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The Times' Wrestler of the Year: Jefferson's Cason Thurmond
Jefferson High junior Cason Thurmond, right, won his third straight state title this year. - photo by For The Times

Coach of the Year: Commerce's Kendall Love

All-Area Team

Cason Thurmond has never been far removed from his father’s influence on the wrestling mat.

Thurmond, a junior at Jefferson High, has been right there under the wing of his father and Dragons coach, Doug Thurmond, since he stepped on the mat for the first time at age 4. Every time Thurmond has stepped onto the mat for a match the past three years as a varsity wrestler, his father’s voice has been the first thing he hears over his shoulder with a steady stream of advice to defeat the opponent.

“There is more pressure having my dad as my coach,” Cason said. “I really want to do well for him.”

Despite being constantly aware that he wants to please his father, Cason hasn’t let that stall his progress as a scrappy, lightweight wrestler, who recently claimed his third consecutive state title in the traditional event, at 112 pounds this season.

In fact, knowing that his father’s calm demeanor is in his ear the entire match may just be the motivation he needs to succeed. Cason finished this year with a 35-3 record. For his efforts, Cason Thurmond is The Times’ Area Wrestler of the Year.

“It’s a great feeling to have three state titles now,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve worked extremely hard to achieve.”

As a coach, Doug says his son has all the traits needed to be great on the mat: he’s hard-nosed, tenacious and one who scrambles to find the competitive edge against the competition. Those are traits Cason’s father says his son displayed as a kid who won four state titles through the USA Kids wrestling program — a staple for kids that come up through the wrestling ranks at Jefferson.

However, the pride as a parent watching his son join some pretty elite company in Jefferson’s wrestling history is the most satisfying part for the Dragons’ coach. With Cason’s efforts as part of the total team picture, the Dragons claimed state titles in the duals (ninth straight) and the traditionals (10th straight) this year.

Cason was one of seven individual state champions for Jefferson this season, which tied a school record.

And Jefferson’s coach celebrated as each one stepped from the mat after claiming their state title.

However, when Cason wrapped up his title match against an opponent from Henry County, his father showed a bit of extra paternal instinct with his son involved in the match.

Battling back tears, Cason’s father gave a few fist pumps and jumped excitedly as he rose from his seat next to the mat — where coaches sit — as the seconds wound down on the clock during his son’s championship match. He then gave his son a big hug as he emerged from the mat.

“As a parent, it’s very humbling to see my son win a state title,” Doug said. “I feel like all the wrestlers on the team are my kids since I spend so much time working with them, but it’s different when it’s someone that you saw take their first breath.”

With three state titles in his possession, Cason is quite aware of the next step: he gets asked about it from friends, teachers and teammates on a frequent basis.

“People are already asking if I’m going to win four straight state titles,” he said. He sure hopes it works out that way. Jefferson already has three wrestlers (Hunter Garner, Forrest Garner and Kyle Baird) that have all walked away from the program with state titles in each season at Jefferson.

However, Cason knows his father isn’t going to weigh him down with unnecessary pressure to win another state title — he already puts enough pressure on himself to win. Win or lose, Doug says his son has already had a pretty phenomenal high school wrestling career.

“It’s not a make-or-break type thing,” Doug said. “If it all ends tomorrow, we’re going to be very, very proud of how he did wrestling.”

However, Cason doesn’t have any plans of his wrestling career ending any time soon. He’ll be traveling to the National in Virginia Beach, Va. this summer with hopes of placing in the top eight of a bracket with more than 100 wrestlers. He’ll also do a variety of summer camps, including a trip to Appalachian State University.

Cason made a calculated decision when he was younger to focus on wrestling as his primary sport. He took to baseball and football — and liked both when he was younger — but he found out that it would be harder to find a spot on the field in those sports when kids his age grew to be much larger than himself.

Cason still plays tennis for Jefferson, which is a sport that he grew to enjoy through the influence of his grandfather, Jack Purcell, an avid tennis player.

Of course, wrestling has a special spot in Cason’s life — and family for that matter. Cason comes from a family that revolves around wrestling, with an eldest brother, Cam, who wrestled at Jefferson, and two younger brothers that wrestle in its junior wrestling program.

However, Cason has created his own identity within the program. That’s something his father-coach can also be proud of.

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