Eaton Rapids senior – Wrestling
O’Hearon, the reigning Division 2 individual champion at 145 pounds, led Eaton Rapids to a Team District championship on Feb. 7 as the Greyhounds won their matches by a combined score of 147-3. He then went on to win his Individual District title at 160 pounds Saturday to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”
The Greyhounds standout claimed the Individual District title with a 6-4 championship match victory over DeWitt’s Sam York – O’Hearon is ranked No. 2 and York No. 3 at their weight in Division 2 by Michigan Grappler. O’Hearon also won their rematch this past Wednesday as No. 5 Eaton Rapids upset No. 2 DeWitt 31-26 to win a Team Regional title and advance to next weekend’s Quarterfinals for the first time since 2015. The Greyhounds are coached by Joe Ray Barry, a three-time MHSAA champion at Mason from 1997-99.
O’Hearon will bring a 176-17 career record into this weekend’s Individual Regional at Vicksburg, and he ranks third in Eaton Rapids’ illustrious history in both career victories and career takedowns with 369. He finished seventh in Division 2 at 112 pounds as a freshman and then seventh at 125 as a sophomore before claiming the title last winter at 145. He’s 41-1 this season with his only loss to Portland’s Owen Guilford after bumping up to 171 pounds; O’Hearon then handed Guilford his only loss this season in a rematch earlier this month. O’Hearon has opportunities to continue wrestling at the college level, but has planned on enlisting in the U.S. Navy – following his grandfather (Army) and father (Marines), who both also served – and would like to train to become part of the SEALs special operations force.
Coach Joe Ray Barry said: “His work ethic over the four years is what separates him from his competition – early morning workouts and late night runs. He’s in the corner for his team day in and day out, constantly pushing them to work harder than they do. He’s leading by example and stays focused.”
Performance Point: “(The season) has come along how I wanted it to,” O’Hearon said. “Everything’s falling into place. … It’s just because I work hard. There’s no substitute for hard work. I’ve just always believed that the harder I work, then success has to come with it. If you work hard at something for long enough, you’re bound to reach your goals. For me, one of the spots I lacked was strength. So my (physical education teacher) was talking to me one day, said I could come up (before school) Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and lift with him. So I was like, ‘Yeah sure, I’ll try it.’ I just liked it. It was nice. It woke me up in the morning. I noticed wrestling I was just getting a lot stronger, and so it just all fell into play how I wanted it to.”
Back to the Finals: “We knew going in (to Wednesday’s Regional) that we could win it. We were crunching the numbers, and everywhere that we crunched it looked good. We had some things that happened … but probably the biggest thing of the night was our heavyweight getting a pin against the kid he had lost to at Districts. After he got that pin, I knew that we were going to go to team states. … Everything as a team has fallen together. At the beginning of the season we were kinda distant; now it’s more team-based. We’re all trying to be better for the team. We’ve grown as a team. We’re real close right now. It’s just making everything go smooth and easy.”
We are E.R.: “My freshman year, I knew all the seniors, I knew all the juniors. I pretty much knew everybody. There were kids I’d wrestled with in the youth (programs), so we were already like family. And that’s what I think makes Eaton Rapids better than most teams, because we’re all real close and homegrown and we’re all pretty much family. We all wrestled together in the youth programs, and now we’re wrestling high school together.”
Thanks Coach Barry: “He’s just always pushed me to be the best that I can be. He helps me with technique. He still rolls around with me up at practice every once in a while. He’s getting old now and it’s hard, because he doesn’t like the beatings … (but) yeah, I love wrestling with him. He’s still quick. He’s still strong. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
My time to lead: Just the younger kids, I try to keep them motivated, show them it is possible to win a state title and to have your team be successful. You just have to stay positive. I just try to motivate the younger guys to stick with the program, because this is what a program is built on: our seniors helping out our younger guys. I remember when I was a freshman, the seniors would always help me out … so that’s just how I try to be this year.”
- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.
The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster.
Previous 2017-18 honorees:
February 9: Sophia Wiard, Muskegon Oakridge basketball - Read
February 2: Brenden Tulpa, Hartland hockey - Read
January 25: Brandon Whitman, Dundee wrestling - Read
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Eaton Rapids' Austin O’Hearon (left) works for a takedown this season. (Middle) O’Hearon’s arm is raised after he earns last season’s Division 2 title at 145 pounds. (Top photo and head shot courtesy of Eaton Rapids’ wrestling program; middle photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.
“I always wanted to coach,” the former Rockford High School wrestling standout said. “I think I have wanted to coach since I was in middle school. I wanted to be a college wrestling coach.”
Bennett, 33, is currently living out his dreams of becoming a collegiate coach as a member of the Central Michigan University wrestling program.
Bennett, one of the most decorated wrestlers in CMU history, is in his 10th season on 32-year coach Tom Borrelli’s staff.
“I was getting ready to graduate, and a position opened up,” Bennett said. “I think Coach Borrelli knew that I really wanted to stay involved in wrestling and get into coaching. I was fortunate enough to slide into that position, and he had enough faith in me to let me stay here.”
Before getting the opportunity to coach, Bennett amassed eight years of unbridled success at the high school and collegiate levels.
He was a three-time Individual Finals champion at Rockford and helped lead the Rams to a Division 1 team championship as a junior.
“I had a really good high school experience, and I really enjoyed wrestling for our head coach at the time, Don Rinehart,” Bennett said. “He coached for a long time, and we always had some very competitive teams.
“In 2007, my junior year, we won the team state duals, but every year we were really competitive and had multiple individual state champions. Those were the type of teams I was able to wrestle on, which made it pretty exciting and pretty fun when you have those types of guys around you.”
