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Young Wrestler Speaks Softly and Carries a Big Victory List

July 10, 1986|BRIAN LANDMAN | Times Staff Writer

Away from wrestling, Laurence Jackson of Santa Monica High School is shy, reserved, an unimposing figure.

"I guess I get that from my mom," the 5-foot-7, 136-pound Jackson said of his soft-spoken demeanor. "My mom is Japanese, so it's always been fairly quiet in our house."

But once he's in wrestling tights and steps on a mat, Jackson is a different person--an aggressive, towering competitor who has filled a trophy case at school with awards.

"I'm always on the offensive," he said, not at all sounding like a shy 18-year-old. "I don't wait for my opponent to get after me."

Unbeaten for 3 Years

Jackson, 122-0 since his sophomore year and 140-7 overall, is a three-time CIF and state champion, only the second wrestler to capture three California titles.

Since his sophomore year he has claimed six national titles in freestyle and Greco-Roman events.

He has won three Espoir national titles, limited to the 17-to-20 age group, in the last two years. As a junior he won the Greco-Roman class at 126 pounds and this season he captured both the Greco-Roman and freestyle at 136 1/2 pounds.

As a 115-pounder in 1984, he won the freestyle at the junior nationals in Iowa. Last year he won the freestyle and the Greco-Roman events there.

If he again takes first in both classifications at the meet July 15-21, he will join Michigan's Andre Metzger as the only wrestler to win five junior national titles.

Other accomplishments:

- Third place in Greco-Roman at the Sports Festival at Baton Rouge, La., last summer.

- A visit to China to wrestle an all-star team in 1984.

- Induction into the Amateur Sports Hall of Fame in Johnston, Pa.

- Selection to represent the United States at the Espoir World Cup in Newfoundland, Canada, this week.

- Four-year scholarship to Oklahoma State University, which has won 27 National Collegiate Athletic Assn. wrestling championships and finished third behind Iowa and Oklahoma this year.

While some high school or collegiate athletes with less impressive resumes might be tempted to toot their horns, Jackson doesn't like taking about the awards.

"I try not to live in the past," said Jackson, who squeezed his hands, seemingly embarrassed by the attention paid to his accolades.

But Santa Monica Coach Norm Lacy, who said Jackson is "too humble," has no problem singing his praise.

'By Far the Best'

"Laurence is by far the best wrestler to come out of high school in the United States," he said. "He's a once-in-a-lifetime kid to coach."

Other coaches are equally generous with superlatives, including those at Oklahoma State.

"Laurence tops off our recruiting class, which is ranked No. 1 in Division I by Amateur Wrestling News," said Lee Roy Smith, a Cowboys assistant coach. "He'll be a positive addition to our program. He's a gem."

Jackson, however, didn't look like someone who would turn out to be a gem when he wrestled for the Vikings as a freshman.

"He was just a pipsqueak," Lacy said of the 5-4, 96-pound 14-year-old. "He didn't have much physical definition to his body. People in the stands looked at him and said, 'He's going to get killed.' " Despite lack of physical prowess and high school experience, Lacy was confident that Jackson was a diamond in the rough.

"I first saw him when he was in the fifth grade and he demonstrated numerous skills that some of my varsity wrestlers couldn't execute," Lacy said. "We didn't have a 98-pounder, so he stepped right in."

'Outstanding Feat'

Jackson, of course, didn't get killed. He finished the season 18-7 and as one of the top eight 98-pounders in the state.

"As I look back, doing that well was probably his most outstanding feat," Lacy said.

Jackson began wrestling 11 years ago, tumbling around the house with 14-year-old brother Aaron, who wrestled at Channel Islands High School in Oxnard and then at Cal State University, Chico.

"He would grab me and tussle me around," Jackson said.

Younger brother Greg, then 4, was indoctrinated into wrestling in the same playful manner and now wrestles for Santa Monica.

"Wrestling is pretty much a family affair," Jackson said.

He competed in his first event at 8, finished as high as third in a national tournament by 10 and was receiving his father's tutelage three times a week at a family-owned and -operated wrestling club in Malibu.

Some Early Doubts

Still, he said the sport did not have him firmly in its grasp until he reached high school.

"I wasn't too sure of myself in my freshman year after I kind of bombed out at the state," he said. "But in my sophomore year, things started falling into place for me.

"And that's also when I knew I wasn't big enough for football or basketball."

He's now devoted to wrestling.

His high school season, in which collegiate rules prevail, begins in November and runs until March. Then he starts a five-month season during which he works on freestyle and Greco-Roman and participates in national tournaments.

That requires year-round training: running, lifting weights and mat work. And his right baby finger is his badge of that devotion.

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