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How ASU head coach Zeke Jones helped turn the wrestling program around

Before Jones joined the Sun Devils, he was a silver medalist at the 1992 Olympics and credits his former coaches with his success

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"Jones said he attributes his coaching career to the coaches who taught and made him the leader and instructor he is today."


ASU wrestling head coach Zeke Jones has experienced it all when it comes to wrestling.

Jones has given the ASU wrestling program a winning culture ever since taking over as head coach before the 2014-15 season, something the team has struggled with in the past.

Jones was at the top of his game during his ASU wrestling career. He was a three-time All-American, three-time Pac-10 champion, and a national runner-up in the 118-pound weight class when he wrestled for ASU.

He also has plenty of hardware worth showing off. In 1991, he earned the 52 kg World Champion title and won a silver medal representing the U.S. in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Now, as a coach, Jones is a three-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, leading the program to its highest conference tournament point total since 1993 and winning the program's 19th conference title.

"We try to instill the right mindset and be a world-class technician on the wrestling match," Jones said.

Jones grew up following in the footsteps of his older brother, Johnny, who was a national wrestling champion at Iowa State University.

"When Johnny came home for Christmas break he took me to a wrestling tournament and showed me a double-leg and a half-nelson and from there on out, I was a wrestler," Jones said.

Jones said he attributes his coaching career to the coaches who made him the leader and instructor he is today.

"I grew up near Ann Arbor, Michigan, and at the time, Michigan had a top-five program in the nation so I think it helped to be around a good college wrestling program," Jones said. "The bottom line is I have had outstanding coaches my entire life from Ernie Gillum to Mark Johnson."

Johnson, Jones's former coach, said that he had the opportunity to coach Jones when he first started in high school wrestling.

Not only did Jones stand out on the mat, Johnson saw something special in him others didn't.

"I remember Zeke being really energetic, he was one of those kids that flew all over the wrestling room, and he just stood out amongst the rest," Johnson said.

Jones said he owes a lot of his teachings to former coaches like Johnson, saying they helped prepare him for life both on and off the mat.

"I think something important I was able to teach him was you do your best to leave it all on the mat, get as good as you can do and don't worry about the winning and losing," Johnson said. "You get what you put into the sport, and Zeke put a lot into the sport and he's getting a lot out of it."

While many may not know, Jones helped Johnson decide he wanted to be a head coach at a young age.

"I really wasn't planning on coaching, and I spent 32 years coaching, so good impact on both of us," Johnson said.

Although Johnson helped Jones start his wrestling career, it inspired him to want to coach after his playing career ended. He has helped 14 different Sun Devils earn All-American honors and developed redshirt senior Zahid Valencia, who is now a two-time national champion.

Jones has also coached multiple U.S. Olympians through the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2012 games.

Since Jones's arrival, ASU is once again at a top-tier wrestling program thanks to his dedication and knowledge of the game. In Jones's first year as head coach of the Sun Devils, he sent six wrestlers to the 2015 NCAA Championships, for the first time since 2011.

ASU wrestling, under Jones's command, has had a winning record every season except for the 2018-19 season.

"One of the biggest things he has taught me is not taking shortcuts, do things that make you grow as a person, and challenge ourselves so nothing comes easy," said redshirt freshman wrestler Kyle Parco.

Jones takes extra pride in coaching for his former alma mater and is grateful for the position he's in today.

"I take extra pride at coaching at the school I also wrestled at, there is pride in having success here and so I'm just grateful to have this opportunity and I want to reward that gratefulness by winning championships," Jones said.

Johnson said Jones is one of the best athletes he has ever coached in his career, keeping in contact with him to this day.

"Every time I hear Zeke Jones name it puts a smile on my face," Johnson said. 


Reach the reporter at nnath2@asu.edu and follow @NathNikash on Twitter.

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