This has been a season of change for North Carroll's Fran Jackson.
Jackson burst onto the wrestling scene last year by going 32-2 and winning the Class 3A-4A state title at 103 pounds -- as a freshman.
He dominated opponents most of the season with his quickness and aggressive, take-no-prisoners style. But he's changed.
Having grown by 5 inches and 20 pounds since last winter, he has moved up three weight classes. And going to the 125-pound weight class has caused Jackson to hit some unexpected bumps.
With a strong 11-2 record, he nevertheless has lost in two of his last three matches. Archbishop Curley's Antoine Lide dominated Jackson in scoring an 8-1 victory in the final of the Arundel Tournament. Old Mill's Chris Combs took charge in the final two periods of his match with Jackson Monday, scoring a decisive 9-4 win.
These difficulties will put Jackson, who controlled most of last season's matches, to a test that he's never had.
Jackson said the defeats stung and made him realize it's time to re-dedicate himself.
"I'm going to work harder at practice until I get to the point where you can't go much harder," said Jackson. "We were working decently, but I don't think I was pushing myself as hard as I could."
North Carroll coach Bryan Wetzel said that the physical changes have affected Jackson somewhat, but that the sophomore has drifted slightly from what worked last season.
Wetzel said Jackson always kept his feet moving throughout a match last winter, making it nearly impossible for anyone to shoot at his legs. The coach said he noticed that wasn't happening from the early days of practice this season and has pushed Jackson to do it.
"He's got to start moving his feet," said Wetzel. "He needs to do that every day in the practice room. He can do it, but he's got to get back to it."
Wetzel said being flat-footed particularly hurt him in the Lide match when his taller Curley opponent dominated. It also hurt Jackson somewhat in the finals of the Ray Oliver Tournament at McDonogh, where he fell behind the Eagles' Steve Chester. But Jackson rallied and pinned Chester and won the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler award.
Liberty's Michael Haran lost to Jackson last season and saw him when the Panthers met the Lions last week. Haran also noticed that Jackson seemed a bit less aggressive.
"I noticed that he went a little slower than normal," said Haran. "This season, he sits still a little more and didn't move as much."
Jackson has been wondering what caused the problem. He said he may have just picked up a bad habit at the start of the season. It's also possible that Jackson lost some of his fire after winning the Carroll County, Central Maryland Conference, region and state titles last year as a freshman.
"Last year, I went at people because I didn't know what to expect," said Jackson. "This year, I've kind of relaxed and am not going at people like I did last year."
Wetzel has little doubt that Jackson can get back to his best form. He said the sophomore is working on adjusting to the large three-weight class jump. Jackson is going against bigger and stronger wrestlers and getting used to that.
But Wetzel said Jackson will again return to his championship form. Most of Wetzel's North Carroll teams peak late in the season, and the coach said Jackson should likely be in top form when the post-season comes next month.
"There isn't anything wrong with him," said Wetzel. "He's an excellent wrestler, and I think he knows how good he is. He knows he can beat those kids."
Pub Date: 1/15/99