Senior Alex Hudson isn't saying adios yet, but he will wrestle his final home meet for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga this afternoon.
Mocs coach Heath Eslinger has set a goal of 1,500 fans for the 2 p.m. Southern Conference match against Appalachian State, and he's offering free pizza for the student section.
The last time Appalachian was at UTC (2012), the Mountaineers brought a fan bus and handed the Mocs their first home conference loss in the Eslinger era. This year, UTC is 12-5 overall and 3-0 in league meets and riding a five-meet win streak. The Mocs, ranked 20th nationally, also have won eight of their last nine.
Appalachian, meanwhile, is 4-7 overall and 1-2 in the SoCon.
The 12 wins are an all-time best in Eslinger's four years heading the Mocs, and Hudson has been a big part of the push, especially the past two seasons. A conference champion last year at 149 pounds, the current 157-pounder is 22-6 this year. That's third on the team behind nationally ranked Nick Soto (133) and Corey Mock (165).
Hudson is the epitome of Eslinger's ideal UTC wrestler.
"He' a stud. He is what a student-athlete is really all about, and he has done what's right from day one and never wavered," the coach said. "A lot of athletes will have ups and downs and he's battled through some injuries, but he has been a steady and positive influence in our program."
It wasn't always an easy chore. Hudson struggled in the first semester of the 2012-13 season.
"I had a terrible record and I went and talked to the coaches," he said. "From that point everything turned around.
"It wasn't specifics but figuring out a game plan. With me it was always attack, attack, attack. They slowed me down. I know what I'm going to try to do, and I'm sticking with what I'm good at."
Hudson, majoring in engineering, has been a consistent member of the school's dean's list and the conference honor roll. He also has worked as an intern at Alston Power the past two years.
"Coming to UTC was one of the best moves I made, especially coming in with Coach Eslinger," said Hudson, whose younger sister Halle is a football and basketball cheerleader. "In high school we'd start out with so many and then kids would quit. Coming here was the first I learned about being on a [real] team. I love that aspect of UTC wrestling. In high school it was always my thing rather than a team thing, and I have loved being around guys with the same mindset."
As for Eslinger's total-athlete concept, he said he learned it early on.
"It really helped when I was a freshman having to go to study hall," Hudson said. "In high school I didn't have to try too hard. I learned right off the bat what I had to do to pass classes. Without that study hall I might've been playing video games and pushing work aside. It forced me to learn what I had to do, and I have done it ever since."
He hesitated before replying when asked what he would like to say to the Mocs staff and his teammates, gathering his thoughts or emotions.
"I would attempt to thank them for all their support. I wouldn't be where I am now with them," he said. "I have loved being surrounded by guys that help you even when you're struggling."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...