Blanton, Kennedy look to lead comeback season for Illini wrestling

Jordan Blanton has a lot of reasons to be proud.

In just two short years on campus, the wrestler from Richmond, Ill., has compiled an impressive record of 52-20 to go along with back-to-back trips to the NCAA Championships.

This past season, Blanton followed up on his third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships with a fifth-place showing at NCAAs, even though he entered the tournament as a No. 10 seed.

However, all of those accomplishments are now in the past for the junior.

“(Last season), I came up on the short end of the stick (in some matches),” Blanton said.

“But each of those losses I learned a ton from and I feel like, had I won those matches, maybe I’d be sitting on my heels a little bit right now.

“But I feel like every morning I’m waking up excited, ready to train, ready to outwork my competition and looking forward,” he added.

That attitude will be key for an Illinois squad looking to rebound from a season that many saw as a disappointment.

In their first season under new head coach Jim Heffernan, the Illini had a hard time finding consistency on their way to an 8-8 record.

“There was a lot of dual meets I think, in my opinion, we were the better team and we weren’t winning,” Heffernan said.

Blanton won’t be the team’s only leader in the turnaround effort, though, as the Illini should benefit from the return of two-time All-American Jimmy Kennedy.

Kennedy, who redshirted last season in order to switch weight classes, will be looking to cap off a career that has already been one of the most successful in Illini history.

“Jimmy’s one of those guys that coming back (this year), we’re going to have a really solid senior for leadership,” Heffernan said. “Great student, great worker, couple time All-American. I think in order to have a successful team you need a catalyst, and Jimmy will be that catalyst for us (this) year.”

Kennedy currently ranks 19th on Illinois’ career wins list with 97, just 31 victories behind Alex Tirapelle for first overall.