Clarence Arrington Jr. has already excelled on the mat, winning a USA state wrestling title in Texas and a high school state title in Florida last season.
But there is something different about Arrington this season. The Dunedin senior has become even more dominant, cruising to a 28-0 record and No. 1 ranking in the Class 2A 126-pound weight class by scout.com.
Arrington worked diligently in the offseason to add moves to his repertoire. But the biggest factor in raising his level of wrestling came from a stronger belief in himself.
“I feel like I have more of a comfort level of where I’m at this season,” Arrington said. “I’m more confident. I don’t feel as nervous on the mat. Last year, guys would tell me about someone I was wrestling who was strong and try to get me intimidated.”
Wrestling has always played a dominant role in Arrington’s life. His father, Clarence Arrington Sr., wrestled at Tennessee-Chattanooga and went on to a career in the Army. Last year, Arrington Sr. retired from the military and moved the family to Dunedin. It gave him a chance to reunite with his former college teammate Marc Allison, now the coach of the Falcons.
“I’ve talked with Clarence’s dad about coaching for about 10 years,” Allison said. “He finally called and said he was retired and ready to coach. So the family came down here and his dad started working with me as an assistant.”
Arrington quickly emerged as one of the county’s top wrestlers. At the state tournament, he beat defending state champion Dalton Langford of Riverdale before winning the 120-pound state title with a 5-1 decision over Brandon Gacad of Ida Baker. Arrington joined teammate Kyle Goodnow as the first wrestlers to win state titles at Dunedin in 37 years.
Goodnow graduated, leaving Arrington as the only returning state champion.
That was enough pressure. But Arrington also had to overcome other obstacles before the season began. In April of last year, a fire destroyed the family home, forcing the Arringtons to stay in a hotel before finding permanent residence.
Then, Arrington found out his father would no longer be one of his coaches.
Unable to find work as a teacher in Pinellas County, Arrington Sr. became an ROTC instructor and wrestling coach at Sarasota Military Academy.
“It’s more tough for my dad,” Arrington said. “He’s commuting every day. But he’s usually home by the time I’m finished with wrestling practice.”
Arrington had eight losses last year, including a 7-5 defeat to Palm Harbor University’s Jared Prince in the 120-pound final of the Pinellas County Athletic Conference tournament. The two could meet again in the conference tournament in two weeks. If Prince doesn’t wrestle at that weight class, Arrington could end up facing PHU’s Mike May. Last year, Arrington won 7-2 in their only meeting.
“I’m sure I’m going to have some tough competition in the next month,” Arrington said. “I would like to go undefeated, but the thing that matters is winning at the end of the season. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Arrington doesn’t have any college offers but is hopeful to have one by the end of the season.
“I’ve been able to talk to some coaches,” Arrington said. “Nothing is for sure now, but I know I definitely want to wrestle in college.”