Prior to the 2010-11 ASU wrestling season, coach Shawn Charles made a bold prediction.
“We were sitting in one of our team meetings, and I told Jake Meredith in front of everybody that if he worked hard and trained hard, he would win the Pac-10 championship,” Charles said. “This was like the second week of practice, and everyone was looking around all surprised that I would say that, but I was very serious.”
Redshirt senior Meredith was entering his junior season when Charles said that. He was not the reigning Pac-10 champion, or even a contender for the title for that matter.
The 184-pound athlete from Temecula, Calif., was coming off a 12-13 sophomore campaign and finished fourth at the 2010 Pac-10 championships.
So why did Charles, who had two future national champions in Bubba Jenkins and Anthony Robles on his roster, single out Meredith as the savior of the squad?
“I saw a lot of talent,” Charles said. “I saw a kid who, if he focused his mind and allowed the new coaching staff to actually train him, had the sky be the limit.”
That’s high praise from Charles, who didn’t arrive in Tempe until Meredith’s sophomore season.
Meredith was originally recruited by former Sun Devil head coach Thom Ortiz, but Ortiz was fired after Meredith’s freshman season and Charles stepped in.
Meredith was hesitant at first with the coaching change, but he found a good relationship with Charles and ran with it.
“I liked Coach Ortiz a lot as a person, but when Charles came in, he brought something new to the program,” Meredith said.
After his sophomore season, Meredith didn’t travel back to Southern California to enjoy the summer surfing and wakeboarding like he had in the past.
Instead, Meredith stayed in the blistering Tempe heat and trained to be a championship wrestler.
“My sophomore year, I stayed out here and trained the whole summer,” Meredith said. “I trained really hard, and I found that’s what you have to do in college.”
When Charles announced his prediction that fall, Meredith didn’t completely believe his head coach.
“Before the year even started, Charles told me I was going to win the title,” Meredith said. “I kind of thought he was lying at first, just trying to tell me what I wanted to hear like some coaches do, but I just continued to work hard.”
Meredith’s hard work paid off big time.
He finished with a career-best 23-16 record in 2011 and entered the Pac-10 tournament as the No. 2 seed in the 184-pound weight class.
Meredith dominated throughout the tournament, knocking off Cal Poly’s Kelan Bragg and Cal State Fullerton’s Todd Noel in shutout fashion to reach the final against Oregon State’s Brice Arand.
Meredith then fulfilled coach Charles’ preseason prophecy and knocked off Arand 5-2 to claim the 2011 Pac-10 championship at 184 pounds.
Meredith’s reaction to his victory followed the humble. It was his hardworking attitude that brought him success.
“Yeah, it felt good,” Meredith said. “It always feels good to win.”
Meredith’s victory was a surprise to most everyone at the time except redshirt senior Levi Cooper. Cooper was a redshirt sophomore at the time and saw the same potential Charles did.
“It was a surprise to people who weren’t part of the program, but we all saw how he was wrestling,” Cooper said.
What Charles, Meredith, Cooper or anyone else for that matter couldn’t predict is what would happen next.
The following summer, Meredith was at a wrestling camp in August 2011 when misfortune struck.
“I was working a wrestling camp, and a kid ran into my leg and crushed it,” Meredith said. “I didn’t really think it was that bad at first. The doctors told me it was a little worse than I thought.”
Meredith found out that he had broken his leg.
And just like that, in a span of five months, Meredith went from Pac-10 champion to his wrestling future up in the air.
He wasn’t cleared to wrestle until December, and Meredith and the coaching staff sat down to discuss his future.
“It was one of those situations where, ‘Should we try and rush him back and get him to wrestle, or do we give him the year off, let him get to 100 percent and have him help us his senior year and fifth year?’” Charles said.
Meredith was set to graduate in the spring and was unsure whether he wanted to come back. He ultimately decided to sit out the 2011-12 season and return as a redshirt senior, something he is grateful he did.
“In hindsight, it was probably the best thing for me,” Meredith said. “I was able to train and get better and work on technical skills and not have to worry about weight and traveling and competing.”
Charles did have a couple conditions upon Meredith’s return for a fifth season, however.
“I told him that if he was going to come back here for his fifth year, it was our expectation that he be a good team leader, a captain, work hard, win the Pac-10 championship and become an All-American for us,” Charles said.
Meredith recovered fully and is holding up Charles’s end of the bargain for his return quite nicely so far.
Meredith has started out with a 21-4 record so far this season and has moved all the way up to the No. 6 national ranking in his new 197-pound weight class.
Meredith says that if he keeps working hard, results will keep come his way.
“The chips are going to fall where they fall, and I’m going to just work as hard as I can,” Meredith said. “Honestly, I feel like I’m right there with the best in the country.”
Meredith’s goal, like any other talented wrestler, is to win a national championship and Cooper believes he has the tools to do so.
“He can definitely win a national title,” Cooper said. “He’s had some of the toughest matches against the best competition and he’s always wrestled real well.”
Interestingly enough Charles isn’t keen on making any more predictions about Meredith. He is proud of the journey Meredith has taken regardless of how the season finishes.
“I’m really hoping that he wins a national title,” Charles said. “But for me, knowing where he was when I got here to where he is now, I’m very proud of him.”
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