HIGHLAND — Highland High School junior Tanner Farmer was tired of coming up just short on the big-time stage.
He placed second in the 285-pound division at the prestigious Fargo Wrestling Nationals last summer after previously finishing second in state freestyle events in his eighth-grade year and as a freshman. Then he advanced to the 2012 Class 2A state tournament, where an early-round loss ended his medal hopes.
So when it came time for Farmer to start thinking about his junior season, he made two promises. One to Bulldogs coach Terry Ohren and one himself.
"I promised coach (Ohren) that I would win the state title and I made a vow to myself that no matter how much I had to do or how hard I had to train to do it, that I was going to keep that promise,'' Farmer said. "You want to be at your peak when its time for the state tournament and I felt like I was. From there its just a matter of executing and not making any mistakes.''
Finishing with a record of 38-0 with more than 30 pins, Farmer didn't make many mistakes during the 2012-13 season which saw him not only become the Bulldogs first state wrestling champion -- but the first state medal winner in school history.
When the final buzzer sounded on that February Saturday night in the Assembly Hall in Champaign, Farmer had 1-0 state title match win over Copache Tyler, of Springfield Southeast. Farmer's first thoughts were of amazement and of Ohren.
"It wasn't so much a feeling of relief. It was more like disbelief," Farmer said. "After so many close calls and finishing second, I had won the state title. I remember going over and shaking the hand of their (Southeast) coach and then walking over to coach (Ohren). The first thing I said to him was 'I did it. I kept my word.
"Coach said, 'yes, you did,' and just smiled. It was something I won't ever forget.''
By becoming the Bulldogs' first wrestling state champion, Farmer has been honored by metro-east wrestling coaches as the Belleville News-Democrat Co-Wrestler of the Year. Farmer shares the honor with Belleville West senior DeMechico Spraggins.
Wrestling isn't the only thing the 6-foot-4 285-pound Farmer excels in. An excellent student who plans to major in pre-med after graduating in 2014, Farmer will also be one of the most highly-recruited offensive/defensive linemen in the St. Louis area next fall and has already received a lot of interest from several Big 10 and Mid-America Conference schools.
"I'm still going to wrestle in two or three tournaments this summer, but I'll probably be working more on football this year,'' Farmer said. "I'm thinking that my future in college will probably be in football. My goal is to get a good education and then medical school because I'd like to be a surgeon one day.
"If I can get a scholarship that pays for my education, that's what I'd like to do.''
Erasing the memory of his first state tournament appearance in 2012, Farmer worked hard in the weight room and on his wrestling all summer and during the season. Working out on a regular basis with Belleville West assistant coach Jeremy Christiansen, with a friend in Wood River and at X-Factor Fitness in Highland on top of practicing with the Bulldogs, Farmer was ready to go anytime during the season.
After breezing through the Mississippi Valley Conference and Class 2A Regional. Farmer faced his toughest match of the season when he took on Tyler for the sectional title.
The result was an overtime win, when he scored a late takedown.
Moving on to the Class 2A state finals, Farmer was determined but nervous.
"I knew I was wrestling well and I felt like I had a good chance," Farmer said. "But I was still nervous. I'm nervous before every match. I could pin a guy five straight times and still be nervous the sixth time.
"Against Tyler in the final. I felt like I was in control. I got my 1-point escape in the second period and felt good.
"We (coach Ohren and I) and worked on something after sectional where when I was on top. The plan was to put more of my weight on him (Tyler) in the third period so I could wear him down a little. It worked.''
Ohren said Farmer is a deserving state champion.
"Tanner's a great kid and he's worked very hard for this. I know it means a lot to him to being the first medal winner and state champion in school history," Ohren said after the match. "I've coached Tanner for several years and I taught him how to wrestle like a 106-pound wrestler, because that's what I was.
"That's why he's not afraid to go for single and double legs.''
Farmer said his celebration was simple -- sleep.
"After the state tournament, the champions have to stay around for pictures and so it was late when we left and got home. I just went to bed.'' Farmer said. "We went out though later -- for a steak dinner.''
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com