South's undefeated Cashion different person on mat

There is a transformation that happens to Wes Cashion before he begins to wrestle.

One that seems to turn the South Gwinnett senior into a totally different person.

"Off the mat, you're going to have a good time with him, he's always laughing, always smiling," South Gwinnett head coach Derrick Burchette said. "On the mat, nobody wants to wrestle with him. His moves are clean, they are perfectly legal. But if they happen to bring you some pain, that's your problem."

And Cashion has been a problem for every opponent he's wrestled this season.

He is currently 41-0 on the year and is considered a top contender for the Class AAAAA 152-pound state championship.

He has really only come close to losing once this year - he defeated Calhoun's Luke Prochilo in overtime during a tournament in Gainesville.

Other than that, Cashion has been dominant throughout the season, winning every tournament he's entered.

All the while he's been as affable off the mat as he has been terrorizing on it.

"Usually, I just like to joke around and have a good time," Cashion said. "I don't like to take things too seriously. But when I get on the mat, I don't know, I think to myself, 'That kid made me mad. I'm going to punish him for it.'

"I don't really know how I do it. It just happens."

Although his father was a former state champion wrestler from North Carolina, Cashion says he gets his competitive fire from his mother, Linda.

"My dad is more laid-back," he said, "but with my mom, we'll play video games and if she doesn't win she'll want to play over and over until she does."

Fortunately for Cashion, on the mat this season he hasn't needed any do-overs. His goal at the beginning of the year wasn't to go undefeated, but he now admits it is something he thinks about.

The bigger goal for the South senior is to be on the mat at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Feb. 11 in the finals of the 152-pound state championship.

"Man, that would mean a lot," Cashion said. "It would be such a big payoff for all the work I've done, all the camps I've been to, how hard I've worked the last four years."

Cashion had been wrestling competitively for three years when he arrived at South as a freshman. He finished third in the JV county tournament that year and then became one of the Comets' best wrestlers as a sophomore, placing in both the county and area tournaments.

Then, six weeks before his junior season was set to start, Cashion was in a four-wheeler accident.

"I went over a jump and flipped," he said, "and it landed on my leg."

The leg was shattered and a titanium rod was implanted into his shin.

He was supposed to be out for four months.

Instead, he was back in two.

"I started walking on it every day (to rehab)," Cashion said, "I just wanted to get back."

He came back and again was one of the Comets' top wrestlers, finishing second in both area and county.

Unfortunately for Cashion, neither his sophomore or junior seasons ended the way he was hoping. Both years he was knocked out in the match just before the medal round of the state tournament.

"You just chalk that up to bad luck," Burchette said. "The two kids he lost to last year were the state champion (Collins Hill's Clay Gray) and the kid who finished third. In fact, the match he had with Gray was Gray's closest match of the entire tournament."

This year Cashion isn't looking for close.

He's looking for gold.

He trained vigorously throughout the summer and offseason to help ensure that he wouldn't be on the outside looking in when the medal round came this season.

And he saw dividends right away.

"Yeah, actually my first match," he said, "I watched the video when I got home and I was like, 'Man, I'm a lot better than I was last year.' It was like a 180-degree turnaround."

Said Burchette: "Honestly, when you talk about Wes, there is always progress. Whether you asked me to compare him to last month or last year, there is always progress.

"And he is probably the best competitor I've ever coached. He loves competition. He thrives on it."

He's certainly thriving this year.

But for all that he's accomplished this season, and in his South career, Cashion is emphatic that this year needs to end differently than the last two.

"If I don't make it to the medal round this year, I will be so disappointed in myself," he said. "All the hard work would just be flushed down the toilet again. For nothing. So I'll make sure to make it to the medal round."