially faced off for the starting position at Tech’s intra-squad wrestle-offs in late October, and LiVorio came out victorious, relegating Garnett to backup duty.

“It was weird how that played out,” Garnett recalled of what basically served as a tryout. “I felt like I wasn’t too prepared for it – I don’t know why. It was kind of a wakeup call for me, so in a way, it was kind of good that it happened to me even though it was bad at the same time.”

Dresser agrees with the notion that Garnett was not yet ready, as the freshman alluded to. The Tech head coach says that his staff’s biggest struggle with Garnett is getting him into the street-fighting mentality that elite wrestlers need to possess.

“In our sport, you have to like brutality to a certain degree – when the whistle blows, it’s a seven-minute fistfight with rules,” Dresser explained. “When Jarrod is ready to rock and he’s got that scowl on his face, he messes people up. But his weakness right now is that he’s probably just a little too nice.

“But I think it comes with confidence. He’s definitely got a mean streak in him – it’s just been tough to pull it out of him consistently. I think that as he gets older, it’s going to get easier – he’s going to walk onto the mat and think he’s the man. Right now, he isn’t quite sure if he’s the man yet.”

Luckily for Garnett, he got a chance to redeem himself not long after his loss to LiVorio. The Hokies competed in N.C. State’s Wolfpack Open on Nov. 8 to start the fall tournament season, and that’s the day that Garnett started to become ‘the man.’

The nation’s 12th-ranked 125-pounder, as well as the ACC’s top-ranked grappler in the weight class, were in Garnett’s bracket. He dusted them both, as well as his other three opponents, to sweep through the tournament and win the weight class in his first collegiate competition.

A little over a week later at Tech’s Hokie Open, Garnett wound up colliding with a familiar foe – LiVorio – in the 125-pound bracket. He avenged his previous loss, and two weeks after that, according to Garnett, LiVorio’s weight “started getting out of control.”

Soon thereafter, LiVorio became the starter at 133, and the 125 slot belonged to Garnett. All he’s done since then is go on to accumulate a 35-5 regular-season record, a 5-0 mark in the ACC, and an individual national ranking of No. 14. He was the favorite in his weight class going into the ACC championships on March 7, and he admitted that he’s had to stop once in a while to pinch himself in regards to his meteoric rise.

Jarrod Garnett finished the regular season ranked No.14 in the nation at the 125-pound weight class.

“It was kind of unexpected,” Garnett admitted of his early success. “I knew I’d do fairly well, but not quite as well as I’ve done, and as fast as I’ve done it. Of all the ranked guys that I’ve beaten, probably half of them came in the beginning of the season. Not many true freshmen even get a chance to try to knock off top-ranked guys – most of them redshirt. I’ve had some great opportunities and it’s been an exciting experience.”

Even Dresser, the man who recruited Garnett, didn’t see it coming.

“Ability-wise, I knew he was good,” Dresser said. “He’s so athletic and explosive and strong. He can pick guys up and throw them down. But I didn’t think he would be able to make that jump from high school to college as quickly as he has. It’s been all about getting him into that frame of mind.”

No matter how Garnett fares at the ACC meet (this issue went to print before the outcome was known) or how he does at the NCAA Championships on March 19-21, he has certainly had a freshman campaign to remember. They sky is the limit for the wrestling wunderkind, especially if he develops that pit bull mentality that Dresser so greatly desires.

It’s rare for a coach to admit that he wants one of his athletes to become cocky, so to speak, but with Garnett, there’s probably not much to worry about even if he does. Despite his brisk climb to the top, it won’t be hard for him to forget his humble beginnings as a 133-pound newbie. Besides, it’s right there in his e-mail address.

THE FANTASTIC FOUR Jarrod Garnett isn’t the only freshman making a huge impact with the Hokies – there are three more rookies in the starting lineup for Tech.
Head coach Kevin Dresser on:

Jesse Dong
(157 pounds, Westerville, Ohio)
“Jesse is the most consistent guy we’ve got in the room in terms of effort. He brings it every day whether he’s in practice or in competition.”

Brock LiVorio
(133 pounds, Irwin, Pa.)
“Brock probably has the weakest wrestling background of the three, but he’s a great athlete and he’s a really hard worker. He just needs to catch up on the wrestling side of things, and that’s probably why he hasn’t done quite as well as the others.”

Pete Yates
(149 pounds, Conyers, Ga.)
“Pete might have the potential to be the best of the four. He’s a little bit harder to get going than Jesse, but he’s another guy who brings it every day in practice. He probably wrestles harder than anybody we’ve got when the whistle blows.”