On January 28, at the Area 5-7A Traditional Wrestling Tournament, South Forsyth senior Jackson Baraff won an individual area title in 35 seconds.
Baraff had three head high school coaches to thank, for each coach’s guidance was evident in his wrestling that match – for the aggressive style, intense focus and technical skill he used to pin his opponent for the area title at 132 pounds.
They are the facets of his wrestling that Baraff hopes serve him well at this weekend’s GHSA Traditional State Championships, which begin Thursday. This is his third trip to the wrestling season’s ultimate individual event, but in two previous tries he has never made the podium by placing in the top six. Baraff believes he received the final ingredient to remedy that this season, even if it took the third head coach of his high school career.
Senior wrestlers at every other school in Forsyth County have been raised in the image of one head coach, whether Jeremiah Walker (Forsyth Central), Kevin Contardi (Lambert), Travis Jarrard (North Forsyth) or Steven Stromie (West Forsyth).
Baraff thought he might too. When he entered South from middle school, he gave up baseball and lacrosse to focus on wrestling. He took up the sport when he was 7 years old, inspired by his dad, who wrestled in high school. Baraff thought it was the sport he could take the furthest.
His first coach at South was Danny Sinnott. But Sinnott left after his second season with the War Eagles to become head coach at Collins Hill in Gwinnett County.
Mike Beckley came next for a second stint leading South. But after two years, Beckley resigned, stepping away from coaching like he had meant to before Sinnott left.
Josh Stephens, Sinnott’s predecessor at Collins Hill, is the latest.
“Each year you have to start over and learn what that coach wants,” Baraff said.
Hindsight has helped Baraff, though.
“If you have three different coaches with three different styles and combine those, it just helps pay off,” Baraff said.
Baraff began as a defensive wrestler his freshman season, but he gained from Sinnott an appreciation for the requisite intensity to thrive in a varsity sport.
“Almost every practice he was out there practicing with us,” Baraff said. “He wrestled with us. You’d almost confuse him for a wrestler, so that was really cool. He was just an intense guy.”
Beckley had over 20 years of experience as a high school wrestling head coach, and so he helped expand Baraff’s arsenal of moves to use against opponents.
“He liked the funkier kind of stuff,” Baraff said. “He liked the throws, the firemans. He liked all the kind of stuff.”
Stephens’ arrival was met with great optimism at South considering his history of leading Collins Hill to multiple state championships. It didn’t take Stephens long to inspire Baraff and the rest of the War Eagles to flip their defensive wrestling approach into being the aggressor in matches.
“He tries to address the thought of attack, attack, attack. Just keep putting pressure on the guy,” Baraff said. “That’s really helped me where I am today. I’m attacking more and winning a lot more because of that.”
Indeed, Baraff enters the state tournament an impressive 51-13 this season. He checked off his goal of winning an individual area title. Now, he his final goal is left: to place at the state tournament.
“I’ve just got to wrestle my best and see where it takes me,” Baraff said.