Blanton became the first freshman wrestler state qualifier for Amboy
AMBOY — Some news items are worth more than a photo and a cutline.
Even if the story publishes a few months after an event took place.
When Landon Blanton qualified for the IHSA State Tournament, which took place Feb. 16-17 at University of Illinois’ State Farm Center, he became the first Amboy High School freshman to qualify for the biggest tournament of the year.
“I was just glad to be wrestling in the state tournament,” Blanton said. “After state, it took a while for it to sink in that I wrestled in the tournament.”
Blanton began wrestling when he was in the sixth grade for a wrestling club in Dixon.
At first, he didn’t know if he was going to like wrestling.
He quickly found out he not only liked it, but he enjoyed the compliments and routinely having his hand raised.
“My parents (Lisa Trader and Steve Blanton) and my first coach in Dixon, Evan Thorpe, thought wrestling would be good for me,” Blanton said. “I decided to give it a shot and I turned out to be pretty good, I guess.
“I keep wrestling because I like winning. I am competitive in everything I do. I used to play football and baseball, but now I’m just focusing on wrestling. Wrestling is a team sport, but when you’re on the mat, it’s just you. That’s how I like it, more of an individual sport.
“I’m also better at wrestling than I am at football or baseball.”
Blanton finished his first AHS wrestling campaign with a 43-11 record. His fantastic start gives him a possibility of reaching the Clippers’ all-time win tally by the time he finished high school, which is in the 120s.
The last year a Clipper qualified for state was Avery Shaw in 2018.
Although Blanton finished 12 out of 16 at the state tournament, replacing Dallas Appleman as the last Amboy state medalist (2016) is on his goal list.
“There were some nerves during the big matches. I try to get rid of the nerves before the match,” Blanton said. “I don’t pay attention to anyone in the crowd because the crowd gets me nervous. I shut it all out.
“I’ll keep getting better.”
Amboy coach Brent Montavon was in Blanton’s ear during the season and the postseason giving him pointers.
Once the freshman qualified for state, the coach’s motivation tactics changed.
“It’s pretty intimidating walking through the tunnel and seeing the six mats laid out,” Montavon said. “During his first match, his eyes were big, and he was all nerves. I told him to, ‘Soak it up. Live it up.’ He made it to state and that’s what he needed to do; enjoy the ride.
“At state, everyone is a good wrestler. It’s the top 16 guys in your weight class in the entire state. There are no bums. Everyone is a state qualifier, and everyone is a good wrestler. I told him, ‘Everyone here is good, just wrestle. Have fun.’ That’s all you can do.’”
Montavon is excited about Blanton leading the way for the Clippers.
Blanton will be wrestling year-round as he is part of Albers wrestling in Freeport. Lucas Blanton and Josh McKendry, who will be a senior and a junior next school year, along with incoming freshmen Evan Flanagan and Jose Lopez, are wrestling year-round as well at Nate Martinez’s Nate’s Wrestling Organization in Sheridan.
The Clippers’ coach sees a team with reoccurring state qualifiers in the future.
But right now, the Clippers are celebrating the now.
“Landon’s season was amazing. You can’t get any better than that, especially for a coach. Landon comes to practice every day and wrestles his butt off. He’s always there,” Montavon said. “It transfers over to the meets and the tournaments. That’s how wrestling is. If you’re lackadaisical in practice, that’s how you’re matches are going to be in meets.
“I’m proud of him. For a freshman to do what he did, it was phenomenal. It was a great year.”