By JEREMY HINES Thehines7@gmail.com
The Man. The Myth. The Mullet. The Mustache.
Outside of the famous Willie and Red’s smorgasbord (best fried chicken and prime rib in the area), senior wrestler Jake Combs is the biggest attraction in Hagerstown.
He’s popular because he’s a phenomenal three-sport athlete, because he has a mullet and mustache that would make Billy Ray Cyrus jealous and because he has become the first Tiger wrestler since 2003 to advance to the state finals.
“I can’t put it into words, honestly, what going to state means to me,” Combs said. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming about ever since I lost here last year. It just feels amazing.”
Combs had a huge contention of fans Saturday at the New Castle semistate. When he won his ticket round matchup against Frankfort senior Ezekial VanDeventer, it seemed as if the whole gym erupted in applause.
“Wrestling is unlike any sport in many ways but the family aspect that comes with it is truly humbling,” Hagerstown coach Anton Payne said. “I feel the entire TEC (Tri Eastern Conference), our sectional and regional teams were pulling for Jake today. The crowd from Hagerstown was huge but when Jake won there were hundreds, if not thousands of people screaming and jumping out of their seats.”
Combs doesn’t have the typical wrestling story of athletes that are going to the state finals. He didn’t wrestle as a young kid. He didn’t wrestle in middle school. He didn’t even wrestle as a freshman or sophomore, despite coach Payne practically begging him every year to give it a try.
Payne finally wore Combs down before his junior season.
“Jake started wrestling for the first time 15 short months ago,” Payne said. “I tried my best to get this young man out since junior high, but it wasn’t until his junior year, in November that he said he would try a practice to see if he likes it.”
Combs fell in love with wrestling. Early on it was evident that he was strong as an ox, but he didn’t have any technique to go along with that raw strength. As the season progressed, Combs continued to learn the sport and by tournament time, he was good enough to advance to semistate. That success created a hunger.
Combs started working as hard as he could to learn more about wrestling. He went to open gyms in the summer. He traveled to Carmel and other places looking to soak in as much knowledge as possible. It paid off.
“I told Jake that we would have to work hard,” Payne said. “I told him we would have to push through adversity. We would have to wrestle through pains. We would have to stay on the mat as much as possible in the off season. We would have to work on our explosiveness. We would have to gain more mat confidence and we would have to be 100 percent committed. Jake’s response was ‘let’s do it.’ “
This season Combs is 38-5 and was perhaps the surprise of the 182-pound class in the New Castle semistate. He knocked off Greenfield’s Scott Stanley by fall in the first period to advance to the ticket round. In the ticket round he dominated VanDeventer, pinning him 1:53.
But Combs wasn’t done yet. In the next round he had the task of taking on No. 14-ranked J.D. Farrell of Fishers. Combs won that match 3-1 to advance to the semistate championship.
Combs lost in the finals to Elwood’s No. 12-ranked Jalen Morgan 5-0.
To Combs, wrestling is fun. That’s part of the reason he grew his world-class mullet and mustache – which some accredit to his quick rise to success in the sport. Combs isn’t sure which one gives him these special powers, though.
“You know, I’m thinking it’s the mullet,” Combs said. “It’s newer. I’ve had the mustache for a while. But, you know what, it has matured a lot, so maybe it’s that, too. It might be both.”
In Hagerstown they have made fan support T-shirts for Combs. The shirts just have an outline of a mullet and a mustache. Combs loves them.
“Wrestling is such a serious sport and I’m just trying to bring a little flavor to it.”
Friday Combs will get to showcase that flavor at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in front of the state’s most die-hard wrestling fans. He will take on Oak Hill’s No. 16-ranked Bradley Rosman in the first round.
“Jake has accomplished what he said he would do last year after semistate,” Payne said. “But we are not satisfied yet.”
By JEREMY HINES
LeVon Bellemy isn’t running – he’s surviving.
He’s surviving a life growing up in one of the most dangerous parts of the country, Davenport, Iowa – part of the notorious Quad City area. He’s surviving a life where his family either ends up in prison or shot – and sometimes both. He’s surviving, because that’s what he does.
He’s not running, he’s fighting. He’s fighting to show a person can overcome circumstance. He’s fighting to show there is hope. Sometimes the greatest warriors are the ones that can travel the more difficult road and escape their demons. That’s what Bellemy is doing – and that’s how he ended up in Ellettsville, population 6,677.
