Devon Herron knows a thing or two about being overlooked on the wrestling mat. It’s how the North Hardin sophomore felt for much of the 2019-20 season.
But, it was Herron who would have the last laugh with a first-place finish at KHSAA State Championships earlier this year.
For his efforts, Herron was selected by as both The News-Enterprise All-Area Wrestling Wrestler of the Year and All-Area Wrestling Sophomore of the Year. Voting was conducted by area wrestling coaches and The News-Enterprise sports staff.
“I’m really proud of it. That really reflects how hard I worked this year,” Herron said. “I love to see that appreciation, finally.”
Competing in the 126-pound division, Herron came into the state championships Feb. 14 and 15 in Lexington with some momentum. He was following a strong performance at the Region 2 Tournament a week before, where he took first place at 126 by defeating LaRue County’s Thomas Hoppes.
At Lexington, Herron continued to power through his opponents and again met Hoppes in the final. Herron won their rematch by decision 7-2 to win his first state title. Herron’s final record for the season was 52-1.
Though Herron may be on the younger side compared to some of his competition, he has just as much experience. Herron has wrestled for North Hardin since he was in middle school and previously won the Region 2 title for his weight class as an eighth grader.
“Experience comes with a lot of that and I’ve been wrestling for so long,” Herron said. “I haven’t stopped for one year, I’ve been after it the whole time so I think it’s a little bit expected for me to come upon the title earlier on, but there’s nothing really else to it. You’ve just got to work hard.”
Winning a state wrestling title has been one of Herron’s goals since he entered the sport.
In order to take the next step and reach that goal this season, Herron said he focused on eliminating distractions earlier in the season and focused solely on what he had to do to win.
“I wasn’t working as hard as I should’ve been. I was a little bit distracted about what was going on in school and other things off the wrestling mat,” Herron said. “After my first loss at the beginning of the season, it really clicked in my mind that I really need to turn it up and get it going.”
Herron believes most people didn’t consider him to be a state championship contender early this season. This only appeared to help keep him motivated to prove his doubters wrong and gave him something of an underdog mentality.
Now heading into next season as the 126-pound state champion, Herron expects it to be a little different this time around.
“I think they’re gonna look at me a lot different now,” Herron said. “I have a title under my belt. They might be thinking I’m gonna come out there looking for a second one or maybe even a third one following.”
Herron’s mentality when he is on the mat is based around maintaining his composure and staying cool, calm and collected. He strives to make sure he is relaxed and enjoying the experience.
He hopes this strategy can help him return to the top of the state podium once, if not twice, before he graduates in two years.
Herron’s goals don’t end in Lexington. He hopes to compete at the National High School Coaches Association Virginia Beach Nationals tournament. Herron wanted to compete at the 2020 tournament, but this year’s event was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s what I was shooting for after State,” Herron said. “Getting a little bit bigger than just a state title.”
Based on the steps Herron took to advance this season, he expects to only see more positive growth as his high school wrestling career continues. He believes continued growth should only help make his goals for the sport more attainable.
“If I can do as good as I did as a sophomore, then I should only be doing even better as a junior,” Herron said. “I just want to excel more than I did the previous year.”