East Jackson Comprehensive High School wrestler Jeff Chandler made a promise to his father at age 10. Saturday, as the referee in the GHSA state wrestling final raised Chandler’s arm in victory, that promise was fulfilled.
“It felt great,” said Chandler regarding his state title. “I always wanted to win state for my dad, because he finished second in state when he was a senior in high school. I promised him, when I was 10, that I would win a state championship ring. To actually win it – finally, is a dream come true. It’s made us both very happy.”
In his second visit to the state finals, Chandler worked his way through the bracket pinning each of his opponents before taking center stage in the Macon Centreplex on Saturday for his final bout – a heavyweight rematch from the past two weekends.
“Looking at the bracket, coach Pruitt and I knew things could fall into place,” said wrestling coach Zach Morrison. “We knew Jeff had a really good chance at getting in the final, and we both assumed it would be a rematch of the last two weeks.”
Chandler’s opponent, Billy Seward of Oconee County High School, had defeated him the previous weekend at sectionals.
This time, things went differently.
“I was very aggressive,” said Chandler. “I had to take what I wanted. I took care of everything I needed to fix in practice – being aggressive, working on moves, finishing and executing them. And by doing that, I ended up exposing his shoulder and pinned him.”
That pin earned Chandler his 43rd victory of the season and the state title in class AAA in the 285 lb. weight class.
“(Chandler) came through and it was a great day,” added Morrison. “I was very nervous – my heart was beating a thousand times a second. I wanted it so bad for him because he has worked so hard.”
Chandler says that while the tournament was intense, the week before the state finals was one of the more difficult periods of his wrestling career.
“It was very hectic,” he said. “My body was tired and I had to push through a lot of things. I really studied the way I was wrestling. I thought a lot about what a state champion looks like, and I didn’t really think of myself as a state champion at that time. I had to push myself through my feelings and the things I couldn’t get done during practice – my emotions.”
Morrison says that Chandler has not only proven himself a leader on the wrestling mat, but in the classroom as well.
“Jeff is one of the greatest people I’ve ever met,” said Morrison. “He’s got extremely strong work ethic. He’s always on time, he always wants to work on things after practice and he’s a true leader. He’s involved in so many things I couldn’t count them. He’s done all the right things, has laid a foundation for others to walk in his footsteps.”
To say that is certainly not a stretch.
Chandler is a member of East Jackson’s football team, wrestling team, dance team, chorus, marching band, drama club and has maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout high school.
Chandler noted maturity as a key factor in his success on and off the field this year.
“Things happen in life and you have to play the hand you’ve got,” he said. “When you get things given to you or even taken away from you, you can’t cry or whine about it. You just have to make it work.”
He plans on attending and wrestling for Truett-McConnell or Shorter College in the fall.