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The Biggest Winner!

Hernandez highlights determined rise of Heritage wrestling

Heritage senior Jose Hernandez works out with a teammate in the school’s wrestling gym. Hernandez, who wrestles at 132 pounds, weighed 260 and played on the offensive line as an eighth-grader. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Jose Hernandez is half the man he used to be.

Hernandez goes for the pin.

The Heritage High School senior is also a region champion and a story of success and determination like few others.

Hernandez took Maryville’s Evan Searfoss in a major decision in the 132-pound region duals final last month at Seymour High School. The 8-0 win sparked a finishing burst for the state’s No. 4-ranked wrestling team, the Mountaineers winning going away, 49-24, to claim the school’s first region crown.

“This is the seventh year we’ve had a middle school program,” Heritage wrestling coach Jerry Teaster said, “and these kids are finally a senior group.”

Heritage made history again a week later, reaching the semifinals of the TSSAA state duals in Franklin. The Mountaineers (28-6) advanced to championship Saturday, where they medaled fourth, the highest-ever finish for a boys’ team at the school in any sport.

The 5-foot-6 Hernandez played running back/linebacker on the Mountaineer football team this past season. In middle school he played center on the offensive line, his playing weight at 260 pounds.

“I started running a lot more, beginning with baby steps,” Hernandez said. “It felt great once I lost all that weight and started running.

The transformation wasn’t about losing weight, Hernandez said. His friends played football. His friends wrestled.

Hernandez takes the hand off from Jake Olvey in the Farragut game. Photo by Brandon Shinn

By the end of his freshman football season, Hernandez was down to 189 pounds. By his sophomore year, he’d become fast enough to play linebacker. By his junior year, he was splitting time at running back.

First-year Mountaineer football coach Tim Hammontree wasn’t surprised in seeing Hernandez spark the wrestling team to the region championship. It’s the real reason his senior running back/linebacker lost all that weight in the first place.

“With Jose, it’s all about the team,” Hammontree said. “He’s going to do whatever it takes to make that team score points.”

The Heritage Mountaineers finished the duals wrestling season the state's No. 4-ranked team.

A season to remember includes wins over Class A/AA runner up Pigeon Forge, AAA fifth-ranked Bradley Central and Division II bronze medalist Baylor on Heritage’s first trip to wrestling’s Final Four. When the Mountaineers climbed to fourth in the state polls, it was quite a lift, Joel Payne said.

“When we started showing up in the rankings, we said, ‘Wow! That’s us,” he said.

The friendships forged in the Mountaineer wrestling gym made it possible, senior Joey Evan said.

“We just had to depend on each other,” he said. “It all came down to this room.”

A season filled with firsts was only fitting.

“It’s just a blessing these kids responded to us and bought in,” Teaster said.








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