It’s easy to imagine teams enjoying an LHSAA football title weeks after the conquest. That’s not the case for Zachary’s Ashton Freeman and Catholic High’s Jermaine Vessell.
Both played key roles in defense as their teams claimed state championships. Now defense is only part of the story as Freeman and Vessell prepare for the prestigious Louisiana Classic wrestling tournament.
“I work every day to improve things, especially when it comes to scoring,” Vessell said. “I’m taking some solid shots, but I need to get to the point where I can do that more.”
Freeman, who competes in the heavyweight division, and Vessell, a 220-pound competitor, are focusing on the second seasons. The Classic is on Friday and Saturday at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales.
The prep wrestling season started in November. Deep football playoffs force competitors like Freeman and Vessell to catch up once the football season is over.
Catholic won the Division I roster title on December 4, with Vessell starring as an end/edge rusher. Freeman was part of a line of defense that helped Zachary win the Class 5A title a week later.
“Normally I don’t take time off, but when a (football) season goes on that long, you get beaten and bruised,” Freeman said. “So it took me a few days. Wrestling translates well to football because it teaches you how to deal with a 300lb opponent.
“People see that part. But it takes about two weeks to get into wrestling form after football. You need more stamina. Football games last a few seconds. You have to go much longer and your lungs have to be ready.”
The 6-foot-1, 250-pound Freeman speaks from experience. This is his sixth year of wrestling, including off-season spent in regional and national competitions. In 2021, he was undefeated (11-0), won the Division I title and made the All-Metro team at 220 pounds.
Freeman is 5-0 and could be #1 in his weight class going to the Classic, which brings in top competitors from all divisions in Louisiana.
Vessell (6-2, 210) and Freeman both struggled in the 220 weight class at the 2021 Classic. Vessell wanted to lose weight and struggled late in the season at 195. This season the goal is to add weight. He is currently 8-6.
“I didn’t get much break after football,” Vessell said. “I struggled in the next tournament and started working on technique and everything else. Most matches I start well; I have to finish better.”
The Louisiana Classic signals a transition to the postseason and the February 11-12 state wrestling tournament at the Raising Canes River Center. It also provides an interesting contrast for Freeman and Vessell.
Freeman said he sees wrestling as a possible college option. Vessell has offers for football scholarships from two small schools and hopes to generate more interest.
While the Louisiana Classic should offer the toughest competition yet, Freeman and Vessell see more than competitive pressure.
“To be ready for city and state, you want to compete against the best people,” Vessell said. “This prepares us.”
Freeman adds, “Some people think of pressure. This is a fun tournament for me. You have all teams in one match. I want to soak up everything and enjoy the time with my teammates.”