Jaden Crumpler had accomplished enough, but wanted more.
After bursting onto the scene as a sectional champion as a Niagara Falls freshman, Crumpler kept his consistency and established himself as one of the top lightweights in Western New York scholastic wrestling. He even had the competitive blood instilled in him thanks to his uncle, Rashad Evans, who was a college wrestler at Michigan State before his UFC stardom.
But after finishing as the runner-up in the 118-pound bracket at the NYSPHSAA tournament last year, Crumpler had the desire to flip the script and spent the past year chasing one of his childhood dreams since taking on the sport as a youth 13 years ago — becoming a state champion.
Entering as the No. 1 seed in the Division I 126-pound bracket, Crumpler’s unfinished business was settled as he defeated Wantagh’s Joseph Clem, 4-2, inside MVP Arena, and thus, joined Willie McDougald as the only other Niagara Falls state champion.
It was this storybook ending to cap off an outstanding career that led to Crumpler being chosen as the Greater Niagara Newspapers wrestler of the year for a second straight season.
“Just a lot of hard work and dedication,” said Crumpler, who finished his senior campaign with a 41-1 record and his entire career with a staggering 118-17 record. “I’ve really been working my tail off since I was four years (old) just for that moment. So, just a lot of hard work (that) I put into the sport and like finally starting to pay off.”
Niagara Falls head coach Josh Eagan has watched plenty of wrestlers come through the program since he took over his alma mater in May 2021. But in his view, Crumpler was a one of a kind athlete, both on and off the mat, all with a humble approach.
“I’ve never had an athlete elevate their game,” Eagan said. “We’re here playing frisbee and then, all of a sudden, competition’s coming close and he’s just locked in. And, it’s a different mentality. There’s no goofing around. He’s hitting the mat hard. Everything’s a little bit more intense. He’s a true competitor.”
Jaden’s work ethic towards becoming a state wrestler came from not just within the family but enhanced during his freshman season in the 2019-20 campaign. During that season, Crumpler was one of the few underclassmen at the varsity level and wrestled alongside McDougald, who won his second and final state championship that year, before becoming a NCAA Division I student-athlete at the University of Oklahoma.
Years later, McDougald still remembers watching Crumpler start out on the youth wrestling circuit, describing him as “super small.” McDougald knew though, during their lone varsity season together, that Crumpler had the potential to be a solid varsity wrestler once he gained some strength and grew in size. It all came to fruition, McDougald said, when watching Crumpler’s progression over the last two state tournaments.
“(Last year), he was kind of hanging in there with guys having close matches,” McDougald said. “And then this year, it does take time, I think through the semis, I don’t think he really gave up a take down. Not even sure but it was kind of just insane to see how good he was. And he’s really good on top and that’s a really big part of wrestling at the next level.”
Having the opportunity to learn from McDougald as a freshman and also end his career with a state championship was a special moment for Crumpler.
“Everyone knows Willie for who he is,” said Crumpler. “Willie was a great wrestler, so, me just being able to follow through and do what he did means a lot.”
Crumpler was also known for being one of Niagara Falls wrestling’s biggest cheerleaders. During the NYSPHSAA tournament in late February, Crumpler supported his long-time teammate and friend, Amarfio Reynolds Jr., as they made their way through the main bracket, continuing a bond that will likely last as they transition into adulthood.
“It was the iron sharpens iron thing,” Reynolds Jr. said, who finished fourth in the 126 bracket at states. “There’s nobody I would want to spend the whole season with just drilling, wrestling, spending countless hours together then Jaden.”
Seeing the ripple effect countless times now in his coaching career, Eagan hopes to have Crumpler come back to the wrestling mat and train with the next generation of Wolverines to show them what preparing to win is about.
“Success breeds success,” Eagan said. “It’s just the way that it is. Hopefully some of the kids that are in ninth grade, eighth grade now saw Jaden… They’re seniors. They’re not going to be on our roster next year. But that doesn’t mean they’re not part of our program. They’re gonna be a part of our program forever. They’re gonna have their name on the wall.”
Roughly a month since having his arm hoisted into the air, Crumpler said it is now sinking in that his high school wrestling career ended as a state champion and appreciates all the support he received when he returned to school that Monday — even from teachers and students he never talked to before.
For those trying to follow in his footsteps, Crumpler advises the young wrestlers that anything can be achieved if you put your mind to it.
“My freshman year, I didn’t think I was going to be a state champion,” said Crumpler, who is undecided on where he will wrestle in college. “Looking at guys like Willie, I didn’t think I had that potential. I thought I could be good but I didn’t think I’d be at that level. Just keep working and what you want to happen will happen.”