RIPLEY – Ripley High senior Greg Medina was at a crossroads about three years ago. He wasn't sure what he wanted from life and wasn't even sure that he wanted to finish high school. The thought of going to college was the farthest thing from his mind.
Medina was born in California, but entered elementary school in Jackson County. He moved to Mexico after third grade where he only knew English and had to adapt in a hurry. He later returned to blue-and-white country and has remained a Viking ever since.
"Everyone was really very kind and understanding in Mexico," he said. "I can speak Spanish pretty well now," joked Medina.
Fast-forward to 2012.
Medina has improved his academics through better study-habits and he finished sixth in the state at the 195 pound weight class as a varsity wrestler this spring and is being recruited by division-two collegiate wrestling programs as he enters his senior season on the mats for The Vikings later this month.
"I saw what some of my friends were taking from wrestling. They were winning championships and competing at a high level. It was kind of a brotherhood. It was something I wanted to try and that I wanted to be a part of, so I tried out as a sophomore," said Medina.
Medina did more than try out. He made the team. He focused on keeping his grades up which in turn, meant he could wrestle competitively mid-way through the season.
Ripley head wrestling coach Matt Smith remembers the first day Medina showed up for conditioning.
"Greg was so intense and asked lots of questions. He took to it immediately and really wrestled with tremendous passion. After all, he had to develop technique and couldn't just rely on his tremendous core strength," said Smith.
Medina credits three-time State Champion David Hicks with helping him to develop at a break neck pace. Hicks graduated in June.
"David was so strong and was so good fundamentally. He made me better quickly," added Medina.
Ripley assistant coach Franklin Howerton remembers that first day as well.
"I remember him looking at me at a point in the conditioning where some guys may hit the door and not come back realizing that it isn't for them. He just kept saying how much he loved it. You could just tell that he really wanted to do this."
Academically and socially, Medina's former algebra and current homeroom teacher Stacy Riffe has seen the changes in the 18-year old.
"Greg was very shy and kept to himself initially. Now, he is so much more social, made many friends and he really cares about his studies and wants to do well. I credit wrestling for helping Greg become more focused. He is a bright young man with tremendous potential. I am very proud of what he has accomplished."
Page 2 of 3 - The young grappler who also likes to hunt and fish, gives a lot of credit to his teachers and coaches. Medina believes that the love that has been shown to him has allowed him to grow and gave him confidence that he too could do anything he wanted to do with his life.
Coach Smith knew from the beginning that Medina was motivated to do well. He believes that Greg bought into the team concept but that he also connected with the one on one aspect of the sport.
"If Greg does what he did last year it will help us tremendously. If he continues working the way he is working that will all take care of itself. We don't focus on speculation in terms of his road to the State Tournament and who he may face down the road, we just focus on what we can control and just wrestle the man in front of you, regardless of his rankings."
At the Powerade meet last season, Medina lost to a nationally ranked wrestler in his class from Ohio. Medina lost by just a few points and had a chance to beat the grappler. He was very hard on himself for not getting the victory, regardless of what the opponent's ranking was.
Medina has won the Ripley wrestling team's Newcomer of the Year Award and last year he snagged the Hardest Worker Award. He looks to develop his technique and positioning this season and continue to get better every day.
This year, assistant coach Franklin Howerton, his wife Megan and five-year old daughter Mia invited Greg to live with them in their home. Howerton was prepared to surrender his coaching position if there was a conflict of interest.
He checked out the situation with the proper channels (The Board of Education) and as it turns out, Medina is 18 so he can live anywhere he chooses and coach Howerton can keep his position.
"We wanted Greg to know that he isn't just a guy living in our house. We wanted him to know that he is part of this home and I hope we have done that because he is part of us," said Howerton.
Medina looks back on the last three years of his life and shows tremendous maturity in his choice of words.
"The only thing I hate in this world is quitting. I briefly quit school in ninth grade, and I was really hard on myself for that mistake. I have worked hard to be in the position I am in right now, but I would not be here without the help of a lot of people who care about me. I am so thankful to them."
Greg Medina has made his family, community, school and team proud of him but you must remember one thing; He is just getting started.
Page 3 of 3 - The Ripley grapplers conduct their first practice for the 2012-13 season later this month. See future editions of Jackson newspapers for a full preview and more features on Ripley High wrestlers.