Noah Justi seems like a perfect fit for the Millikin University wrestling team.
Justi is relatively new to wrestling. He didn’t compete in the sport until he was a freshman at Pekin High School. The Millikin wrestling team recently completed its first season.
Pekin coaches and wrestlers, family and friends watched Justi sign a letter of intent Friday to wrestle at NCAA Division III Millikin, a private school with about 2,200 students located in Decatur.
“When I visited there, it felt like home,” Justi said. “I met most of the guys on the wrestling team. I’m going to have a lot of good practice partners there. If I work my butt off, I feel I can become an All-American.”
Justi thinks he’ll be competing at 141 or 149 pounds for the Big Blue in college. He wrestled at 145 this past winter in his senior season at Pekin.
“I can wrestle at 141 or 149,” he said. “It’ll be a challenge, but I can do it.”
Millikin wrestling coach Ryan Birt said he’s excited to add Justi to his program.
“His work ethic and passion for wrestling will be felt immediately next season by his teammates and coaches,” he said.
“Noah is the type of hard-nosed blue-collar wrestler we want in our program. I expect he’ll be challenging for a starting position as a freshman and continuing to reach his full potential during his career at Millikin.”
Justi will become only the third wrestler coached by 16-year Pekin wrestling coach John Jacobs to compete on the mats in college.
The others are Boston Jacobs, the coach’s son, who had a brief career at Coe College in Iowa that was ended by an injury, and Alex Bleeker, a sophomore-to-be at North Dakota State.
“Noah is the only one of the three who didn’t start wrestling in the second or third grade in our kids club,” Coach Jacobs said. “I’d love to coach a high school state champion someday but I think I love even more seeing a kid enjoy wrestling so much that he competes beyond high school.”
Justi came to Pekin as a football player. Coach Jacobs said he pulled Justi aside in the weight room toward the end of Justi’s freshman football season, shortly before wrestling practice began, and convinced him to give wrestling a shot.
The gentle arm-twisting eventually paid dividends.
“Here’s a kid who had no previous wrestling experience before high school, wrestled only junior varsity as a freshman, and finished with more than 30 wins in his senior year,” he said.
“There’s so much discipline involved in being a wrestler. I think Noah embraced that here. It also helped him that the guys on our team are close. They push each other and help each other.”
Justi had quite a senior season. He got out of a sick bed to finish second in the Mid-Illini Conference tournament and earn at-large all-conference berth from coaches, advanced to the IHSA sectionals for the first time and was one win away from competing in the Class 3A state tournament.
He played football all four years at Pekin and had a solid senior season, playing in the backfield on both offense and defense.
Dave Justi, Noah’s grandfather, was the Pekin boys swimming and diving coach when Noah came to Pekin. But he thought his grandson should compete on the mat instead of in the pool.
Coach Jacobs said Dave Justi told him Noah should be wrestling “because he has all kinds of energy.”
Birt has the Millikin wrestling team off to a great start in its rebirth after the program was shut down in 2008.
The Big Blue went 9-6 in dual matches this season and sent two wrestlers to the Division III national tournament in March in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Birt was named the Division III Rookie Coach of the Year by division wrestling coaches. The award is presented by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.