To be the best

Satterfield paid price for national crown

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Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Shoulders back, arms at his sides, T.J. Satterfield sits with the unmistakable bearing of a champion, a national champion at that.

The soft-spoken manner with which the 12-year-old phenom sat through an interview last week belies a towering performance Satterfield delivered in sweeping to the championship at the AAU Spring Youth Nationals earlier this month in Knoxville.

Satterfield, son of William Blount assistant coach Tim Satterfield, dispatched each of his five opponents in the tournament by pin — with each of the pins coming in the first period — in tearing to the 160-pound crown, a feat made all the more impressive by the road the young wrestling star took to get there.

Only a week before the tournament, Satterfield was hospitalized with a staph infection requiring antibiotics and five days of bed rest to cure. When he walked into the Jacob Building for the meet, a gathering of some 3,600 wrestlers, the sight, he said, was awe-inspiring.

"They had people sleeping in tents right beside the mat," Satterfield said. "I’d never seen anything like it."

The field of elite wrestlers had never seen anything like Satterfield, either.

He took up wrestling at age 7. Things didn’t go so well that first season, he said. Big for his age, he was often paired against wrestlers much older.

"When I first started, I wasn’t really good," he said. "I got beat a lot. The second year, I got better."

To improve, Satterfield sought out advice from every area wrestling coach and athlete he could pin down, including William Blount coach Gary Thomas, assistant coach Marty Carpenter and Blount County Wrestling Hall of Famer Bud Burnett.

Maryville two-time state silver medalist Landon Hall was a big help, he said, as was Governor Rian Burns, with whom
Satterfield trained to prepare for this year’s nationals.

The end result was a fiercely determined young talent who adopted a regimen of rising three times a week at 5:30 a.m. to run 2½ miles, followed by 30 minutes with the jump rope, finishing with 50 sit-ups and pushups before leaving for school.

After school, there was wrestling practice and work with a strength coach. He’d throw in another 120 sit-ups before bed. In his spare time, he mowed yards for spending money.

"I didn’t want to wrestle those big guys, so I knew I’d better cut weight," Satterfield said.

The results have been nothing short of stunning.

A four-time AAU state and regional champion, Satterfield’s breakthrough came with a third-place finish at the 2004 Ohio Tournament of Champions, an accomplishment he values as highly as this month’s national title.

"I worked really hard," he said. "When we went up there, he (Tim Satterfield) just wanted me to try my best."

As the wins piled up for his son, Tim Satterfield, himself a former Governor, repeatedly asked T.J. if he wanted to stop and try something else. Football had come into the picture, where T.J. was a promising fullback and middle linebacker.

"I told him, ‘You’ve already accomplished more at 12 than I ever did,’" Tim said. "My only concern is burnout. I’ve given him every opportunity to back away."

Each time, T.J. said he told his dad full speed ahead.

"I just want to keep going as far as I can go," he said.

Younger brother Dawson Satterfield, 7, wouldn’t have it any other way. Like T.J., he’s caught the wrestling bug. Recently, when T.J. woke for a morning run, Dawson was waiting for him at the front door.

"He didn’t get too far, though," T.J. said.

When he got back, T.J. said he told Dawson when he was ready to try again, he’d be waiting.

"I told him, ‘Don’t get discouraged and try as hard as you can,’" he said. "He’ll try to do everything to be better than what big brother did."

You can’t push a kid to levels of success T.J. has attained, Tim Satterfield said. All you can do is be there, he said, if it all becomes too much.

"He’s a student of the sport," Tim Satterfield said. "He loves the sport. He works so hard at it."

It shows.

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