McGhee (right) wrestles with teammate Zach Synon in the first annual Black & Gold Alumni Match on November 1, 2013
Nov. 20, 2013
- by Amanda Nusbaum, Mizzou Athletics Staff Writer
"I see wrestling kind of like a story. You go and you train; that's the beginning. Then you go out there in the match and throughout the match you're telling everyone else what you've done to get there. You're showing everyone else, just like in how you write. You pick your plot and you use your words; in wrestling you use your body." - J'den Cox
Each year, the University of Missouri recruits high-achieving athletes from all over the world. Missouri Wrestling started off the 2013-2014 season with the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation after coming off of an extremely successful season last year. Two of said recruits, J'den Cox and Barlow McGhee, didn't blink as they transitioned into college, making their way into the starting lineup as true freshmen.
Cox, a Columbia, Mo.-native, has been wrestling his whole life. His high school wrestling career can be summed up in one sentence. J'den had more state titles (4) than losses (3) during his time at Hickman. In addition, all four titles came at four different weight classes. Despite his successes, Cox had a decision to make as his high school career came to a close. Wrestling or football? Not only was he arguably the most dominant wrestler in Missouri at the high school level, but he was a pretty good linebacker for the Kewpies, leading the team in tackles and being selected to all-state honors by the coaches. At the end of the day, wrestling has always been a part of his upbringing.
"My uncle and brothers wrestled, so I was just around it a lot," Cox said of his wrestling background. "I like to play football - it's fun - but I love to wrestle."
And now in his short time as a collegiate wrestler, not only has his decision been solidified, but his desire to be successful has grown even bigger. Tiger Style wrestling, according to J'den, is the hardest in the country. He feels that his decision to wrestle at Mizzou has made him work harder than if he had gone anywhere else, as well increase his confidence in himself and his team. He knows that each practice is going to challenge him.
"I wasn't used to having so many people in the room. At Hickman I had maybe two guys I could wrestle with, but here there are eight or nine guys I can roll around with and they're all going to push me just as hard as the next. In that aspect I think I benefit a lot more from the workouts here. The talent in the room is the biggest difference."
Originally training to wrestle as a heavyweight contender, one of the biggest challenges he's faced in his short time at Mizzou has been having to drop more weight than expected. When Coach Brian Smith and company approached him about possibly dropping down to the 197-pound class, he had already been eating at the heavyweight level. Cox noted that he was having to eat all the time, even when he wasn't hungry.
"They asked me what I thought [about moving down] and told me what they were thinking, and I was on board. I believe that the coaches make all the decisions based on whatever is best for the team. I was going to train hard no matter what."
Dropping down a weight class from heavyweight meant significant changes in his eating habits. He admits it was a hard transition at first, but now he's at the point where his weight is under control and he's used to eating less than he had been.
"It's hard either way, but having that control, well, I guess it shows a lot of maturity, too."
McGhee, the Tigers 125-pounder, has a different story to tell. Barlow didn't start wrestling until he was in the seventh grade, when his dad, who wrestled at Army, encouraged him to try it. Just two years later, in his hometown of Rock Island, Illinois, he would begin high school where he was a two-sport athlete taking on wrestling and football. McGhee's decision to attend Mizzou was another no-brainer, but for different reasons than his teammate.
"I didn't know where I was going until halfway through my senior year. Coach (Sammie) Henson saw me at a tournament and talked to my dad about whether or not I was thinking about wrestling in college. They brought my family out for a visit and we loved it."
Barlow recalls that at the time, he was juggling the possibility of going into the Army over going to college. After his visit to Mizzou, his mind was made up.
"The first thing they told me, before even mentioning wrestling, was that I would graduate and get a degree. Two weeks later, I signed."
He remembers how overwhelmed he was with how great the facilities were; such a large wrestling room and wrestling-specific weight room were things his high school didn't have. And he knew that everyone in these Hearnes Center facilities knows how to wrestle, and was going to push him no matter what.
"Nobody takes a back seat," McGhee mentions. "It's a step up from high school."
Both freshmen earned their first collegiate wins against North Dakota State in the season-opener on November 1 in Fargo, N.D. Two days later, they would both compete in the 21st Annual Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open, and end as two of the 23 wrestlers that placed from Mizzou's 34 entrants. Cox, who took first place in the 197-pound bracket, notes that the team has started off strong but still has a lot to improve on.
"I'm very proud. We did well not only as individuals, but as a team. You can see what we've put into the season so far. We're not completely there but we're working hard."
McGhee, who took third place at 125-pounds, knows to trust the Tiger Style system that defines Mizzou's wrestling program.
"I'm putting my faith in the coaches and in myself and in God and I believe I can work hard to be the best and earn a national title."
Among some of the first collegiate athletes in their respective families, both wrestlers are incredibly proud and happy with their decision to be part of the University of Missouri wrestling team and program. And as true freshmen, their stories have yet to be written. But they have already showed promise in leading a young program into the next chapter of Tiger Style wrestling.
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