After fourth state wrestling title, Oxford’s Simpson ‘kind of burned out’ and mulling life beyond the sport
by Joe Medley
Feb 16, 2013 | 6597 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Oxford’s Jordan Simpson holds up four fingers, signifying to his four state championships. (Photo by Bill Wilson)
Oxford’s Jordan Simpson holds up four fingers, signifying to his four state championships. (Photo by Bill Wilson)
HUNTSVILLE — Tears streamed down Shane Simpson’s face, saying everything a proud dad couldn’t voice in a rush of emotion.

Twenty-three years since he won an individual state wrestling championship for Wellborn. Nearly a dozen years since his mat journey with son Jordan began. Just minutes since Jordan, an Oxford senior, won his fourth and final state championship.

“People say, ‘Don’t blink, because then it’s over,’ and it is,” Shane manages to say.

And to think, it could all be over. Not just high-school over, but over over.

Jordan Simpson has no lack for offers to continue his wrestling career in college. He’s just not sure he wants to.

If his competitive wrestling career really is over, then at least it ended appropriately Saturday — with a methodical, 7-0 takedown of Thompson’s Demario Haynes in the AHSAA Class 6A 132-pound championship final in Huntsville’s Von Braun Center.

The underdog Haynes tried to keep it close, hoping for a miracle. Jordan Simpson, the overwhelming favorite, took him down twice, made a nice escape when Haynes sent him to the mat and threw Haynes to his back for a mat fall.

Everybody’s favorite won. The outcome was never really in doubt.

That’s how it’s gone for Jordan Simpson since he last lost, as a sophomore. He finished this season 53-0, which makes him 187-1 over the past three years.

He’s 276-9 since eighth grade and made it to the state championship final five times. He’s only the third wrestler in Alabama to make it to the 6A championship finals five times, and he won his last four tries.

How does he compare in Calhoun County, which has produced great wrestlers like Weaver’s Michael Sutton (state-record six state championships) and Jeremiah Wells (five), Wellborn’s Dalton Carroll (four) and Piedmont’s Clay Dent (three, plus state-record 76-0 record as a senior)?

Shane Simpson, who works with youth wrestlers for the East Alabama Wrestling Club, said it’s hard to compare the skill level of wrestlers in the Class 1A-4A division with those in 6A, mainly because of time spent on the sport. A higher percentage of 1A-4A wrestlers play other sports, whereas more 6A wrestlers pursue the sport on various circuits outside of the high school season.

“To me, (Jordan) is probably the best who has ever come out of the county,” Shane Simpson said.

In a preseason poll conducted by Scottsboro coach Daryle Qualls for Wrestling USA Magazine, Alabama wrestling coaches voted Jordan Simpson as the state’s best pound-for-pound wrestler. He was No. 15 nationally among 132-pounders.

Hours after Saturday’s championship finals, Shane Simpson got an email notifying him that that Jordan Simpson made the magazine’s Senior All-America Team.

“We’ve had a lot of good kids come out of the county, but I don’t think any of them have been voted the state’s best pound-for-pound wrestler,” Shane Simpson said.

If competitive wrestling really is over for Jordan Simpson, then at least it ended in a most satisfying way. It happened on a day when Oxford had three wrestlers in championship finals, and sophomore teammate Hunter Lee beat Wetumpka’s Khaliq Jones 15-0 for his first state title, in the 152-pound class.

Too, Jordan Simpson didn’t just win. He beat a Thompson wrestler, something everyone wants to do.

“Yeah, I hate Thompson,” he said before three television cameras and a tape recorder, with all the subtleness of a body slam. “They’re the best.”

Just minutes before he said that, he began to unwrap the tape from around his wrestling shoes and grappled with the most satisfying element of his fourth state title.

“I’m just glad I could do it for my dad,” he said. “My dad, when I lose, he loses. He was my coach as a kid, and this year, I was wrestling for him and my teammates.”

Shane Simpson started coaching his son when Jordan was a 46-pound kindergartener, and Jordan was all about it from the start. After the boy was late for weigh-in for his first match, he cried all the way home.

“I’ve watched him work every day — and work and work to get better,” Shane Simpson said, fighting back tears. “He was always pretty good, but he was always in some shadows.

“But he kept outworking kids. I’m proud of him because he put the work in.”

All of that work led to so many rewards, so much so that everyone following Alabama high school wrestling began to expect it.

There’s pressure that comes with being the favorite all the time, and one could see it Saturday. As Jordan Simpson awaited his championship final, he paced back and forth with headphones on.

He knew he had to approach his match with Haynes like the favorite, hence the early takedown.

“The first period, I wanted to make sure I got a takedown,” he said. “Being the favorite, I felt like I had to apply pressure early, break the opponent.”

Now that he’s won his fourth championship, one that he said he wanted for teammates and his dad, it’s time to make decisions for himself.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m thinking about wrestling in college, but I started when I was 5. I’m kind of burned out, so I’m just weighing my offers right now.”

As for wrestling options, he said he’s most interested in Arizona State or Chattanooga. He has yet to take any visits.

If he hangs up his singlet?

“I’ll probably just go to the University of Alabama and go to school,” he said. “I’m not sure which way yet. I’ve been waiting to make a decision until after state.”

Shane Simpson said he has never pressured his son to wrestle and isn’t about to start. If his son wants to just be a college student, then dad says he’s ready to accept that.

Still, it’s hard to believe that such a great champion is ready to call it quits so young. Shane Simpson is trying to give his son the total picture, looking beyond the burnout of the moment.

Once Jordan Simpson hits the college level, he’ll be surrounded by wrestlers who made it to the next level. He won’t always be the favorite, and victories will feel sweeter.

Maybe there’s a new challenge beyond high school. Maybe campus visits will re-stoke the fire.

Shane Simpson has planted seeds, like maybe his son trying wrestling on the college level for at least a year. If there’s still burnout, then the other option is always there.

It would be harder to come back to wrestling after sitting out a year.

Jordan Simpson said he will weigh things over the coming weeks. For now, he’s a four-time state champion, a crowning moment for a shared father-son journey.

“I was telling somebody earlier, upstairs, that it just seems like yesterday that we were right here for a junior tournament,” Shane Simpson said. “And he was sitting in the whirlpool over at the motel, and I think it hit him a little bit, too.

“One of his friends said he was talking to him, and he was like, ‘You know, this is the last time I’ll ever do this.’”

Regardless, Jordan Simpson did it well. He did it as well or better than anyone who came before him in a county that outdoes itself with great high school wrestlers.

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.