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This is the first installment of an ongoing "Homegrown" feature series focused on Falcons players from Georgia who have thrived representing their home state in high school, college and the pros.

We're starting with Grady Jarrett, famous for his exploits on the gridiron at Rockdale County High School in Conyers and with the Atlanta Falcons. Many don't know, though, that Jarrett was a dominant force on the mat. This is a story of his exploits as a high-school wrestler, when he won a state title with a dominant run where he was "as locked in as I've ever been."

Story by Scott Bair

Grady Jarrett was called to the front of a large banquet room to be honored for an accomplishment he wasn't terribly proud of. The Rockdale County High School junior had recently finished fourth in the AAAA Georgia state wrestling tournament after dropping a semifinal to the eventual heavyweight champ and then the bronze-medal match to another competitor.

Finishing fourth among hundreds is an incredible feat worthy of recognition, one most would count as a positive. Not Jarrett. Didn't matter that he didn't have tons of wrestling experience heading into the 2009-10 season.

He came for the throne and fell just short. That could not stand.

That's why, when Jarrett was asked to say a few words at the year-end banquet, they were direct and to the point.

"He announced right then that he was coming back his senior year to win a state title," said Craig Hargrove, Jarrett's high school wrestling coach. "That was a very profound moment."

Two reasons it stands out even after all these years: It fit Jarrett's competitive fire. And his return to wrestling was no mortal lock. Not after committing to play football at Clemson the previous summer. Despite being labeled a three-star recruit, there was belief among those who regularly watched him in high school that Jarrett could thrive playing football in college and then the pros. He was that good.

Would he commit to the discipline and sacrifice required to wrestle at an elite level when football was his primary focus?

Jarrett already made the decision to wrestle one last time. His coaches had a strong suspicion. At that banquet, Jarrett removed all doubt and made it clear he was playing for keeps.

While Jarrett is a football icon throughout the state of Georgia for what he has done at Rockdale County and for so long as a Falcons defensive lineman – not to mention his work in the community – his wrestling exploits remain a relatively unknown yet fascinating part of his athletic lore.

His senior season is the best part about it. He was virtually unbeatable during an epic, dominant run that ended in triumph.

"I was really locked in," Jarrett said. "I was probably as locked in as I've ever been."

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Jarrett's road to a state championship started with that semifinal loss to Upton Lee's Logan Winkles the previous year. Jarrett went into that match as an underdog and wrestled like one after hearing so much about Winkles being the best that it got into his head.

"When it's put out that somebody's just supposed to be this and supposed to be that, you can psych yourself out," Jarrett said. "That's the lesson I learned, to not always trust the media clips. … They tell you you're never gonna be good enough or that you have no way you can beat this dude, that it's impossible, and you just might believe it."

Jarrett left that match believing he could've – should've – done better, a sentiment that struck him as unacceptable. There was no way he would make that mistake again. A declaration at a wrestling banquet certainly wouldn't guarantee it, but he had to start somewhere.

The level of conditioning and work ethic required for a real run at redemption was immense. Jarrett knew it. Hargrove knew it. The pair went through the steps required for the wrestler to find peak form.

The first was logistics.

"I built him the schedule he needed to get ready," Hargrove said. "I knew I had to get him as many tough matches his senior year as possible. Looking back on it, I think he ended up facing three to four state champions during the course of his senior year."

To compete with elites who often specialize and wrestle all year, Jarrett had to harness his rare athleticism. That meant a continuation of training that few weighing roughly 265 pounds regularly did.

"He trained just like he was a lightweight, a middleweight," Hargrove said. "That translated to matches where the whistle blows and he was shooting all those (athletic takedown attempts performed by smaller wrestlers) and was grabbing people's ankles and taking them down."

Hargrove also needed Jarrett to wrap his senior football season and dedicate himself to finding true wrestling shape. That meant a strict diet that would help improve performance in a grueling sport. That's something tough to police and difficult to get teenagers to grasp.

While Hargrove knew Jarrett was eating healthy, even he was surprised by the level of buy-in when they stopped for food on a road trip home from a January wrestling tournament.

"He ordered a water, and I made a comment about it," Hargrove said. "And I can't remember his exact words, but it was something like, 'Coach, I'm focused. It's all about the state tournament and February.'"

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February is when so many aspiring wrestlers are whittled to a select few via regional, sectional and state tournaments. One bad day with a few mistakes and you're done. It's a mental and physical grind Jarrett was prepared for.

"To go through all three weekends, you're probably adding up 10 to 12 matches," Hargrove said. "He went through all that without surrendering a point. It was a dominant performance."

No escapes, reverses, takedowns or near falls allowed. Not a single one. Not even a penalty over that prolonged stretch.

Jarrett's perfect run ended with a 6-0 victory over Southwest DeKalb's Gabriel Echols in the championship match.

Jarrett built a seemingly insurmountable four-point lead through the first two periods. The final three minutes were drama free, with the championship essentially in hand.

That didn't take emotion out of the moment. It was the culmination of a season's hard work. It was Jarrett fulfilling a promise made nearly a year before at that 2010 Rockdale County postseason banquet. He was going to wrestle one last time, and he was going to win it all.

Hargrove, Grady's mother, Elisha Jarrett, and football coach Michael Etheridge were all right there when time expired, beaming with pride. This wasn't something Grady Jarrett had to do. It was something he wanted.

"He had aspirations bigger than the sport of wrestling with football," Hargrove said, "but for him to say, 'Hey, I'm gonna sacrifice and I'm putting everything on the line to stay in school and compete for a state championship' was unbelievable.

"… It was pure joy to be able to be in Grady's corner through (his) high-school wrestling career."

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So many of the wrestling medals and photos commemorating this run burned in a fire just before Jarrett was drafted in 2015, but the memories will stay with him forever.

Jarrett has achieved so much in his athletic career at the high school, college and pro levels. Heck, he also won a state title in shot put. Few feats, at any level, mean as much as this one.

"It was definitely something that I wanted to accomplish," Jarrett said. "And looking back on it now, I'm so grateful that I decided to stick with it and overcome and achieve, you know, that bow of being a state champion.

"To this day, I've got so much pride in it. But it wasn't easy. It was definitely tough. It was something that I wasn't naturally growing up bred to do. It's hard being a wrestler, but to learn that skill is something I think has helped me on the football field both physically and mentally. I'm glad I stuck with it, saw it through and finished out on top."

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