From Tolton to Hearnes Center: Mauller and Jacques making instant impact

Ten minutes north of their high school wrestling room, the sophomore duo has emerged as the faces of the program.

When former Missouri wrestler and current Fr. Tolton Catholic High School wrestling coach James Williamson arrived at the Columbia high school in 2015, he and his brother Joe Williamson, also a former Missouri wrestler, drilled with and against their wrestlers. One matchup, with a 15-year-old Brock Mauller early on in a preseason practice, stood apart from the rest.

“My brother was like ‘Oh my gosh, James. You have got something on your hands,’” James Williamson said. “I’m like, ‘Right? Are you hurt right now?’”

The answer, as it turned out, was yes. Joe Williamson’s knees, elbows and neck were sore after a short exhibition bout with Mauller, then a sophomore, whose quiet relentlessness was apparent at a young age. Jarrett Jacques would arrive one year later as a junior via transfer, and he would make a similar impression on his coaches.

The two of them met when they were 9 years old at Mike Eierman’s youth wrestling club in Columbia. In the 11 years since, four of which were spent as high school or collegiate teammates, Mauller and Jacques have combined for eight Missouri state championships, 106 collegiate wins and two Mid-American Conference championships with a good shot at two more.

Today, Mauller and Jacques are among Missouri’s most accomplished true sophomores ever and have firmly cemented themselves as the faces of the program. Four years of grappling against each other in practice as friends, teammates and competitors were crucial in helping them get there.

That’s something they’ll proudly tell anyone.

“We would always look to find each other,” Mauller said. “If we went for anyone else, we wouldn’t have gotten pushed, and we wouldn’t have gotten better.”

“Everyone sees it now, Brock’s like the best scrambler in the country as a 20-year-old kid,” Jacques said. “From a scrambling aspect, it helps an insane amount. Also from a mentality aspect, just learning from Brock and watching how he takes every match, every practice and how he focuses.”

Scrambling — the art of quickly and constantly moving on the mat to maintain positioning on an opponent — is a strength of Mauller’s, which has allowed Jacques to grow stronger in that area. Growing stronger, period, has never been an issue for a gym rat like Jacques, and his strength puts Mauller in positions he would not normally be in.

“He’s a lot stronger and stockier, and he’s a little more explosive, so that’s nice to have in the practice room,” Mauller said.

“Iron sharpens iron” is an incredibly clichéed expression, but it reigns true in the case of Mauller and Jacques improving each other through competition.

When they found each other, the Tolton coaching staff would take a hands-off approach. James Williamson realized that Mauller and Jacques wouldn’t need to be taught fundamentals, and he opted not to waste their time by making them go at the same pace as the less talented and experienced wrestlers.

“It was just allowing us to figure stuff out on our own,” Jacques said. “That’s one thing that I really liked about Tolton, the individual aspect of it that Brock and I got. We were able to do our own thing and become our own individual person.”

James Williamson described watching Mauller and Jacques go at it as “watching two T-shirts in a dryer.” It was clear to him right away that they eventually would not only be Division I wrestlers but that they would be wildly successful at that level.

“They’re different but equally dominating,” James Williamson said. “Mauller is just a relentless wrestler, and he’s got a great gas tank. Jacques has got a little bit of a power base, and they both found a way to make their system work for them and put points on the board. They can beat anybody in the country, even though they do it differently. It’s fantastic.”

After graduating from Tolton and moving about 10 minutes north on Highway 63 and west on Stadium Boulevard, they haven’t stopped facing each other. Coach Brian Smith watches Mauller and Jacques grapple on the Hearnes Center wrestling room mats on a regular basis, and his take on their battles is about what you’d expect.

“Crazy,” Smith said with a chuckle. “They know each other so well, and it’s really hard to get a takedown on either of them. They go for a minute, two-minute scrambles. It’s fun to watch; it’s like a cat and a dog in a scramble."

Smith did not initially expect to pull Mauller and Jacques’ redshirts and make them regulars in the Tigers’ starting lineup right away. His plans changed when 149-pound starter Grant Leeth went down with a torn rotator cuff, and the incumbents at 157 pounds weren’t performing to Missouri’s high standards.

While Jacques’ dual debut on Nov. 16, 2018, and Mauller’s exactly one month later were not part of Smith’s original plan, their instant success — 20 wins and a MAC championship each, plus Mauller finishing as an All-American — was not a shock to the 21st-year head coach.

“I wouldn’t have pulled them out of redshirt if I didn’t [expect early success],” Smith said. Like with James Williamson, it didn’t take long for Mauller and Jacques’ new coach to see that they were ready.

“With Brock, it’s how hard he is to take down. He’s a nightmare, he scrambles really good, and he has some good leg attacks. With Jarrett, it’s his work ethic. The dude is trying to win every lift, every run, every go. I tell this to Jarrett all the time, that ‘this is what makes you special.’”

In year two of his collegiate career, Jacques has done about as well as he did last year, though he expects to go much further in the NCAA tournament with added experience. Mauller, however, has firmly established himself as a top-five 149 pounder in the country. He’s only lost one match, and among his 23 victories was an upset over then-No. 1 Boo Lewallen of Oklahoma State.

Watching them achieve this level of success this early in their careers has been especially joyful for James Williamson, who regularly attends their home duals. Their high school coach is ecstatic when he sees them displaying what they learned from each other on the Tolton mats and bringing the same level of intensity that he witnessed for two years.

“They were so ready for D-1,” James Williamson said. “Both guys are good enough. They’re both superstars.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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