Three Center Grove seniors capture state wrestling titles


Nate Johnson’s trademark mullet, already well-known in Johnson County these past few years, appealed to a whole new set of admirers on Saturday.

And yet the person who helped inspire the Center Grove senior’s unique appearance in the first place wasn’t inside the Ford Center. At least in person.

In October 2020, Johnson’s mother Julie lost her brave battle against cancer at the age of 48.

Nate, then a freshman, vowed to maintain the mullet to honor Julie, who was a supporter of the hairstyle, at least through his senior year of high school.

After pinning Cathedral senior Hosia Smith in the first period to win the 285-pound class at the state wrestling finals, Johnson couldn’t help but become nostalgic.

“You know, I’ve wanted her to watch me do this, and it’s too bad she couldn’t,” said Johnson, a three-time state champion with the Trojans’ football team who grabbed a few moments of spotlight — literally and figuratively — for himself. “I dedicated everything to her.

“She’s my guardian angel up there. She’s definitely watching. She helped me on that last one.”

Two of Johnson’s classmates picked up state titles as well, with Charlie LaRocca and Wyatt Krejsa receiving first-place medals at 120 and 150 pounds, respectively.

It marked the second straight individual championship for LaRocca, a 113-pounder a season ago; Krejsa advanced to the final match at 145 a year ago but came up short.

Like them, Johnson sought to work his way through the state finals bracketing.

Two seasons ago, Johnson, then weighing approximately 260 pounds, advanced to Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis but lost in the opening round of the 285s to New Prairie senior Hunter Whitenack.

A slimmed-down version returned in 2023, but Johnson again lost his first match, this time at 220 pounds. He returned to 285 this winter, and was dominant throughout while splitting regular-season matches with teammate and good friend Tyler Schott.

Johnson prevailed against Schott in a wrestle-off to see who would represent Center Grove in the postseason, and he continued to win to finish with a 27-1 record. Over the past three seasons, his record is 83-12.

“It all kind of played together,” Johnson said. “You never want to lose, especially in your final stage. I got out here and I was like, ‘Be with me, Mom.’ She was with me all the way through, so both things motivated me.

“I kind of talk to her in my head. I just say, ‘Come on, Momma, help me out through here, and I love you so much. I wish you could be here watching me do this, but stuff happens.’ Life happens. You never know. Hug your mommas. Hug your pops at night. You never when is the last time you’re ever going to see them.”