Campbell High School hasn’t seen a wrestler like Jamez Taylor in more than 10 years. The 132-pound junior placed fourth at the Georgia High School Association’s state wrestling tournament held Feb. 16-17 and is set to be ranked first in the state going into his senior season.
“He is the first Campbell wrestler to place in the top four since 2000 and only the second to place this high in over 20 years,” said Shawn Slenczka, Campbell High School’s head wrestling coach.
Taylor’s talent and ability are impressive, but especially considering he’s only been wrestling for three years, Slenczka said.
“For a third year wrestler to go and place so high in state is kind of hard to do because a lot of the kids on the teams we compete against have been wrestling for seven, eight, nine, 10 years,” he said. “A lot of them start when they’re kids. A lot of them start in middle school.”
Taylor finished out the season with a 45-12 record. He said he never dreamed he’d place at the state level as a junior and at the start of the season his goal was only to make it to the state competition.
“I tried to put in the most work I can this year,” he said. “I’ve given up on every other sport. My first love was football, but coming here with Coach Slenczka he changed my whole perspective of wrestling. This has been my favorite year. It’s just great.”
Taylor’s rise to state level competition parallels the rise of Campbell High School’s wrestling program itself. Slenczka said that he when he arrived to coach at Campbell four years ago there were only about eight athletes on the team. He spent much of his first three years trying to build the team and said it had about 40 members this season.
“We’re definitely an up-and-coming program,” he said. “Some of the other coaches in the region just kind of joked that they didn’t want to wrestle us next year because they’re afraid of how good we’ll be.
“We had a pretty good season. We went 23-9-1 on the season. It was the first time in a long time we had that many victories. I’m expecting next year I think we’ve got 10 kids with a legitimate shot at qualifying for state next year. It’s going to be a big year for us. We’ve got a real strong senior class coming back.”
Taylor will lead the senior class next season. At the state competition last week only seniors placed higher than Taylor, meaning he’s likely to begin his senior season ranked number one in the state.
Slenczka said it’s Taylor’s work ethic that sets him apart from other athletes, that and his innate natural talent.
“He’s a great athlete, especially on his feet, which in wrestling is probably one of the most important positions,” he said. “He’s very tough to take down. He’s got very good defense. And really what made him outstanding this year was he finally developed his shot. It’s called the high-crotch. It’s his kind of go-to shot it takes people down. He’s got a single leg that he uses as well. That’s basically what took him to the next level.”
Slenczka called Taylor a “pleasure to be around” and the feeling is evidently mutual. Taylor described his relationship to his coach as that of a father and son.
“Coach has been there for me since I got here,” he said. “He’s the first person that I talked to since I arrived at Campbell. I met the wrestling coach first.”
Taylor hopes to wrestle at the collegiate level and said his dream school is University of North Carolina. But he’s most excited about his senior season.
“Everyone be on the lookout for Campbell wrestling next year,” he said.