By STEVE KRAH
If Ashton Jackson gets his way, scoreboard operators are kept plenty busy during his matches.
The LaPorte High School junior wrestler prefers to stay on the offensive and put points on the board.
Jackson, who earned the Slicers first state title since 189-pounder Matt Graham in 1994 when he reigned in the 2021 IHSAA State Finals at 106, sums up his plan as he looks ahead to the rest of the 2021-22 season at 113.
“It’s about scoring points, not being sloppy and keeping up the rate of attack,” says Jackson. “I want to work my moves and get on and off the mat. Like Dan Gable said: “I shoot, I score. He shoots, I score.”
“I’m chugging away to the state series. I haven’t really been taken into deep waters yet. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Through the Dec. 18 Munster Super Dual where he and LaPorte seniors Caden Ellenberger (145) and Noah Salary (152) went 5-0, Jackson is 21-0. The only match to go the distance was a major decision against Crown Point.
Next up for Jackson and the Slicers is the Dec. 29-30 Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka.
“Those should be mostly tight matches and I can test myself,” says Jackson. “I’m looking forward to the fight.”
Looking back, Jackson went 35-2 in 2020-21, including 4-0 at the State Finals in Indianapolis after going out in the “ticket round” at the East Chicago Semistate as a 35-8 freshman.
“Going through the East Chicago Semistate, the Duneland (Athletic Conference) and northwest Indiana, it’s high-quality stuff and we pride ourselves in battling at that level,” says LaPorte head coach Louie Kuzdas, a 1986 LaPorte graduate in his 26th season as head coach 32nd on the Slicers staff and physical education/health teacher at the school.
It was last season that one of his young teammates brought up a potential mat milestone.
“I’m close to 100 career wins and everybody talks about,” says Jackson, who is 91-10 ???. “It’s something cool to have. But it’s not the end-all, be-all.”
The current season opened Nov. 26-27 for Jackson and his teammates as Jackson went 9-0 as the 113-pound champion at the Goshen RedHawk Super Dual.
“He’s been traveling all over the country getting some elite mat time,” says Kuzdas. “He’s just living and breathing wrestling right now. It’s what you need to do to be at that top level.”
Jackson went to the Freestyle Nationals in Fargo, N.D., and Super 32 in Greensboro, N.C.
“It wasn’t that successful an offseason,” says Jackson, who also trains in LaPorte and Elite Athletic Club in Lake Station and went with the Warren Central squad to the Disney Duals in Orlando, Fla. “That’s just motivation for this season to prove myself and prove what I can do.”
Kuzdas looks to Jackson as a team leader.
“He takes young’uns under his wing and walks them through different steps,” says Kuzdas. “He’s very, very interested in learning more about the sport.
“After winning (a state championship) as a sophomore, we sat down and discussed that he’s already accomplished something that a lot of people don’t. But you still don’t know everything. He agreed 100 percent.”
Says Jackson, “I’m just staying persistent in my training and having faith in my coaches and my teammates who’ve guided me along the way. Coach (Kuzdas) definitely pushes aggression. You’ve just got to fight. That’s the beauty of wrestling. It’s you and the other guy. The better-prepared man’s going to win.”
Practice partners include freshman Josh England (120) and Landyn Hunt (126), junior Thomas Adred (126) and assistant coach Ian Barclay.
“I think I stay in pretty good position,” says Jackson. “And I know if I don’t try my best it’s a loss.”
Adam Jackson — Ashton’s father — was Kuzdas’ first state qualifier as LaPorte head coach, making it to Indy as a 135-pound junior in 1997.
Crediting his father for his work ethic and sense of urgency on the mat.
“He’s really involved, but not so involved to the point that it’s overbearing,” says Ashton. “He holds me to high standards — which is good.”
Damen Jackson, a 2015 graduate of John Glenn High School, is a Glenn assistant this season after teaching and coach at Warren Central. He was there for Ashton at the beginning of little brother’s wrestling career.
“When I was little he’d always help me out a kid tournaments,” says Ashton. “He was being a big brother and showed me nuances that little novice me wasn’t aware of at the time.”
Ashton’s mother is New Prairie High School graduate Nacole and has two younger siblings in LaPorte — sophomore/sister Bailey
and sixth grader/brother Brayden.
Jerry Jackson, a 1982 LaPorte graduate, was a three-time state qualifier at 185 with a state crown in 1981 and third-place finish in 1982.
“He’s no relation,” says Ashton. “But he’s a pretty cool dude.”