By JEREMY HINES
“This will only make the ride harder, but don’t let it stop you from reaching your goals.”
Those words have been etched into the mind of Brownsburg junior Leighton Jones since his life took an unexpected twist at a doctor’s office around midnight his sixth-grade year.
That night, as he was coming home from a spring break vacation, he just didn’t feel right. He had spent the whole day sleeping. He felt dehydrated. He went to the bathroom five times in an hour. He knew something was wrong.
His dad, Marshall Jones, had a suspicion what might be going on. He checked his young son’s blood pressure and immediately called his doctor. The doctor met with Leighton at 11 p.m. that same night. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“I was scared to death,” Leighton said. “I hated needles. I didn’t know what was going to happen. That’s when mom told me that this will only make the ride harder, but don’t let it stop you from reaching your goals. That meant a lot. That has helped me move on and still reach for what I want to accomplish.”
Those words came back to Jones after a devastating defeat in the state meet last year. He had been rolling in the tournament. He pinned his way through sectional, regional and semistate before losing in overtime, one win from the championship match in the state meet.
“I was as down as you could be after that loss,” Jones said. “I went up the huge elevator and coach (Darrick) Snyder was waiting for me. He hugged me and I cried on his shoulders. I never wanted to feel like that again.”
So, like his mom told him – when things get difficult he can’t let that stop him. Jones went out and won the third-place match by an impressive margin, 14-1. And from there he decided he was going to do everything in his power to claim the state title this year for himself, and to help Brownsburg win the team title.
“He’s a one-of-a-kind heavyweight wrestler,” Brownsburg assistant coach Eric Lynn said. “He moves like a little guy. He doesn’t move like a heavyweight. And he’s really motivated right now. From his freshman year until now he’s improved in all aspects of wrestling. He’s well rounded. He wants to learn. He asks questions and he’s always ready to do whatever we ask.”
Jones is a good student, an outstanding football player and a top-tier wrestler. That combination has led him to be one of the most highly recruited athletes in the state. He has already made visits to most of the schools in the Big Ten conference. He is keeping his options open at this point as to where he wants to go and what sport he wants to compete in.
“I joke around about how great it would be to be in Leighton’s shoes,” Snyder said. “He has so much interest from Division 1 football and wrestling schools. It would be cool to be sitting in his shoes with all that interest he’s getting. There aren’t many days that go by that some college coach isn’t wanting to watch him work out or wanting to talk about him.”
Although Jones has had an excellent wrestling career so far, the diabetes has certainly made it a bit more of a challenge. He must constantly monitor his blood sugar levels. He gives himself insulin injections five to six times a day. His coaches help monitor him and his parents are alerted when his levels are off as well.
“If you’re stressed or if you get anxiety, your levels raise,” Jones said. “You go through practice, and you start feeling nauseous and get dizzy. You have to eat a really clean diet. You eat a lot of protein. You have to stay between the numbers, and often times that’s not likely. You take medicine if you get too low and feel light-headed. The medicine has side effects, too.”
This year Jones has learned to keep his diabetes in a more controllable state – which has helped him in practice and in matches.
“He has had to fight through some really tough times with diabetes,” Lynn said. “He does really well with it now.”
Brownsburg is an absolutely loaded team this year. The Bulldogs have 12 wrestlers ranked in the top 20 of the state, 11 in the top 10 and eight in the top five. Freshman Jake Hockaday, senior Logan Miller and Jones are ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes. Sophomore Brady Ison is ranked No. 2 at 132 with classmates Preston Haines ranked No. 3 at 113 and Gavin Garcia No. 4 at 138.
“This is a fun year for Indiana wrestling,” Snyder said. “We have three teams ranked in the top 25 in the country – and then you throw in Center Grove, who should be ranked. Our goal is to win a dual state title and an IHSAA state title.”
Jones has taken on a leadership role on the team and hopes his influence can be beneficial toward the lofty team goals.
“Leighton is definitely one of my more special heavyweights I’ve ever coached,” Lynn said. “He’s a motivated kid. He is really driven this year and it’s helping everyone in the program.”