“Freakish athlete’ Kendrick Jones makes things look easy on wrestling mat _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON Hahnville's Kendrick Jones defeats Baton Rouge High School's Jimmy Do in the 195 weight class at the LHSAA State Wrestling Tournament quarterfinals at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.

Things haven’t always been as easy as Kendrick Jones makes them look.

The Hahnville senior needed just 38 seconds on Friday to defeat Jimmy Do of Baton Rouge High in the quarterfinals of the LHSAA state wrestling championships at Pontchartrain Center.

He needs just two more victories Saturday to capture his second straight Division I state title in the 195-pound weight class.

It would cap a stellar career and a winding 10-year journey that has taken him from New Orleans to Seattle to Texas to New Orleans and back to Texas before settling back in Louisiana.

“I think about it sometimes,” Jones said. “But I don’t let it get in the way of where I’m trying to get now. There are people who have been through worse. It’s not a good past, but it’s a past.”

Jones was 8 when Hurricane Katrina struck.

He recalls having to spend a few weeks in a tall, abandoned building down the street from his grandmother’s home in east New Orleans.

He remembers riding in a helicopter to the airport before flying to Texas.

He eventually was able to get in touch with his mother in Seattle.

“She wasn’t sure if I was safe or not,” Jones said. “It’s been motivation for me and my family. We went through a lot, and now we have something that we are holding on to. All my happiness and joy just goes to my family.”

So the wrestling part is a piece of cake.

At least he makes it seem that way.

Jones, the No. 1 seed in his weight class, improved to 67-0 this season with his two wins on Friday. He beat Kyle Schech of St. Paul’s in his first match.

It’s just his third season wrestling. He wrestled as a freshman for Hahnville before moving back to Texas for his sophomore year.

“He is just a phenomenal athlete,” Hahnville assistant coach Sean Dwyer said. “Things come with ease to him. In his first year, he just relied on his athletic ability and he had a winning record as a freshman. Most people don’t, but he was just a freakish athlete. But now that he has gone through the maturation process, he is the same physical specimen with all the technique you can ask for.”

His last loss came during the regular season of his junior year in the Louisiana Classic. It was that loss that got him refocused. He avenged that loss in the semifinals of the state championships last season.

“My first time losing a real big match and I really don’t want that feeling anymore,” he said. “I lost to him 3-0 and then beat him in 51 seconds, so I knew it was a mental thing.”

And it’s his mentality that Jones says separates him.

“You look at the greats who have that kind of mentality, like Floyd Mayweather and Muhammad Ali, they all have positive mentalities,” Jones said. “Losing never gets into their heads, and that’s how I try to be.”

But as good as Jones is on the mat, his coaches rave about him away from the sport as well.

“Let’s just get away from the wrestling part for a minute,” Dwyer said. “He’s a great kid with a great heart. Ever since that loss last season, he has been on a mission. Take no prisoners.”

And Jones has been through too much to feel any pressure.

“Some people stress about wrestling, but this is fun,” he said. “You can stress at home or at school. But this is my safe zone. I don’t have to stress here. This is where I get to be free.”