Indiana junior wrestler DJ Washington had only one thought cross his mind when he beat his opponent to win the 79-kilogram, or 174-pound, weight class at the United World Wrestling Junior Championships.
“Finally,” he thought.
With the win, Washington was able to secure a trip with USA Wrestling to Ufa, Russia, where he would wrestle at the World Junior Championships.
Washington, who has been wrestling since he was seven years old, has always had the goal of making a world wrestling team.
Washington’s second thought? All his summer plans were gone.
With Indiana, Washington went 6-2 in dual matches and was the No. 9 seed at the NCAA Championships. In the team’s duel with Penn State, Washington beat eventual NCAA Champion Carter Starocci.
Indiana wrestling head coach Angel Escobedo joined Washington at the UWW championship and the World Juniors in Russia.
Escobedo recruited Washington out of Portage, Indiana, one of three recruits in his class from northwest Indiana.
“From a recruiting standpoint, we knew the ceiling for him was really high and that it was going to be up to him with the amount of work he wanted to put into this program,” Escobedo said. “Since he’s been here, he’s been so hungry to get better every year and he has. He’s been a bright spot for our program.”
The trip to Russia was Washington's first experience out of the United States, and it took almost a day to get there.
Instead of traveling with his Indiana teammates, he traveled with the best wrestlers in the nation representing the United States.
Though Washington’s stint with Team USA was short — a 6-3 loss to Mohammad Nokhodilarimi of Iran and a 7-6 loss to Richard Schroeder of Germany — Escobedo said there were bright spots with his performances.
“His position was a lot better there,” Escobedo said. “He was able to score on guys and shut them down. It was really a good thing to see how much better his position and his stance was.”
Escobedo said he plans to move Washington up one weight class to 184 pounds, citing that the new weight class will suit him better and give him more energy, and he won’t need to worry about cutting weight.
“One thing we noticed was that he grew, which means he can’t cut down to 174 lbs without cutting muscle and that is something we don’t want to do with him,” Escobedo said.
While in high school, Washington reached the state championships twice, finishing as the state runner-up in 2019. Last season, he qualified for the NCAA National Championships after placing sixth at the Big Ten Championships at Indiana.
Heading into his junior year, he’s taking those experiences with him. His first goal this season is to become an NCAA Champion, the first Indiana wrestler to do so since his coach Escobedo won at 125 pounds in 2008. His second is to have fun like he normally does.
“One thing I took from Bloomington was to never forget where I came from, all the guys back home I trained with and all the training we have done together,” Washington said.
Both Escobedo and assistant coach Jason Tsirtsis made junior teams throughout their collegiate careers and won NCAA Championships. Escobedo said training with the best wrestlers in the world will give Washington a new perspective when he comes back to Indiana.
“I think he saw that this summer, and went on the biggest stage trying to win a world title,” Escobedo said. “He’s coming into this season wanting to win an NCAA title and to go back to the world championships next summer. His goals got bigger and he was able to step out of his comfort zone.”
Washington’s quest for an NCAA Championship starts Nov. 6 at a tri-dual meet against Bellarmine University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in Louisville, Kentucky. He is currently the No. 10 ranked wrestler in the 174-pound weight class.