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By JEREMY HINES
East Noble seniors Connor Knapp and Garrett Pepple werenâ€™t exactly friends their freshman year. In fact, they didnâ€™t even like each other much.
The two were competing for the same varsity spot at 106 pounds. It was a position they both wanted badly. Ultimately, Knapp won the weight class and Pepple spent most of the season on the junior varsity squad. Knapp went on to qualify for state as a freshman.
â€œMy goal going into my freshman year was to qualify for state,â€ Pepple said. â€œI wanted to have a good record, too. But we had a solid team and I only weighed about 100 pounds. I had multiple chances to earn a spot. Connor and I wrestled off once, and he beat me. Then I went up to 113 pounds and I won the spot, until our 120 pounder dropped down and took it from me.
â€œWhen you compete for a spot with someone itâ€™s hard to be close friends. There was a little hate between us.â€
The next year, things changed. Knapp moved up to 113 pounds and Pepple stayed at 106. The two were no longer competing for the same spot, and they started to become friends.
That season Pepple made a huge stride. He went from a JV wrestler the year before, to finishing second in the state as a sophomore. Knapp placed 4th.
â€œAt first we didnâ€™t really talk much at all,â€ Knapp said. â€œBut the next year we started to become friends. We started training together. Now heâ€™s like my brother.â€
The two seniors began pushing each other to get better. Pepple is considered a very good top wrestler, and Knapp needed work on bottom. Peppleâ€™s top work helped.
â€œGarrett is really good on top,â€ Knapp said. â€œA lot of the stuff he does is what some of the top guys I go up against are going to do. He gives me a good idea of how to counter things. Pretty much in every position there are certain things he can do that normal wrestlers wouldnâ€™t have the confidence to do. We both have our advantages and that helps push both of us.â€
As juniors Pepple placed second at 113 pounds. Knapp finished third at 120.
â€œAfter finishing second my sophomore year I was happy with that,â€ Pepple said. â€œMaybe I was even a little complacent. But my junior year, my goal was a state championship and nothing else. Placing second still haunts me. I donâ€™t want it to happen again.â€
Pepple says he has been much more focused this season. He is the No. 1 ranked 113 pounder in the state.
â€œThere isnâ€™t a day that goes by that I donâ€™t think of what it could be like to win a state championship,â€ Pepple said. â€œMy dream, my goal is to be a state champ. Thatâ€™s all I can think about. Iâ€™ve visualized myself winning so many times. I walk around my room just thinking about it for hours. I have even planned my celebration if I win. It wonâ€™t be anything cocky, but Iâ€™ll definitely celebrate if I can win it.â€
Both wrestlers are pushing each other to get better in the room. East Noble has had only one state champion before. Pepple and Knapp wants to change that.
â€œIron sharpens iron,â€ Pepple said. â€œItâ€™s great to have such a tough drill partner who is going to push you to be your best.â€
Outside of school Knapp loves to draw action pictures. Itâ€™s a talent not many know about. He is also an elementary school teaching assistant. He works one-on-one with children, and he said itâ€™s something he absolutely loves doing. As far as the future, he is still trying to decide what he wants to do.
â€œIâ€™m trying to decide on whether I want to wrestle in college or not,â€ Knapp said. â€œIâ€™d like to be a Force Recon Marine. Iâ€™ve dreamed about that my whole life. Itâ€™s something Iâ€™ve always wanted to do. Now I think, why not â€“ I have the tools.â€
Pepple plans to attend Indiana University where he wants to wrestle. He is either going into the medical field, business or education.
Pepple says the biggest turning point so far in his career was when he shattered his lower leg playing sharks and minnows in practice before his freshman season. He broke two bones, and had to have multiple screws put in along with a metal plate to stabilize it.
â€œI didnâ€™t know if Iâ€™d ever wrestle again,â€ he said. â€œBut I worked hard and came back. That showed me I can overcome anything.â€
Both wrestlers are hoping they can overcome all of the obstacles the state tournament presents, and stand together as state champions.
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