Charles Jagusah found himself in a frustrating position against Leighton Jones — Indiana's top-ranked wrestler at 285 pounds — in the third period of the STM New Year's Challenge in Danville, Ill., on Dec. 29.
Jagusah had been called for stalling, tying the match, and Rock Island Alleman’s junior heavyweight was being pushed towards the edge of the mat when he realized he needed to make a move, or his undefeated record would be no more.
What Jagusah decided to do next was not only risky, but an advanced wrestling technique that required using the weight of his opponent against him.
Jagusah allowed Jones to get his weight forward, making Jones believe he was on the verge on putting Jagusah on his back, when Jagusah fell backwards, taking Jones with him and turning him at the same time to gain the upper position.
It worked, and Jagusah eventually ended the match with a 5-3 decision victory over Jones, a fellow dual-sport athlete and highly recruited Division I athlete.
“He threw the kid in a move called a lateral drop, which is not something I would have encouraged him to do,” Alleman coach Norman Jacks said. “But, it all worked out. It was a huge win. A huge opportunity. He doesn’t run into that level of competition typically, to really push him.
"I mean, he’s beating and pinning top 10 kids in Illinois in the first period.”
Jagusah, this week’s Illinois Pacesetter, is 23-0 and the No. 1 ranked wrestler in Illinois at 285 in the latest IWCOA Class 1A rankings. That record includes earning first place last Saturday at the 58th annual Lyle King Invitational Tournament, regarded as one of the best before the state tournament, with three pins which earned him the Most Outstanding Wrestler for the event.
The dual-sport junior athlete may be more recognizable from football, where he has over a dozen Division I offers at schools such as Notre Dame, Michigan, Iowa, Oklahoma, Miami (Fla.), Wisconsin, Missouri and Arkansas, but he has also established himself as one of the best high school wrestlers in the state of Illinois — a sport he has been practicing for even longer.
“I started wrestling when I was in kindergarten, like when I turned five years old,” Jagusah said. “And I would say I don’t really wrestle like a heavyweight. Most heavyweights are kind of slow and try to lumber through the matches, but I feel like that’s not really my style.
"I try to go as fast as I can and wrestle at a pace I know so I can tire people out.”
It’s a strategy that’s been working for years and at all levels.
“He wrestled in sixth grade and finished second in the state, he was injured seventh grade, but he won a kid state title as an eighth grader and now has had a ton of success at the high school level,” Jacks said. “He just believes in himself and goes out there and does what he does.”
Jagusah is 6-foot-6 and weighs just over 300 pounds during the football season, and around 285 for wrestling. He towers over his teammates, coaches and opposition, but the way he moves both on the football field and the wrestling mat makes you question what you are seeing.
Despite his size, Jagusah is one of the fastest and most agile athletes in the gym.
“His size was obviously the first thing that stood out to me, I mean, he was as big as I was back in sixth grade,” Jacks said. “But not just being big, but being big and athletic. A lot of heavyweights just aren’t built like that. If you look at the best heavyweights in the country, that’s the way Charles is built.
"He’s big, but he doesn’t carry it like a 300-pound man. He carries it so differently, it’s so unique. He moves so quickly and is able to hit techniques that require a lot more speed than most heavyweights are capable of so most (opponents) can’t respond in time.”
The best answer for why Jagusah is able to move like that? He said his time on the football field.
“I think (wrestling and football) build on each other,” Jagusah said. “Wrestling teaches a lot of hand placement and technique that you need for football. And football teaches being able to go hard 100% of the time and knowing when to kind of back off a little bit. I think it’s really important (to play both).”
Jagusah towers over his teammates, coaches and opposition, which may be intimidating to some, but from the moment you talk with Jagusah it’s clear he is one of the nicest individuals you can meet. He is also humble, and tries to downplay his accomplishments, but those around him can speak up for him.
“He’s a pretty fun loving, gentle giant,” Jacks said. “He just keeps everything in perspective. He is very, very humble. You would not guess that he is this kid getting all this attention for football. He’s got a great attitude. He is one of our co-captains this year and he leads by example. I’ll look over and I’ll see him going over the little things in more detail with one of our newer heavyweights.
"It would be easy for him to blow all this off and think he’s something real special or better because of all those offers, but he’s not. He’s just there always trying to help the next guy. That’s what it’s all about.”
While wrestling could definitely be an option for Jagusah in the future if he wanted it to be, the highly-recruited Alleman athlete said football is what he is eying in college because of the opportunities it can create.
But that doesn’t mean Jagusah can’t still accomplish a lot in the sport in his final year and a half at Alleman.
“I would be shocked if he was not a two-time state champion before he leaves high school,” Jacks said. “He has that natural gift, and combines it with his attitude and his confidence. Football is his focus, but I think that the sky’s the limit for whatever road he ends up going down.”