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THB Sports Wrestling Athlete of the Year: PH's Jaylen Covington

Mar. 28—PENDLETON — When Jaylen Covington began his wrestling journey as a middle-schooler, he admits it took some time for him to get the hang of the sport. Just when he thought he had things figured out, the difficulty of the jump from eighth grade to high school was revealed in the struggles he endured in his first season at Pendleton Heights.

But a lesson learned during those early days helped lift Covington to the loftiest heights of his career.

This year, Covington became a three-time Madison County champion and won sectional and regional titles on his way to a podium finish at the state finals, earning the Arabians senior the 2024 THB Sports Wrestling Athlete of the Year.

Covington followed teammate Jack Todd in securing the second straight win in this category for Pendleton Heights.

"There are some really good athletes in the area, so to be the best of them is really exciting," Covington said.

It was by far Covington's most successful campaign, and his achievements came after he dropped two weight classes to 138 pounds after wrestling at 152 his junior season.

For the season, he was 39-7 overall and won his third straight Madison County title. He won his first sectional and regional championships before punching his ticket for the state finals with a third-place finish at the New Castle semistate. With the IHSAA championship at Evansville this year, Covington made the long journey worth it with a Friday night victory to guarantee a podium placing the following day.

The key to the Friday night victory was his use of the Peterson Roll, which he learned in middle school and was utilized to take control and score on the biggest stage of his career.

"I was up but gave up a take down in the last 30 seconds," Covington said. "Once he got it, I was right back into getting out of it and getting a score as fast as I could. ... I tried to stand up, but he brought me right back down and straight to the Peterson. That move is one we used to practice in middle school, and it was ingrained in my mind. It felt so natural. That move saved my match."

After earning an eighth-place finish at state, Covington said the most satisfying victory for him came in the regional final, held at his home school. There, he upset a ranked opponent for the championship, defying the odds and sending him to semistate with the confidence he needed to finish in style.

"I was the second seed, but Sam Bustamante (of Bishop Chatard) is a tough wrestler and was ranked, not that rankings matter, and I'm not ranked at all," he said. "Nobody thought I would win this match except for me and my coaches. Winning that match showed that I belong on that level."

If the right situation comes along, Covington could continue wrestling collegiately, but he has higher priorities. He wants to work in real estate and plans to attend a trade school .

Contact Rob Hunt at rob.hunt@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4886.