By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — For McAlester senior Donald Cannon, the wrestling never starts or ends. Sure, he hasn’t yet wrestled in a dual-meet for the Buffs this season, but he’s participated in numerous offseason and preseason meets, winning or placing at three in the last month.
For Cannon, wrestling is a year-round sport.
“You kind of have to love it to do it and succeed at it,” Cannon said Tuesday.
“I don’t know, it’s just in my blood.”
Cannon comes from a family of wrestlers. His father, Don Cannon, wrestled in junior high in Cordell, and his cousins Matt and Skyler Holman both won either individual or team wrestling championships with Oklahoma State University.
Cannon started wrestling when he was just 5 years old in the 37-pound weight class.
“I got second in my first tournament: the Sapulpa Christmas Classic,” Cannon said.
Cannon’s family moved to McAlester soon after the Sapulpa Christmas Classic, and Cannon has grown up in McAlester’s public school system. He qualified for the state wrestling tournament as a freshman in 2011, placing third in the 103-pound weight class.
Cannon bumped up to 120 pounds as a sophomore, placing sixth at Regionals. Frustrated by his lack of success that year, Cannon intensified his training, taking private lessons from Skyler Holman in Sapulpa and attending both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling tournaments in the spring and summer.
Cannon said he also spends his downtime watching wrestling matches online or going to dual-meets at OSU.
“I watch a lot of different videos and different wrestlers, trying to take different stuff from them,” Cannon said.
“I just sit at home thinking about wrestling. I wish I had a twin so I could sit at home and just practice moves on him.”
His father and coach Don said Cannon’s work ethic has been Donald’s greatest asset as a wrestler.
“I preach to these guys that you’re going to perform how you practice,” Don said.
“That’s one thing (I) do not have to get onto him, and never have. And it’s not just because he’s my son, because he’s had other coaches and assistant coaches that tell me, ‘Man, I wish I had a room full of this kid.’”
All that hard work really came together during Donald’s junior year at McAlester. Cannon went 32-3 last season, capping the year with a state championship in February.
Cannon said his usual wrestling strategy has been to take an opponent down early in the match, gain a quick lead and force his opponent to wrestle more aggressively. In the championship, however, Cannon had to wait until overtime to finally pin Collinsville’s Jacob Findley and break a 0-0 tie.
“I was pretty close to getting a takedown before overtime, then he almost reversed me and took me to my back,” Cannon said of his championship match. “I ended up saving that and we went into overtime. That was with like 20 seconds left.”
Between last week’s snowstorm and multiple Buffs wrestlers playing on McAlester’s championship-bound football team, the 2013-14 wrestling season hasn’t really begun. But once the Buffs do come together, Cannon said he expects great things for both himself — a second state championship, for example — and his team.
“We have a solid team,” Cannon said. “If we have our best guys out there, they’re not ineligible or hurt, I think we can really do some good.”
An honors student at MHS, Cannon said he wants to wrestle for a Division I university. He said he’s already drawn interest from Stanford University in Connecticut and Columbia University in New York, but the dream is to wrestle for OSU.
Since the team started competing for the 1914-15 school year, the Cowboys have won 34 team and 134 individual national championships.
Wherever he winds up, Cannon said he plans to major in business or engineering. He said he’s currently taking four college-level classes at Eastern Oklahoma State College, and he’ll take four more next semester.
“Calculus, physics; I like that stuff,” Cannon said.
“Anyone can go into business, really.”
Cannon sometimes plays drums during services at Life Church and works for Independent Machine in McAlester. But he still devotes most of his free time to improving his wrestling, either by watching live or online matches or through private lessons.
“He lights up when he goes into battle,” Don Cannon said. “That’s it. I mean the kid lives for battle.”
Donald Cannon has had to battle several forms of adversity throughout his high school wrestling career. He’s suffered multiple injuries, gone through three head coaches in four years and played for squads whose low numbers inevitably led to forfeited matches and lost dual-meets.
But through all those challenges, Cannon remains a champion.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.