Nov. 20, 2003
Columbus, Ohio – The Ohio State wrestling team signed four recruits Wednesday, adding yet another stellar incoming freshmen class to the Russ Hellickson era. The Buckeyes, whose 2003-04 recruiting class ranked among the Top 5 in the country last season, inked four nationally ranked scholastic student-athletes to wrestle at Ohio State in the 2004-05 season. The group of Jeffrey Jaggers (Bedford, Ohio/ St. Peter Chanel), Jason Johnstone (Massillon, Ohio/ Massillon Perry), Blake Maurer (Evansville, Ind./ Mater Dei) and Keegan Mueller (Dallas, Texas/ Highland Park) has combined to claim eight state titles in their respective weight classes, while each will look to eclipse the 150 career win mark as they enter their senior seasons in 2003-04.
Hellickson, in his 18th season as the wrestling head coach at Ohio State, envisions each member of the foursome as potential major contributors to one of the top teams in the nation. Hellickson views Jaggers as a 141-pound competitor, while fellow Ohio native Johnstone may see action at 149 or 157. Mueller is projected to wrestle at 165, while Maurer is slated to compete at either 174 or 184.
“This is a great group of student-athletes who are respected tremendously in the wrestling community,” Hellickson, who has three wrestlers from the 2003-04 recruiting class – 197 J.D. Bergman, 157 James King and 174 Alex Picazo – vying for spots in the starting line up this season, said. “All four from the group are national caliber-type wrestlers who are ranked within the Top 6 in major wrestling publications. All possess the talent to become contributing factors on this team as soon as they decide to do so.”
Both W.I.N. Magazine and Amateur Wrestling News rate each of the foursome as high as No. 3 in their respective weight classes, while going no lower than No. 6 nationally.
“This group is a tremendous class for us and matches our class from last year,” Hellickson continued. “The last two recruiting classes provide Ohio State with balance throughout our team. That balance allows our student-athletes to compete with national caliber wrestlers and improve on a daily basis in our training room.”
The Ohio State Steelwood Training facility, which was completed at the beginning of the 2002-03 season, currently houses three-time All-American and former Heavyweight champion senior Tommy Rowlands and fellow senior All-American John Clark as well as three other multiple national qualifiers in seniors Blake Kaplan, Jesse Leng and Jeff Ratliff.
Although that group of highly accomplished seniors will vacate Steelwood next season, they have helped to build a tradition at Ohio State that appeals greatly to aspiring collegiate wrestlers.
Jaggers is excited about the opportunity to step into the footsteps of the 2003-04 Ohio State senior class and help continue to build the Buckeye wrestling tradition.
“Tommy Rowlands coached me at the Junior Nationals this year,” Jaggers said. “He worked with me at the tournament and camp. He is an awesome wrestler and awesome guy. I really look forward to carrying on the tradition those guys have created.”
Jaggers, ranked fourth in the country by both W.I.N. and AWN, will contend for his fourth consecutive Ohio state championship at 135 pounds this season. The Most Valuable Wrestler in Division III a year ago, Jaggers will look to improve upon a 124-3 career mark as a senior. Also among his accolades is a third place finish at the 2003 Junior National Freestyle Championships.
The Bedford, Ohio native expressed how important it was to attend Ohio State and remain in-state as a wrestler at the Division I level.
“I knew I wanted to go to a Big Ten school,” Jaggers said. “I remember when a lot of great wrestlers would go away to other schools and I wished they would have kept it in-state. When I visited Ohio State and was with the team, I really liked the experience and knew it was the right fit.”
Also representing Northeast Ohio is Massillon Perry standout Jason Johnstone, who is the defending Ohio state champion at 140 pounds after claiming the runner-up spot in 2002. Johnstone enters this season with a 105-12 overall ledger and is ranked third by AWN and fourth by W.I.N. He has experienced marked success in tournament action, claiming the title at the Medina Invitational, while earning second place at the 2002 IronMan Tournament and the Best of the East competition. Johnstone also placed second at the 2003 USA Junior National Greco-Roman Championships and fifth at the 2003 USA Junior Freestyle National Championships.
“All of the people at Ohio State made me feel really comfortable,” Johnstone said. “They are a great team with great coaches. I’ve always rooted for the Buckeyes and going to Ohio State is something I always wanted to do. I wanted to stay close to home and everyone at Ohio State made it feel like home. I’m looking forward to being a part of what they have started.”
Ken Ramsey, assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State, stressed the importance of keeping talented wresters in the state of Ohio.
