Marion senior Je’kwan Williams will take the mat Friday night in the 182-pound weight class of the IHSAA State Championships in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.

Achievement in any endeavor comes only one way. It has to be earned.

Marion senior Je’kwan Williams is a prime example of what can happen when an athlete pours his mind, body and soul into the pursuit of being the best student-athlete he can possibly be.

In his first year as a starter for the Giants’ semi-state football team, Williams earned All-North Central Conference honors last fall, but that was somewhat of a prelude to what he’s been able to accomplish during the 2020-21 high school wrestling season.

Williams finished runner-up in the 182-pound weight class at the Oak Hill Sectional and advanced to regional for just the second time in his three years of high school wrestling. He won his first match at the Maconaquah Regional to assure himself of his first trip to semi-state before eventually finishing fourth.

Then last week in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Williams stole the spotlight with perhaps the biggest upset of the New Haven Semi-State in any weight class.

In the waning seconds of the first round, Williams pinned Isaiah Brege, a senior from Norwell who entered the day unbeaten and ranked 11th in the state by Indianamat.com. The upset put him on the verge of a trip to the state finals, which a short while later he secured with a 14-11 decision in the ticket round.

The soft-spoken Williams was honored for his achievement during halftime of Marion’s boys basketball game Wednesday night and still seemed a little surprised by the accomplishment.

“I did not, I’m not gonna lie,” he said when asked if he thought becoming a wrestling state qualifier was possible prior to the season. “My teammates and my coaches, they helped me get here. They helped to keep my head up and said I could make it to state, and I’m finally there.”

Williams first started wrestling in seventh and eighth grade, then spent his freshman year playing basketball for the Giants. As a sophomore, he had an 11-15 record at 160-pounds then finished third in sectional to earn his first regional trip. Williams accumulated a 27-10 record, again at 160, but had his season ended with a fifth-place finish at sectional as a junior.

Giants coach Lonnie Johnson said after this year’s semi-state that Williams’ style on the mat makes him dangerous to anyone. He also saw Williams’ potential for a deep tourney run shortly after practice for the season started.

“I would have said it was a long shot, but I could see it when he first started practicing,” Johnson said. ”Once he started practicing I seen his dedication, how he was wrestling and wanting to learn so I could see it then.

“He’s improved, and it’s been more him. He’s been coming up and asking questions about what he needs to do, watching films, stuff he never did before,” Johnson added. “I hate that he waited till his last year to totally commit. You always say I wish I could have one more year, but it was more him than us. We just tried to critique him and fine tune him. It’s mostly on him. He’s a super kid.”

Williams also captured the 182-pound title and helped the Giants win an NCC East division championship, the first conference title in the history of Marion wrestling. He finished the regular season with a 24-3 record and carried that momentum into the Oak Hill Sectional, where he pulled his first upset of the tourney with a pin of Golden Eagles’ state qualifier Jett Thompson in a semifinal.

When Williams walks into Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Friday night for his state finals opening-round match, he’ll face another tall task in facing senior Gavin Layman (37-0) from Chesterton, who’s ranked fourth in the state by Indianamat.com.

Williams said his approach won’t change.

“I don’t know much about him. I’ve never seen. I know I’m going to go out there and wrestle,” he said. “I’m looking forward to (Friday). I’m expecting just to go out there and wrestle and do the best I can.”

Johnson said that’s all Williams has ever done, on the mat and in the classroom, where he’s now a two-time academic all-state honoree by Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association. Williams also recently signed to continue his football career at Manchester University.

“He’s pretty much maintenance free. Of course you’re going to have a little attitude when you’re the coach and you’re running them to death. You get a little attitude and push back every once in a while,” Johnson said. “For the most part I never had any problems. He responds to criticism very well and he responds to praise very well. He’s a really good, easily coachable kid.

“We’ll get a little game plan together for Je’kwan but everybody around here knows the game plan,” he added. “We’re going to go out and wrestle real hard, wrestle tough and see if we can try to catch him with something.”

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