Four days after the 2017 wrestling state finals, Columbus East wrestlers were making comments about sophomore Cayden Rooks that never rang true for any Olympians wrestler until now.

“Hey, you are wrestling with the state champ.”

That is what East wrestlers were telling their teammates while this year’s Republic Wrestler of the Year and 120-pound state champion helped the underclassmen prepare for their ninth and 10th-grade state competition.

Rooks became East’s first-ever state champion after beating No. 1-ranked Ty Mills of Brownsburg for the second time in two weeks at the state finals. All of the hard work and sweat from Rooks that has been dripping on wrestling mats since he was a toddler has finally paid off.

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“He’s the same kid, but now he’s got that tag,” East coach Chris Cooper said.

“The title of the state champ — that’s something he can carry with him the rest of his life.”

Rooks finished the season with a 46-1 record and said winning his first title with his grandfather and great-grandfather in the stands was pretty important to him.

His grandfather, Lester Perkinson Jr., came the closest to a state championship than any East wrestler before him with a second-place finish in 1974.

Rooks credits much of this season’s success to the work he and Cooper put in during the summer trying to perfect his under-hook setups, but he is not satisfied with just one title. A year ago, Rooks had planned to be working on his second championship as a sophomore, but an exit in the ticket round of last year’s semistate prevented that from happening.

“I wanted to be a four-timer, but since that got ruined, I want to do the next-best thing and be a three-timer,” Rooks said. “It’s back to work in the offseason to get better for next season.”

Rooks is constantly seeking out the best talent by traveling to different tournaments in hopes of improving his skills, so Cooper said complacency will not be a problem for the state champ. Rooks is already thinking about next season and plans on hitting the weights hard this summer to possibly jump weight classes. Cooper thinks that Rooks will be just fine if he decides to compete at a heavier weight class.

“I guess we’ll see over the summer going into next year what I weigh,” Rooks said.

Next year’s weight class may still be up in the air, but one thing that is certain for Rooks is that he wants to be known as a two-time state champion come this time next year, no matter what weight class he is competing.

At a glance

The Republic All-Area Wrestling team:

Cayden Rooks, Columbus East: The sophomore went 46-1 and won the state title at 120 pounds.

Dawson Combest, Columbus East: The junior went 45-2 and finished third at state at 132 pounds.

Graham Rooks, Columbus East: The junior went 44-2 finished fourth at state at 126 pounds.

Jake Schoenegge, Columbus East: The sophomore went 38-8 and was a state qualifier at 138 pounds.

Corban Pollitt, Columbus East: The junior went 34-12 and was a state qualifier at 145 pounds.

Austin Sheckles, Columbus East: The senior went 37-6 and was a semistate qualifier at 220 pounds.

Brooks Wathen, Jennings County: The sophomore went 43-8 and was a state qualfier at 145 pounds.

Brendan Sutton, Jennings County: The senior went 28-7 and was a state qualifier at 285 pounds.

Zane Beineke, Jennings County: The junior went 38-8 and was a semistate qualifier at 160 pounds.

Brigham Kleinhenz, Columbus North: The junior went 22-6 and was a semistate qualifier at 182 pounds.

Josh Larson, Columbus North: The senior went 38-6 and was a semistate qualifier at 195.

Honorable mention

Brown County: Evan Bullock, David Tucker. Columbus East: Andy Davidson, Joey Gordon. Columbus North: Andrew Chapman, Morgan Smith, Keandre Watson. Jennings County: Victor Antunez, Sam Woolf.

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Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.