After excelling through the junior ranks, Bennett made an immediate impact for the Rams and captured the Division 1 championship at 140 pounds as a freshman.
However, the following year, he took third at 152 after losing a semifinal match 2-1.
That defeat was humbling for Bennett but also showed him how to handle adversity.
“At the time, in my eyes, the world was ending,” Bennett said. “You look back and it probably was more of a positive. It's good to have those things happen to you, and you face some adversity.
“And I think that's more relatable to life rather than just when you win all the time. I did a lot of winning, but when things are really important, sometimes it's good to fail, for things not to go your way because it will probably happen for the rest of your life.
“You have to learn how to respond and come back from that and handle it the right way and just get back to work. At the time, I remember how devastated I was, but looking back it probably was a positive thing long term.”
Bennett wound up collecting two more Individual Finals titles, at 160 and 171 pounds, to end his high school career and then was named Mr. Wrestler, receiving the award given to the top senior wrestler by the state coaches association.
“I wasn't even thinking that I might get that,” he said. “There are so many great high school wrestlers that come out every year, and thinking about the guys I wrestled … to be singled out as the one chosen for that award was pretty special.”
After graduation, Bennett took his talents to Mount Pleasant. He could’ve gone anywhere to wrestle, but found the right fit at CMU.
“I knew I wanted to wrestle in college, and it was close to home, which I liked,” Bennett said. “I didn't feel like I had to go across the country to have an opportunity to accomplish my goals. I felt like I could stay here and do that.”
Bennett is the only four-time All-American in CMU history and one of three Chippewas to have earned four individual Mid-American Conference titles.
Bennett twice earned the Chick Sherwood Award as CMU’s most valuable wrestler and was named the MAC Wrestler of the Year in 2012. He also had earned the MAC Freshman of the Year Award in 2010.
Bennett ranks sixth in CMU history with 121 career victories, and his career win percentage of .834 is fourth all-time. In 2013, he finished 31-2 for a .939 win percentage, the second-best in program history. He also won a school-record 30 consecutive matches during that season and finished a personal-best fourth at the national tournament.
“At the time I was disappointed with how my career went, because I was never a national champion,” Bennett said. “But I think looking back on it, I have a lot more appreciation for what I did.
“As a coach, I realize how hard it is to have success at the college level, and every year you see great wrestlers not make the podium. Sometimes I’m shocked when certain guys don’t place, and it makes me appreciate how hard it is to be a four-time All-American, let alone place one time or multiple times.”
The transition to the coaching side was a difficult process for Bennett, but he knew he wanted to mentor other wrestlers the way his former coaches did with him.
“You put so much into the sport and you realize how much time other people invested and how important it was for me to do well, and so I guess for me it was a hard transition to make,” Bennett said. “You’re so competitive and so focused on yourself, but then being able to help these guys improve, get better and hopefully accomplish their goals was something I was looking forward to doing.
“I had so many people help me do that, and then I was able to be in their shoes and give back to these guys.”
Coaching has kept him involved in a sport he loves.
“And I get to continue to learn and grow and develop in different areas, not just wrestling-wise,” he said. “I get to meet a lot of great people through wrestling and coaching. The guys who come through our program are pretty awesome people.
“I’m pretty fortunate, and I've really enjoyed the coaching side of it, being in the wrestling room with these guys. Getting them ready for a match and going over things after a match. There is a lot that goes into it, but I really enjoy it.”
The love of wrestling for Bennett began at 6 years old, when he was coached by his uncle Tom Bennett – a former Division III All-American – and dad Doug.
“My uncle did a ton for me wrestling-wise, and my dad was the conditioning and discipline-type guy,” Bennett said. “Together it was a good mix. For as long as I can remember, I was always in really good shape. I loved wrestling right away.”
Bennett admits that he probably missed out on a lot when he was younger because he was determined to be the best and his life revolved around wrestling and training.
“It can be a tough way to live, but at the time that's what I wanted to do so that's what I did,” Bennett said. “When I was little my dad always told me that I'm not going to take you across the country to these tournaments if we are not training to win the tournament, not going to fill out the brackets, so my whole life the goal was always to be a champion.
“Going into high school my goal was to be a four-time state champion. I wanted to win the senior nationals, the junior nationals, and I won all those things. Going into college, in my mind, the next step was to be a national champion, and I don't think you realize how hard it really is, and I don't think I realized how hard it was to be an All-American.”
Bennett was promoted to CMU associate head coach last June after spending nine seasons as an assistant. He said the biggest difference with his new position is on the administrative side.
“I do a lot of scheduling and budgeting, things I didn’t do as much before in my years as an assistant coach,” he said. “I’ve taken the reins on some of these things, and it’s good for me to learn.”
Bennett is content with his current role at CMU and continuing to evolve as a coach under Borrelli. However, he hopes to one day take that next step as the head coach of a collegiate program.
“That’s my ultimate goal with coaching,” he said. “When that will happen, I don’t know. I guess I’m not in a hurry. When it happens, it will happen. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can right now.
“Coach Borrelli is an unbelievable coach, leader, mentor and role model, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can from him and soak up as much as I can from him until I get an opportunity somewhere to be a head coach. Right now I'm happy with where I'm at, and when that time comes, it will come.”
Bennett, 33, is engaged to former Chippewas field hockey player Erica Garwood. The couple has been dating for seven years and will get married next month.
“We’re excited, and I’m sure life will really change when we start having kids,” Bennett said. “But it’s good right now. We both went to school here, and she has a good job at an elementary school in town. We enjoy it up here.”
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PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Ben Bennett stands atop the podium at the 2008 Individual Finals, and now with fiancé Erica Garwood. (Middle) Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season. (Current photo courtesy of Ben Bennett; 2008 photos from MHSAA Archives.)