HIGHLAND — When Highland senior Tanner Farmer walked into the State Farm Center in Champaign in February for the IHSA state wrestling tournament, he did so as the defending Class 2A 285-pound champion.
Farmer had won 71 straight matches and had pinned all 33 of his opponents during the 2013-14 season. But when Farmer took the mat for his first-round bout against Jonathan Hewitt of LaSalle-Peru, he wasn't the top-ranked wrestler, nor was he the favorite to win the title.
Those honors had been given to Michael Johnson of nationally ranked (Lombard) Montini.
Two days later, Farmer set the record straight and silenced his critics once and for all.
"All year long I was hearing from people in Chicago how he (Johnson) was so much better than I was and how he was going to beat me if we wrestled," Farmer said. "He had also been popping off about how he was going to beat ... me.
"I was very motivated for that match. All the hard work I had put in over the years and all the things I went through to be able to wrestle, I just really put everything into that match."
It didn't take long. Just 25 seconds into the second period and with Johnson locked up in a chicken wing in the center of the mat, Farmer defended his state championship with a pin.
"What went through my mind? It was unbelievable, really. Pure joy and amazement -- especially in the manner that I did it," Farmer said. "I thought it was going to be a very close match going into it because he is a very good wrestler.
"I thought the match would go down to the wire. I didn't think I would have the opportunity to pin him. What a way to go out."
Headed to the University of Nebraska on a football scholarship, the 6-foot-4 Farmer ended his competitive wrestling career on the highest of notes.
During the past two years, Farmer went 75-0 with more than 60 pins and became the first wrestler from the metro-east to win consecutive state championships since Tom Riggins of Roxana. Riggins won Class A 189-pound state crowns in 1996 and 1997.
The Belleville News-Democrat co-Wrestler of the Year, along with Nate Higgins of Belleville West, Farmer said his state titles are the achievements he'll remember the most.
"They are the highlights and the second one probably means a little bit more because there were a lot of people -- especially in the Chicago area -- who didn't think I would beat Johnson," Farmer said. "I had my supporters as well who believed in me and I thank them for that."
Highland coach Terry Ohren knows Farmer has indeed been a special one during his wrestling career.
"Great student, a tremendous work ethic, a great athlete, very coachable and just a great young man. Tanner has it all working for him," Ohren said. "As a wrestler, of course he's just so strong and he knows the sport. But he's also very quick for someone that big and that strong."
A rare three-sport athlete who also excels in track and field, with the fifth-best Class 2A shot put throw in the state at 53 feet, 4 3/4 inches this year, Farmer is much more than just an athlete.
Farmer will leave in early June for Nebraska, where he will attend summer school while working out and preparing for the start of preseason. Farmer is expected to play offensive guard for the Cornhuskers.