Go to link below
FOND DU LAC – Donte Johnson was pretty clear that his prep wrestling career didn’t end the way he wanted.
The Fond du Lac senior had hoped to walk off the mat for the final time as a state champion. It didn’t work out that way.
That doesn’t mean Johnson is full of regret. Quite the opposite.
“Everybody’s goal is to walk into the Kohl Center and come back with a state championship. Unfortunatel,y that didn’t happen,” Johnson said. “I got enough out of what I did for the past four years. I enjoyed it, I loved it. It made me a better athlete, a better person, a better student. Overall I feel like I won in the end.”
En route to a third-place finish in the 285-pound weight class at the WIAA Division 1 individual state wrestling meet, Johnson compiled a 39-3 record during the 2016-17 season. He won a Fox Valley Association heavyweight title, a Division 1 sectional crown and was named the FVA Wrestler of the Year. He even became the winningest heavyweight in the Fond du Lac wrestling program’s 50-plus year history, with 136 career victories.
Add 2016-17 Action Reporter Media All-Area Wrestler of the Year to Johnson’s impressive resume.
Johnson beat out the Lomira trio of Tyler Garriety, Chase Parr and Collin Feucht — all third-place finishers at the D2 individual state meet — for the honor. Entering his senior season on the Fond du Lac wrestling team, Johnson’s primary goal was to win a state title. He was oh-so-close to doing just that.
Johnson suffered only three losses all year — one to eventual D1 state champ Keaton Kluever of Kaukauna during the regular season and another to D1 fifth-place finisher Quinn Meinerz of Hartford in a regional championship match.
Easily the most painful defeat for Johnson came in his WIAA Division 1 state semifinal match against defending state champ Blaze Beltran of Pewaukee. Beltran picked up a 3-1 sudden victory in overtime, which ended Johnson’s state championship hopes.
But even so, Johnson took the loss like a champion would.
“I’m happy with where I finished,” Johnson said. “I’m satisfied to who I lost to, he’s a good wrestler. He was the defending state champ, my future roommate (at the University of Minnesota Duluth) and a guy I’m going to play (football) next to for the next four or five years. I wouldn’t want to lose to anybody else besides him. I’m happy it went that way rather than a different way. Obviously I’d want to win but everything works out for a reason.”
But Johnson’s senior campaign certainly had its fair share of impressive victories as well.
At state, Johnson defeated Sauk Prairie’s Konnor McNeal by pin (2:37) in his preliminary match and then won by 5-1 decision against Ashwaubenon’s Daniel Cole in the quarterfinals.
After his disappointing loss to Beltran, Johnson responded by defeating Meinerz by 6-2 decision in the consolation semifinals before dominating Cole by 12-3 major decision in the third-place match.
Prior to the postseason, Johnson defeated Kluever by 3-1 sudden victory for the conference title at the Fox Valley Association meet and pinned Division 2 state runner-up Cody Jacobson of Ripon for the Oshkosh On The Water Classic crown in December — to name a couple of his more notable regular-season wins.
In Fond du Lac wrestling coach Joe Rens’ opinion, Johnson was the best heavyweight in the state, even if he didn’t stand on top of the state tournament podium in February.
“It just didn’t work out on that day,” Rens said. “Any other day, he’d be a state champ. But all the marbles fall into that one weekend.”
Although the end result wasn’t the ideal finish for Johnson, it was a phenomenal senior year that followed sophomore and junior seasons that were pretty great as well.
As a sophomore, Johnson went 40-8 and qualified for his first individual state meet, while last year as a junior, he went 36-5 and took fourth place at state. But Johnson’s senior campaign was the culmination of it all and unquestionably his best season.
His determination to always get better was the reason why.
“That motivation and that drive and that thought of knowing this is my last year and to leave it all out on the mat,” Johnson explained. “Obviously the people that I’m surrounded by — my coaches, I had great wrestling partners and even my football coaches, they were on board. The whole school, the whole community was on board. I wanted to do whatever I could to not let them down. That was always my motive and my drive. That pushed me through the season and made me better than last year.”
No argument from Rens.
“He works his butt off. He doesn’t miss a day of weights,” Rens said of Johnson. “He was the first guy in the wrestling room after the football season was over, where some of the other guys were taking a couple days off because of the long football season. I’ve only been around a few kids like him, where he was so physically tough, but mentally tough, too. Nothing worried him.
“He’s a unique kid. He really made wrestling fun because he didn’t take it too darn serious, but yet when it was go-time, he turned it on.”
As his time in high school winds down and he gets into his final track and field season before heading to the University of Minnesota Duluth to play football in the fall, Johnson took note of the fact that his wrestling career didn’t follow the standard path.
Starting in the sport as a freshman, Johnson was many years behind some grapplers who’d been on the mat since they could walk. But even so, Johnson worked his way into becoming one of the best wrestlers in the state. That’s his message and the legacy he believes he leaves behind at Fond du Lac and specifically for the wrestling program.
“It’s not too late to do anything,” Johnson said. “A lot of guys wrestle their whole life. … I didn’t start wrestling until freshman year. That’s a message to let people know that it’s never too late to do anything. Did I think I was going to place at state my freshman year and be one of the top wrestlers in the state? No, not at all. Hard work and dedication and the people around me helped me.”
Rens acknowledged that Johnson is indeed correct — hard work can and often does lead to success. But he also pointed out that there’s something about his senior heavyweight that many athletes simply don’t have.
“It’s something I really can’t describe in words,” Rens said. “If I could put into words, write it down, give it to every kid and say ‘If you do this, you can end up third place at the state tournament or possibly in the finals,’ other kids would be doing it. But it’s something that Donte has that you can’t always match.”
At-large: Colton Wasieleski, Junior, 22-10, Fond du Lac (195)
Honorable mention: Fond du Lac: Colin Athanasiou, Chase Krug.