Winning an NCAA wrestling championship last year as a freshman at West Virginia was not a life-altering event for Greg Jones.
“Nah, nothing really changes,” he said, grinning. “It’s the same old thing.”
True to his laid-back nature, Jones was trying hard to be humble, but the smile hinted that life has been pretty sweet since he became just the second Westmoreland Country wrestler to win an NCAA title.
“Ever since he won nationals, he’s been on Cloud Nine,” said his younger brother, Donnie. “I think he surprised himself a little by winning the national championship. It was like a surprise birthday party, and he’s so excited.”
The party continued Saturday night, when Greensburg Salem High School feted its famous alumus before a Section 1-AAA against Greensburg Central Catholic.
Jones received the Golden Lion Excellence Award and watched as a banner honoring his NCAA title triumph was unfurled in the gym.
“Greg really typifies what we look for in a student-athlete,” Greensburg Salem athletic director Dave Zilli said. “He has great drive and obviously, is a very talented kid. To see him do real well, I really wasn’t too surprised.
“It can make the kids realize, hey, it can happen to anyone. If you work hard and have motivation, it can be done. Greg Jones really brings that message home.”
At Greensburg Salem, Jones was a four-time country champ and won a PIAA title as a senior. His career record of 139-8 is the best in school history.
He set a West Virginia mark for most wins by a freshman (34) and closed out his debut season with 18 straight victories. In the NCAA meet, Jones outscored his foes 62-27 and took the title at 174 pounds with a 12-5 rout of Princeton’s Greg Parker.
“I believed it could be done, and so did my coaches,” Jones said. “It’s a goal we set at the beginning of the season.”
Still, it’s not often that a rookie nabs an NCAA crown. As a tune-up for nationals, Jones upended favored Edinboro’s Josh Koscheck (Waynesburg) to win the Eastern Wrestling League tourney.
“I think I did sneak up on some people,” Jones said. “It doesn’t bother me. I had to earn it whether I snuck up on people or not.”
This season, Jones is off to a 12-0 start. Two weeks ago, he needed a pair of overtime wins to place first at the Las Vegas Invitational.
“I think Greg struggled a little bit in the fact that everyone else is going to raise their level against him,” WVU coach Craig Turnbull said.
“I’m definitely getting wrestled a lot differently,” Jones said. “Everyone steps up their game. They try to slow down the tempo of the match to keep the score low. I just have to recognize that, accept it, and do my own thing.”
Whenever he comes home, Jones usually stops by the wrestling room at Greensburg Salem. It’s a chance to hone his moves and, more importantly, pass along some wisdom to his former teammates.
“They love it when he’s in the room,” Golden Lions coach Randy Parsley said. “They like being around him, and he’s a great asset to our program.
“I don’t know if these kids realize what they have here in Greg. Some of them were on the same team as him, so to them, he’s just a teammate. They don’t realize the nature of his status now.”
With Jones looking on, Greensburg Salem (3-1) blew away GCC 57-18. In the next-to-last bout of the night, Donnie Jones, a sophomore, cruised to a 16-4 major decision against Dave Pienaar.
As Donnie took care of business on the mat, he knew folks in the bleachers were comparing him to his older brothers — Greg and Vertus, who also was an All-American at West Virginia.
“I got a whole bunch of pressure about it last year, but it’s not really a big deal now,” Donnie said, smiling. “It affects me a little bit, but nothing major.”
The convergence of the latest and the greatest of the Jones family was a bittersweet moment of sorts for Zilli.
“Donnie’s the last one,” Zilli said somberly.
Donnie Jones has the same poise and uncanny speed as his brother, but he lacks some of the power. When he began his freshman year as the Last of the Joneses, he knew people would expect a lot of him.
“I kind of figured it, but I didn’t know Greg was going to win a national championship,” Donnie said. “So my expectations are much higher now.”
Donnie Jones paused and laughed.
“But that comes with being a Jones.”