WRESTLING: Mariakis ready to test himself at Chattanooga

Keith and Angie Mariakis were among a large crowd on hand at Ridgeland High School last week to watch senior wrestler Jacob Mariakis sign on to continue his career at Chattanooga. Also attending the ceremony was Caleb Mariakis, Josh Mariakis and Ridgeland Athletic Director Robert Stinson. / Scott Herpst

Jacob Mariakis' immediate plans for the next two months involve prepping for a run at becoming just the second Ridgeland High School wrestler to win three state titles.

His long-term wrestling plans are already taken care of.

Mariakis recently put his signature on a letter of intent to wrestle for the Chattanooga Mocs and new head coach Kyle Ruschell.

"With Coach Ruschell coming in, there's been a culture change with him coming from a Big Ten school," Mariakis said. "They had a great coaching staff already, but when Coach Ruschell got the head coaching job, that's what led me to go there. The practices are really intense and I know it's going to get big real fast over there."

Ruschell joined the Mocs' staff in June 2018 as assistant coach and was promoted to interim head coach on July 19 after former coach Heath Eslinger stepped down to pursue other interests. Ruschell had spent the previous eight seasons as an assistant coach at Wisconsin, where he was a two-time All-American as a wrestler (2007-2010). He is also a former member of the U.S. National Team (2014-2015).

Mariakis has battled his way through surgeries and injuries over the past couple of seasons, but has still managed to find a way to win back-to-back Class AAAA state championships (138 pounds as a sophomore and 145 as a junior) after losing by one point in the finals as a freshman at 132. He entered his senior season with a 99-5 overall record.

He was the 2018 Walker County Co-Wrestler of the Year and has earned All-American honors at FloNationals and the NHSCA championships.

"Hopefully I can bring a lot of hard work (to their program)," Mariakis said. "Hopefully I can become an All-American and, eventually, a national champion, but right off the bat I know I have to put in a lot of hard work."

The Ridgeland senior said he got a first-hand look at what it took to wrestle in college as he attended open workouts at UTC over the summer.

"I took some beatings over there," he continued. "There were some days when I didn't even score and I left frustrated. I'd call my dad and he would just tell me to keep working, but the more I practiced, the more I got to where I started wrestling like a college kid. It really just opened my eyes to a whole other level. Once I get (to UTC) and start wrestling everyday, I'll just be so much better than I am now."

"Jacob brings the mentality and work ethic we look for in all of our athletes,' explained Ruschell in a press release. "He is the definition of consistency and will be an excellent addition to the middle weights. He has a bright future ahead of him here, and we are excited about what he has to offer our program."

Keith Mariakis, Jacob's father and high school coach, said he was very proud of his youngest son.

"He just works hard," the elder Mariakis explained. "He's taken a lot of the lessons that a lot of people have taught him on what he has to do. We've always said you just have to be a little different to be really, really good. The kid gets up at 4 or 4:30 some mornings to go to the wrestling room and get a workout in and that's a little different, but he's always worked hard.

"One of the biggest things about him is his goal of helping us win a team state title and I think that's a reflection of him. He understands that (wrestling) is an individual sport, but at the same time, he wants as many people as possible to also work hard toward a common goal."

Mariakis added that his son's desire "to be better than everybody else" is what will help him succeed in college.

"We used to say that you have to hate losing more than you love winning," he said. "But about a year or so ago, a coach told us that there was more to it than that. He told us that you have to want to be the best at every single thing that you do because that's what separates the elite from everybody else. You have to want to be the best at working out, the best at running sprints and everything else. It has to be more than just winning and losing and Jacob has kind of grabbed the hold of that mindset."

Jacob said he is undecided on a major.

Mariakis is one of four signees in Ruschell's first recruiting class and the only one of the four from Georgia. He is projected to wrestle at 157 pounds in college.

Also joining the Mocs for the fall of 2019 will be 141-pounder Grant Lundy, who went 37-1 as a junior at nearby Cleveland (Tenn.) High School. They will be joined by Logan Andrew (197) of Winter Park, Fla. and Weston Wichman (157) of Johnson Creek, Wisc.