“Ohio is a state rich in wrestling talent and tradition,” Ramsey, who was a two-time All-American in 1991 and 1992 while wrestling for Hellickson in his career at Ohio State, said. “It is important to keep the Ohio talent in their home state. Ohio is a competitive recruiting territory. It is great for our program to land two outstanding wrestlers from the state of Ohio this year.”
Ramsey not only stressed the value of keeping Ohio talent within the state lines, but also expressed the importance of expanding the recruiting effort across the nation.
“It is important to win the recruiting battle for wrestlers in Ohio,” Ramsey continued. “It is equally as important to go outside the state. We have signed an outstanding wrestler from Texas for the second year in a row. Last year we signed James King who will contribute to this team as a true freshman this season. Adding James last year and Keegan this season has helped us open a new pipeline from a national perspective.”
King played a major role in Mueller’s decision to become a Buckeye.
“Having James at Ohio State almost will be like having a family member on the team,” Mueller said. “We have been friends and workout partners for a long time. Having James at Ohio State was a big part of my decision.”
Mueller has scored 148 career victories against just 14 defeats in his three seasons at Highland Park High School in Dallas, with 10 of the 14 losses coming in his freshman campaign. The 2002 Texas state champion and 2003 state runner-up is ranked No. 6 in the country by W.I.N. Magazine. He also claimed tournament crowns at the 2002 Rocky Mountain Cadet Championships and the 2003 World of Wrestling Mile High Tournament.
Although King played a role in Mueller’s final call, other factors were involved in Mueller’s decision to become a Buckeye.
“Earning a college degree is so highly stressed in the world today,” Mueller said. “Getting a great education at Ohio State was very important to me. I also would like to represent Ohio State at the national tournament and win. I will do my best to help these last two recruiting classes come together and win a national championship.”
The Buckeyes dipped into neighboring Indiana to sign Maurer, who will seek his fourth Indiana state championship in as many seasons in his final scholastic campaign. En route to his three titles Maurer has posted an exceptional 144-2 overall record, including a 46-1 mark last season as he claimed state crown No. 3. Maurer is ranked third in the nation at 189 pounds by W.I.N. magazine and No. 6 at the 171 class by AWN.
“The coaches were the greatest appeal for me in my decision to come to Ohio State,” Maurer, who also started for the Mater Dei football team at linebacker and fullback, said. “They have been instructors at my high school during camps since I was in sixth grade. Year-after-year I have had the opportunity to build a strong relationship with each coach. I now hope to continue to work with the coaching staff and hopefully attain my goals of becoming a multiple national champion. It is a dream-come-true to have the opportunity to carry on the tradition at Ohio State.”
The quartet not only brings success athletically to Ohio State, but they also will carry grade point averages near or above 3.0 upon enrollment at Ohio State.
“The entire experience is about getting a well-rounded education and earning your degree,” Hellickson said. “This is an opportunity for these young men to compete as elite athletes while earning an education at an elite university. This is a group that has had success in some if the best tournaments in the country while also succeeding in the classroom. We are pleased to extend the opportunity to expand their success here at Ohio State.”
2008 recruiting class at a glance:
Jeff Jaggers Sr., St. Peter Chanel High School Bedford Ohio
Jaggers is the three-time defending Ohio state champion at 135 pounds … he will seek his fourth crown this season as a senior … was the 2003 MVP of the state tournament … his current record is 124-3 … placed third at the Junior National Freestyle Championships … projected to be in the 141 weight class.
Jason Johnstone Sr., Perry High School Massillon, Ohio
Johnstone is the 2003 Ohio state champion at 140 pounds and the runner-up of last year’s competition … current record is 105-12 … placed second at the IronMan Tournament and The Best of the East … posted a second place finish at the 2003 USA Junior National Greco Roman Championships and a fifth place at the Junior National Freestyle Championships.
Blake Maurer Sr., Mater Dei High School Evansville, Ind.
Maurer is the three-time defending Indiana state champion … placed fifth at the 2001 USA Cadet National Freestyle Championships … Mater Dei is a perennial powerhouse in Indiana wrestling … also is the starting linebacker and fullback for the Mater Dei Football team.
Keegan Mueller Sr., Highland Park High School Dallas, Texas
Mueller is the 2002 Texas High School state champion at 152 pounds and the runner-up in 2003 … has compiled a record of 148-14 thus far in his career … 2002 Rocky Mountain Cadet National Champion … 2003 World of Wrestling Mile High Tournament champion.