By STEVE KRAH
A.J. Poindexter has experienced moments of motivation during his wrestling career.
His first season at Harrison High School in West Lafayette ended with Poindexter — then a 138-pound sophomore – placing sixth at the 2018 Lafayette Jeff Sectional.
After that, he really dedicated himself to the sport and qualified for the 2019 State Finals in the 138 bracket as a junior.
A 1-0 loss to Mt. Vernon (Fortville) junior Chris Wilkerson (who wound up seventh) in the Friday night match ended his second prep campaign and fueled his desire to excel in his senior year and beyond.
“I can’t let the big stage change the way I wrestle,” says Poindexter, referring to the lesson he learned last February at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. “I took a lot of shots. But I didn’t get to my finishes quickly.“
“When you get on the bottom in the third period, you’ve got to get away. There’s no excuse for (not escaping).”
A major point of emphasis in Poindexter’s training since then has been in the bottom position when the opponent puts in his legs.
Poindexter was born in California, moved to Virginia around age 1 and then Connecticut. His father, Anthony Poindexter, was in the National Football League with the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns and then became a coach, serving at the University of Virginia and University of Connecticut prior to becoming co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Purdue University.
Anthony and Kimberly Poindexter have three children — Morocca, Anthony Jr. and Chloe.
Morocca (20) is a 400/800 runner on the women’s track and field team at UConn.
A.J., who turns 18 on Jan. 14, says eighth grader Chloe (13) placed seventh in the junior state cross country meet last fall and was second in the 800 and fourth in the 400 as a seventh grader in the junior high state track meet last spring.
A.J. went out for wrestling as an eighth grader in Connecticut at the insistence of his coach for lacrosse, a sport he began playing in kindergarten. He grappled as a short 120-pounder as a freshmen then moved to Indiana when his father was hired at Purdue.
By growing and hitting the weight room, Poindexter has added length and strength to his frame and is now a shade over 5-foot-9 — taller than many in his weight division, which is now 145.
“I’m deceptively strong,” says Poindexter, who is a senior.
The younger Poindexter played football as a Harrison sophomore then opted to focus on wrestling.
“It’s kind of my thing,” says Poindexter of wrestling. “You can’t blame your teammates or the ref. It’s all on you.“
“If you want to be good, you have to put int he work.”
Third-year Harrison head coach Johnny Henry says that what makes Poindexter special is his dedication and his athleticism.
“Practice room through competition, he’s put in hard work,” says Henry of Poindexter. “He is fully-committed. He has speed. He is just very quick on his feet.“
“His technique has improved so much over the last two years.”
Poindexter says Harrison coaches have told him to use his quickness and athleticism to his advantage.
“Wrestle like an athlete instead of robotic,” says Poindexter of the advice. While he considers his double-leg takedown to be his “bread and butter” move, Poindexter has been working to make his offense more diverse.“
“I watch tons of wrestling on YouTube and TV,” says Poindexter. “I’m trying to pick moves. Wrestling freestyle and Greco-Roman in the spring has added more upper body (moves) in my arsenal.”
To get different looks against different body types, Poindexter works out with various teammates in the Harrison practice room. Some of his steady drill partners are Tristen Hood (152), Matthew Baylay (138) and Sam Hein (120).
Poindexter has honed his skills by attending camps, clinics and tournaments and attending workouts led by Henry at Harrison as well as Chad Red of the Red Cobra Wrestling Academy in Indianapolis.
“He really cares about his guys,” says Poindexter of Red.
Poindexter is also thankful to the knowledge and encouragement provided by former Harrison assistant (and ex-Purdue University head coach) Scott Hinkel.
“How bad do you want to be good at this?,” says Poindexter, echoing the question Hinkel asked him.
Poindexter has committed to continue his wrestling and academic careers at George Mason University, an NCAA Division I program in Fairfax County, Va.
By going 5-2 at the Virginia Beach Junior Nationals, Poindexter caught the attention of Patriots coaches. He was invited for a campus visit and later committed.
George Mason assistant Camden Eppert wrestled for Hinkel at Purdue.
“It’s the place for me in terms of culture and coaches,” says Poindexter. “I want to try to be a D-I All-American.”
Poindexter enjoyed taking Journalism at Harrison last year and his current favorite class is Intro to Communications, where he has learned video editing and recently posted a commercial parody of the Nike “Dream Crazy” ad using Raiders wrestlers. It can be viewed on his Twitter page at @AJ_Poindexter.
With the help of Poindexter (28-0), Harrison is 21-2 in dual meets and won the 32-team Spartan Classic at Connersville.
Prior to the IHSAA tournament series (Lafayette Jeff Sectional Feb. 1, Logansport Regional Feb. 8, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 15 and State Finals Feb. 21-22), the Raiders’ Varsity “A” team has a dual meet at Tipton Jan. 15, a home dual against Rensselaer Central Jan. 23 and North Central Conference meet at Richmond Jan. 25.
Henry promotes closeness with his Raiders and Poindexter embraces that model.
“A.J.’s very enthusiastic,” says Henry. “He can pump up the team. Practice is very team-oriented. We stick together as a family. It helps us stay mentally tough and focused as a team.“
“We build each other up when one person’s down. There’s times when the season feels long.”
To break up the monotony, the team sometimes plays games — like ultimate frisbee with a football.
“It gives our minds a break,” says Henry. “It’s a workout but they have fun with it. It’s team bonding for them.”
Henry was a Harrison for four seasons before becoming head coach. Before that, the former University of Indianapolis wrestler spent one year as an assistant at his alma mater — Benton Central. He is a full-time trainer at Miracles Fitness in West Lafayette.
The Raiders have about 50 athletes in the program and 13 coaches — Henry plus assistants Bill Bailey, John Campagna, Kevin Elliott, Donnie Fahler, Aaron Hawkins, Michael Kern, Dustin Kult, Chris Maxwell, Jonathan Mongold, Walt Prochno, Aaron Quakenbush and Dennis Synesael.