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When Jon Massey was eliminated at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A wrestling tournament in 2016, the then Hunt High senior figured that his wrestling career had come to an end.
But three years later Massey is back in Wilson and ready for a shot at something he could have never imagined as a high school wrestler — a chance to represent the United States on the world stage.
Massey, who just completed his second year wrestling in the Greco-Roman program at Northern Michigan University U.S. Olympic Training Site in Marquette, Michigan, has been in Wilson this week with four of his NMU teammates training with his old club, the Backyard Wrestling Club. The grapplers are preparing for the USA Wrestling World Team Trials Challenge Tournament at North Carolina State University on Friday and Saturday, May 17-18.
Winners in each weight class of the three divisions of the World Team Trials — freestyle, Greco-Roman and women’s freestyle — will move on to one of the two Final X tournaments in June in Nebraska and New Jersey. There, the final slots for the U.S. team will be filled for the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in Kazakhstan in September.
A lofty goal for sure for a wrestler who never even placed at the state tournament in high school.
“I never thought I’d be at the level I’m at now for sure!” said Massey with a laugh during a break in Tuesday’s workout in the Vick Elementary School gym.
Massey wrestled all four years at Hunt, where he was an honors student and also played soccer, but he wasn’t as serious about it until the last couple of years. He planned to go to Wilson Community College while he completed basic training as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve.
But the wrestling bug stayed with Massey, who traveled to Fargo, North Dakota, with the Backyard Wrestling Club for the U.S. Junior National Championships. He made a connection with Rob Hermann, the NMU head coach.
“The head coach at NMU is always there looking at kids and scouting and I just ended up talking to him and I ended up being there after I went to basic training,” said Massey.
Massey, who wrestled at 113 pounds as a senior, now competes at 63 kilograms, or about 138 pounds. He brought NMU teammates Riley Briggs, George Sikes, Delon Kanari and Dalton Duffield to Wilson to work out with the Backyard Wrestling Club, which includes NCHSAA champions Aaron Bancroft of Fike and brothers Christian and Timothy Decatur of Rosewood.
“I love coming back here and wrestling with everyone. And making the world team is big to me,” said Massey, who added: “I enjoy it here. I’m not home much so when I do get to come home, I try to enjoy it as much as I can.”
Whether he makes a spot on the U.S. World Team, Massey knows that he will be wrestling for at least two more years at NMU.
“I just enjoy competing,” he said. “It’s taught me a lot of life lessons — discipline, hard work — and I enjoy the physical part of it.”