As a freshman at Wilmington High School, RJ Tolliver agreed the term “marshmallow” was a fitting comparison for his physique.
His wrestling record was a marshmallow like 3-18.
Now as a senior, Tolliver and his record aren’t quite as soft as they once were.
With a 41-9 record, Tolliver will face Matthew Cover of Bay Village’s Bay High School at 182 pounds in the opening round of the Division II OHSAA Wrestling Championship at the Jerome Schottenstein Center at Ohio State.
Despite being the son of WHS head coach Kelly Tolliver, RJ wasn’t handed anything. As a sophomore, RJ was relegated to the reserve wrestling team.
“I wasn’t that great of a wrestler as a freshman,” RJ said. “I was weak. All my skills were at a low. As an all-around wrestler, I wasn’t that great.”
Then RJ began to look down the road and realized a change was needed.
“I didn’t want to go throughout my whole high school career basically sucking,” he said. “I wanted to have a purpose for being in the (practice) room. I wanted to achieve something. Putting my name up on the wall is one thing. A lot of people can put their name up on the wall. I want to place. Placing in state was always a goal of my. The summer after my sophomore year getting in the gym, one of the reasons for me getting in the gym was to help with wrestling.”
And so the transformation began. With his father and coach at his side, RJ changed his diet and began working out five times a week.
“I was eating horribly, pizza and junk food,” RJ said. “Coach Tolliver helped me with that. It wasn’t an easy change but once you got into it, it was pretty easy to stick with.”
Maybe one of the reasons RJ decided to make the dramatic change was to no longer hear about his wrestling “inability” on the ride home from practice or a match.
“My first two years of high school, like I said, I was more of a marshmallow,” RJ said. “The talks on the ride home or just getting chewed out in the room, that came quite frequently. As time progressed, the talks came less and less. I didn’t need it as much because I knew what I was doing.”
Whether it’s this week at the state tournament or in his future venture as he looks to the United States Marine Corps, RJ wants to be the best.
“Marines is something I’ve always wanted to do, defending my country, fighting for the people I love,” he said. “As a freshman I definitely wouldn’t have been able to be a Marine. At boot camp, I don’t want to be one of the guys who finish. I want to be at the top.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports