When Durham Riverside state champion wrestler Jaquon Sowell commits to a college, he won’t generate the headlines and Internet traffic Garner running back Nyheim Hines drew with Friday’s announcement that he picked N.C. State.
But the 170-pound senior, who improved to 23-0 as he won the 43rd annual WRAL Wrestling Invitational on Saturday at Athens Drive High, is leaning toward becoming Hines’ classmate.
“I wanted to go to North Carolina at first, but now North Carolina State is showing more interest in me,” Sowell said. “I like how the program is coming up.”
Sowell, the N.C. High School Athletic Association 160-pound state champ a year ago, also has interest from Campbell and American University. He’s heard from national powers Penn State and Arizona State and can enhance his stock with a second state title. Riverside coach Brandon Palmer thinks Sowell has NCAA medalist potential.
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“He’s the real deal,” Palmer said. “I’ve been in wrestling 20 years, and he’s the hardest working kid I’ve been around as a teammate or a coach.”
Sowell’s nine takedowns rolled up a 22-9 decision. With an upper body carved from stone, he has strength to apply a hold and executive a move without his opponent slipping away.
“He looks like a beast out there,” Palmer said, “but he has very good moves, too.”
Sowell’s performance led Riverside to a fifth-place finish in the team standings, the highest among Triangle schools. Jack Britt took the team title back home to Fayetteville in a meet that drew strong competition from throughout North Carolina as well as schools from Virginia and South Carolina.
Sowell was one of three champions from the Triangle along with Wake Forest senior Nick Mutio at 120 pounds and Northern Durham senior Atavion Oliver at 182.
Four other Triangle wrestlers finished as a runner-up: Apex’s Chance Davis (132), Riverside’s Araad Sarrami (195), Northern’s DeMazio Samuel (220) and Riverside’s Gary Whitaker (heavyweight).
Mutio, who improved to 20-0, took another step in his comeback that forced him to miss most of his junior season with a dislocated elbow and come up short of a state-meet medal. He recovered late in the season to win a 4A NCHSAA region title, but he didn’t place at state.
“I’ve set big goals, but I have to keep putting in the work on the mat,” he said. “This win is big, but I can’t get a big head. I have to keep working.”
Oliver also remained unbeaten as he ran his record to 17-0. A year ago he was second at the regionals and fifth at the state meet.
“My goal this year is to be the 182-pound state champion,” he said. “I’m a lot better on my feet this year. This win is huge. I was the No. 1 seed and no one beat me.”
Rocky Mount’s Wilson Smith won the 126 title and was named the most outstanding wrestler.