Plenty of hard work paid off for North Middle School eighth-grader Eli Rittenhouse when Feb. 24 he claimed the Tennessee AAU Middle School Wrestling State Championship at the Williamson County Agriculture Expo in Franklin.
“I was a little shocked,” Rittenhouse said. “I had worked really hard all year for it, but I never really thought I’d be able to make it that far. I worked every week up until state and it was just amazing for me to be able to get that experience.”
Not only did Rittenhouse surprise himself, but he surprised his coach, Joey Breedlove, as well as many others. This is the first year Rittenhouse has wrestled.
“He picked things up very quickly and had success that I had never really seen before in just his first year,” Breedlove said. “He only lost three matches this year and beat two kids along the way that were both ranked No. 1 in the state. He just had a tremendous season.”
Rittenhouse has played football for North the last three years. Due to his size, one of his teammates and friends asked if he would be interested in wrestling.
“I played football and (Breedlove’s) son was on my team,” Rittenhouse said. “It turned out that he was a science teacher at my school and so he asked me if I wanted to wrestle. I was trying to find something to do after school, so I said yeah. It sounded like a lot of fun, so I did it.”
Breedlove saw potential in Rittenhouse as a football player and believed that could translate into the sport of wrestling.
“I was just always impressed with how physical he was and how hard he worked,” Breedlove said. “So, I just went up to him and asked if he would be interested. He had never tried wrestling before and didn’t really know much about it, but he was able to pull it all together really quickly.”
Rittenhouse admits starting out was difficult, but he was able to improve his technique and learn how to take advantage of his size.
“It was definitely really hard at first,” Rittenhouse said. “I was out of shape and I noticed I was getting really tired in matches. But I just kept practicing and trying to get in shape. Coach Breedlove’s daughter would film me and then we would go back and watch the video to see what I could improve on. At the beginning of the year, I would just go out and do whatever. But as time went on, he was able to teach me different strategies and to just be a better wrestler.”
Breedlove has coached wrestling for 15 years, including a stint at Greenback School. He said Rittenhouse’s performance this year is one of the top two, if not the best, he has witnessed.
“It’s hard to believe a kid like that can come from football into a brand new sport and just have the kind of success he has,” Breedlove said. “We had always told him that he could go into that tournament and wrestle for a state championship, but truthfully, who would really expect a first-year kid to win the whole state? He definitely exceeded expectations.
“The truth is, I’ve never seen a kid do what he did,” he added. “I told him the other day when we were down there and talking about it ... he was asking the question of how his success compares to others. I told him that I thought it may have been the best I’d ever seen. He was at 202 pounds this year and wrestled in the 220 class, so he was usually about 18 to 20 pounds lighter than his competition, yet he was able to beat pretty much everybody and eventually go and win a state title. That’s just incredible.”
Rittenhouse plans to continue playing football, but wrestling may become a new passion.
“I’m really wanting to do both now,” Rittenhouse said. “I’m thinking I can do both, but I haven’t exactly made my mind up yet. I really love football, but now I also love wrestling and I think it’s something I’d like to continue in the future. We’ll see where it goes.”