Keep it light, keep it fun – until it's time for work to be done. That's how Northrop wrestling coach Bruce Ojeda, now in his 14th season guiding the Bruins program, described his freshman phenom, Julante Hinton.
“He's young, obviously, and a little immature, but he's fun,” Ojeda said. “He horses around, but he turns it on when he needs to.”
The success in his first season in orange and brown, at least on the wrestling mat, comes as no surprise. The freshman, currently the No. 2-ranked wrestler at 220 pounds in the Fort Wayne semistate according to IndianaMat.com, enters Saturday's Summit Athletic Conference tournament with just one loss, following two exemplary seasons on the freestyle circuit during middle school.
As a seventh grader competing for the Blackhawk wrestling club, Hinton won a freestyle national title. Last spring, he finished runner-up at the Indiana state finals.
“He has good, quick hips and he's very athletic,” Ojeda said. “He just doesn't realize his potential. He wants to have fun with it, but once he starts learning the moves the sky's the limit.”
While Hinton takes his wrestling victories in stride, he explained his surprise at earning not just a varsity roster spot as a freshman, but also turning into a key contributor on defense for the Northrop football team. In the fall, Hinton amassed team highs in both sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (9.5).
“It was shocking,” Hinton said. “I didn't know I was going to make varsity in football. I just thought that it was crazy, that my hard work paid off. I just started working more so I could keep my spot.”
That effort turns infectious in the wrestling room. Hinton quickly established himself as a leader for the Bruins despite his age, motivating his teammates through both humor and work ethic. He's also formed a partnership in the room with senior Brayden Mudrack (16-2), who enters Saturday's SAC tournament ranked seventh in the semistate according to IndianaMat.com.
“I just make the team fun, I make the whole team laugh,” Hinton said. “I just joke around a little bit here and there, but if someone needs my help, I just help them.”
The advanced knowledge of move sets will come with experience, explained Ojeda, who thinks Hinton could very well advance this season all the way to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the state finals.
“I think (Hinton's chances to wrestle at state are) good, if he doesn't go out there and try to play games or try to toy with it,” Ojeda said. “He doesn't realize how good he can be. If he gets in a little bit of trouble, that's when he turns it on, and I tell him he can't do that at semistate or in a regional final. I'm just trying to keep that reinforced, and he knows he's going to have to work sometime.”
Though Hinton hopes his aspirations will carry him ultimately to Indianapolis, he explained his focus right now remains on the SAC tournament and the chance to avenge his lone defeat on the year, a 2-1 overtime loss to Concordia's Chance Harris.
After receiving a stall warning from the referee before ending regulation tied 1-1, Hinton took a step backward to open the extra session.
The referee awarded a stalling point – and the match – to Harris.
“He kept a nice attitude and said, 'Oh well, it's only wrestling,'” Ojeda said. “He's not scared of anybody. We all call him Dr. J. We had to tell him who (Julius Erving) was at first, but now I tell him, 'You're the doctor, you go out there and do your surgery.'”
Host School: Snider
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Host School: Huntington North
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Host School: Bluffton
When: 6 p.m. today