When asked what he is trying to overcome, Bellemy says simply “everything.”
Bellemy’s story is a unique one. His athletic ability has saved him time and time again back in Davenport, as has the guidance of family, particularly his uncle Clyde Mayfield. Uncle Clyde gave LeVona job in his health food store – and he made sure LeVon knew the value of hard work and discipline. Under Clyde’s direction, Bellemy excelled in school and athletics.
In Davenport, with a crime rate 116 percent higher than the national average, hard work and discipline wasn’t quite enough. When LeVon's brother was shot in May, something had to change. That’s when his cousin, Pauli Escebedo stepped in and offered Bellemy an escape. LeVon moved to Ellettsville to live with Pauli and her husband, Indiana wrestling coach Angel Escebedo.
“They have been great to me,” Bellemy said. “Angel is a good guy who is trying to better me. He lets me know what I’m doing wrong and right.”
When Bellemy moved to Indiana, sports were an afterthought.
“I was focused on getting out of there and finding something better,” he said. “Things got hectic at home, and very bad for me there. I wasn’t worried about football or wrestling. I was worried about getting out.”
Bellemy has made an immediate impact on Edgewood High School. As a star running back he rushed for over 1,700 yards and scored 27 touchdowns this season. Edgewood improved from 3-7 last year and 1-9 the year before that to finish with a record of 8-4 in 2018.
“I can’t think of a more opposite place for LeVon to land,” Edgewood wrestling coach Greg Ratliff said. “He’s going from Davenport to Ellettsville. It is a small town. Everyone knows everyone else. The second LeVon got here the rumors started swirling about who he was. Everyone wanted to meet the new guy.
“Both the wrestling and the football team got to know him quickly and made him feel at home. We let him know that here, he is family. He has fit in extremely quickly.”
Football is Bellemy’s first love. He’s getting Division I college looks and plans to play at the next level. But, Bellemy is also a gifted wrestler.
Bellemy wrestled as a freshman in Iowa, but then decided to try his hand at basketball as a sophomore.
“I hated basketball,” he said. “I knew I had to go back to wrestling. Wrestling is football without the ball. It helps you so much with football, as far as mentally and physically. Mentally you are the toughest kid on the block if you wrestle. Wrestling gets your mind right. It teaches you not to give up. Physically, with the double leg and the driving through people, it helps you tackle and run over people.”
Bellemy returned to the mat for his junior season. He ended up placing seventh in Iowa’s biggest class in the state tournament.
“My goal in Indiana is to win state,” Bellemy said. “That’s my only goal in wrestling. I’ve been doing my research. I’ve been studying the competition.”
Ratliff can see that happening.
“He is a pure dynamite athlete, honestly,” Ratliff said. “I got to see a little bit of him wrestling this summer. Sometimes I was thinking, man, this kid is wrestling against LeVon well, but then I would look at the scoreboard and see LeVon would be up 10 points or more. He’s explosive. I’m yelling for him to just get an escape before a period ends, and before you know it he’s getting a reversal and nearfall points.”
Daily life in Ellettsville is a lot different than what Bellemy was used to in Davenport.
“The thing to do here is to sit in the IGA grocery store parking lot and talk,” he said. “That’s really the main thing we do. We sit in that parking lot for hours and talk. In the summer we will go swimming, but other than that – that’s all we do.
“Ellettsville is a small town. There is a big difference with the people and how they act. It’s a whole new atmosphere. There are no negatives around here.”
But, for as much as LeVon needed Edgewood, Edgewood has needed LeVon.
“He gets along with everyone here,” Ratliff said. “He can talk to anyone. He talks to the athletes, the band students and those not involved with anything. He is a positive influence on everyone he comes in contact with. He’s a hard worker and others see that. They see how he can overcome anything and be a success. That motivates everyone.”
LeVon didn’t run away from Davenport because he feared the fight. In fact, his family talked him into leaving because they knew that’s exactly what he would want to do – fight for his family. His family told him that to win the fight, he had to get away.
“I feel like I have to succeed,” Bellemy said. “I know the situation my family at home is still in. My only way out is through school and sports. It drives me every single day. I have nothing to do but find the best way to provide for my family and fight for them.”