J Jaggers crouched next to a garbage can in the far corner of the Bryce Jordan Center. Two minutes before, a referee had raised his hand, confirming his major victory against Minnesota's Mike Thorn, who had beaten Jaggers twice in overtime earlier this season.
Coughing as he spoke after his quarterfinal bout, holding back vomit that was ready to surface, Jaggers embodies dedication to a sport he has succeeded at his entire wrestling career.
But it has been a struggle this season for Jaggers this season. His natural weight is 165 pounds, 24 pounds heavier than the weight he wrestles at collegiately. Though he said the potential vomit was only "nerves," it is representative of the weight issues that he has battled throughout the regular season. Jaggers is currently ranked No. 13 in the country at the 141-pound weight class, despite being the returning national champion.
This is March, however, and as any college wrestler knows, all records are wiped away. As Jaggers says, "It's no secret to anybody who pays attention to college wrestling that I wrestle my best in March."
With two victories in the first session of the Big Ten tournament Saturday, Jaggers recorded the 100th and 101st victories of his career, ensuring his name will be included with only 15 other Buckeye wrestlers who have hit the century mark in their career.
However, Jaggers still has a lot to prove this season, to himself and to the naysayers. He can win a Big Ten championship this weekend, something he has not done yet in his career. In two weekends, the redshirt senior will aim to defend the national title he won at 141 pounds last year. Throughout his senior season, he has heard critics say that last year was a fluke and he could not duplicate his feat.
"It's an extra kick in the butt when you have a lot of people saying you can't do it," Jaggers said. "I think I'm the best at the weight class. But with my suspect performance thus far, I've been hearing it even more about last year. So it means that much more to me, to basically prove all the naysayers wrong."
Buckeyes head coach Tom Ryan said Jaggers' weight issues were not due to slacking off over the summer. He worked at summer camps, trained and ran every day, working hard from the first day after NCAAs were over.
Despite struggling with his weight all season long, Jaggers never put his team on the backburner and always came out to compete for his team, Ryan said.
"I couldn't be more proud of the way he has handled it," Ryan said at a press conference Friday. "He has scarlet and gray running through his system."
After ensuring his trip to the semifinals, Jaggers sat on a chair a couple feet away from the mat, encouraging his teammates as they completed their matches.
Jaggers was a four-time Ohio high school state champion, a junior national champ, and a high school national winner. In every phase of his life, Jaggers has risen to the occasion when the great ones are measured, Ryan said.
"He's an end-of-the-year wrestler, he always prepares for the end of the year," 125-pound teammate Nikko Triggas said. "His weight is under control, he's looking good and feeling good. He's going to win it."
Despite the disappointing season to this point, Ryan is confident Jaggers will rise up once again.
"Sometimes, as motivated as you are as an individual, you need to be slapped with the cruel reality of the situation," the Buckeye coach said. "It took some hard lessons for him to really bear down and make the extra sacrifice that he needed to. When you look at his past, the past says that if you're on the mat with him, you better be ready at this time of the year."