Dawon Andrews

Safford’s Dawon Andrews is declared the winner in the 152-pound weight class at the 2019 state championship, his fourth high school state title.

SAFFORD — Not every high school athlete gets to play college sports, but the Gila Valley has a tradition of seeing off a steady stream of talented athletes to schools around the country.

The latest addition to that tradition is Safford’s Dawon Andrews, who has proved to be champion material from a young age. Andrews will get to wrestle for Notre Dame College of Ohio starting this fall.

ASU wanted Andrews but had already offered its full complement of wrestling scholarships before approaching Andrews. Safford head coach Herman Andrews — Dawon’s uncle — said, “Since he’s an in-state kid, I think they were expecting him to go there anyways.”

While it would have been a bonus to stay local, Dawon will instead get to reunite with his high school teammate, Ryan Lewis.

“He went over there to check it out and fell in love with the small-school family atmosphere. The coaching staff is knowledgeable, had good people coming back, and they’re in contention for a national title every year. Coach told him he (needs) to be that piece of the puzzle to help them get over the hump. That was what he needed to hear: someone to buy in,” Herman said.

Dawon was a four-time state champion during high school; wrestled at the national level, winning a national title; is a multiple All-American in Greco, freestyle and folk-style wrestling (aka triple crown); has been a state champion five times for both freestyle and Greco; and has won a handful of wrestling tournaments in Arizona. He even won four state titles in middle school.

“He’s been that guy,” Herman said. “He was one of the first Arizona Triple Crowns when they started that. His resume is just crazy.”

Dawon said, “I think it’s going to be a great start to an amazing adventure of the next chapter in my life. I just want to show them I appreciate them reaching out to me, and by that, I’m going to do my best in school and on the mat.”

While degree programs influence an athlete’s choice, perhaps coaches have an even stronger influence.

“They talked with me and told me all of their goals and, believe it or not, I actually had most of the same goals. Plus, one of the assistants is a Greco coach, so everything clicked,” Dawon said.

The Courier asked Andrews, an Arizona native, if he thinks he’s ready for a snowier climate.

“That’s something you can’t prepare for, so I’m going to take it day by day and just try to enjoy the whole process of a new climate and different structures,” he said.

Notre Dame is Division II but wrestles against DI schools, which will give Dawon a chance to showcase his skills against the nation’s top wrestlers.

Herman said, “He’s got a really good coach there that is a Greco mind. Once you figure out the Greco world, you can utilize it in all aspects of your wrestling.”

To finish his high school career, Dawon set the school record in javelin at this year’s state championship with a throw of 151 feet, 7 inches.

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