SUWANEE - T.J. Mitchell can hear the whispers when he walks into a gym.
Everyone knows who he is and what he's accomplished.
The Collins Hill wrestler has quickly become one of the top wrestlers not only in Georgia, but in the country.
That's why when Mitchell walks onto the mat he has the pressure few wrestlers deal with.
Not only is the sophomore expected to win, he's expected to win impressively. No one wants to see a nationally ranked wrestler pull out a 6-4 win. They expect dominance.
"Sometimes I do feel a little pressure," Mitchell said. "I feel like I wrestle better out of state because I feel more pressure from our state because I know who I'm wrestling. Out of state, I can just wrestle."
In Georgia or out of state, it hasn't made much difference for Mitchell this season. He's 40-2 and the clear cut favorite to win the Class AAAAA 112-pound state championship.
"Some people might think that way, but anyone can lose at any given time," Mitchell said. "I just want to go out there and wrestle my best. I can do it I feel, but I know there's going to be some competition."
It wasn't that long ago that wrestlers from Georgia weren't taken seriously nationally. Now guys like Mitchell, Salem's Peter Yates and Harrison's Josh Condon are nationally ranked. Even Mitchell's teammate Taylor Knapp has cracked the rankings in some publications.
As a sophomore, Mitchell is the youngest of the group and has already been a great ambassador to Georgia wrestling. He's only lost twice in his high school career and has proven that Georgia wrestlers can hang with the best in the country.
"He's like any great wrestler, any great athlete - he hates to lose," Collins Hill coach Cliff Ramos said. "He doesn't even want to get taken down not in practice, not in a competition. That kind of attitude really helps him."
After winning the Class AA state title at Wesleyan last year, part of the reason why Mitchell transferred to Collins Hill was to compete against national competition.
The Eagles have made trips to several out-of-state tournaments. Most notably the National Wrestling Classic in Kansas City where Collins Hill placed third and Mitchell was 7-1 with five pins.
After going 50-0 last year at Wesleyan and not allowing a takedown or reversal, Mitchell lost the first match of his high school career. It was a 1-0 defeat to Alan Waters from Park Hill, Mo., a top 5 wrestler in the country.
"I knew he was a tough wrestler," Mitchell said.
Three weeks later, Collins Hill wrestled at the Battlefield Duals in Virginia. Mitchell went 7-1 again as he wrestled at 112 and 119 pounds. His second career loss was at 119, one he didn't take very well.
"I didn't go crazy, but it was pretty hard," Mitchell said. "I just don't like losing."
Said Ramos: "He didn't take it very well. He didn't get a team point deducted or anything like that. That's how a lot of the great ones are. They don't like to lose."
Mitchell didn't let it bother him too much. The next day he defeated a nationally ranked wrestler from Colonial Forge (Va.). It's by far his biggest win of his high school career. Other people noticed the win, creating a buzz for Mitchell and wrestling in Georgia. Now Mitchell is drawing interest from colleges, so the future of Georgia wrestling looks to be in good hands.
But anyone that has ever met Mitchell already knew that. If you sat down and talked to him, you might not ever know he's a standout wrestler. He doesn't gloat about his accomplishments and talks of himself he diverts to the team.
"To be honest, probably just what a pleasant, respectful, humble young man he is. That's what impresses me the most," Ramos said. "He's had all kinds of success for years and years, but you wouldn't know it just from talking to him."
A five-time kids state champion, Mitchell has continued to excel in high school. In addition to winning the individual state title last year, his pin against LaFayette secured Wesleyan's dual state championship.
A step up to the Class AAAAA level hasn't slowed Mitchell down. He's second on the team in wins with 40 and won his second Gwinnett County championship last month. Mitchell cruised through the tournament with two pins, a technical fall and then a 12-1 win over Dacula's Noah Hunt.
"He's the best wrestler I've ever wrestled in my life," said Hunt, who placed fifth at the state meet last year.
With a month until the traditional state tournament, Mitchell is the front-runner for the 112-pound state championship.
"He's the favorite, I'm sure, but there's a couple of great wrestlers out there,"
Peachtree Ridge's Andrew Sartain and Pope's Dexter Bushart are the top challengers.
A second state title is Mitchell's next goal, and then it's on to the nation.
"To be nationally ranked. One of the top guys in the country. That's next on my priorities," Mitchell said. "I can always get better, I just want to try and wrestle one of those guys and beat them."
SideBar: The Mitchell File
· Who: T.J. Mitchell
· Sport: Wrestling
· School: Collins Hill
· Class: Sophomore
· Favorite movie: "Superbad"
· Favorite food: Italian
· Favorite athlete: Cael Sanderson
· Favorite music artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers
· Holds a 40-2 record this season with 25 pins
· Two-time Gwinnett County champion
· Won Class AA state title last year at Wesleyan
· Was 50-0 last season and did not allow a takedown or reversal
· Ranked in the top 15 in the country by Win magazine and Amateur Wrestling News
· Five-time youth state champion