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DEMARIUS SMITH may not be a past IHSA state wrestling champion like former Centennial star Justin Cardani or ex-Urbana standout Luke Luffman, but the 2017 Rantoul graduate is part of Jim Heffernan’s Illinois grappling roster with both of those guys. Smith offered some insight into his Illini career thus far, following freshman and redshirt freshman campaigns at 149 pounds:

How did you end up wrestling for Illinois?

Early on I didn’t want to come here just because proximity-wise ... I kind of wanted to move somewhere farther, somewhere different, and start new. And so I kind of doubted Illinois at first. As time passed and things started getting close, someone expressed it to me to try Illinois.

Who did that thought come from?

It was a close family friend: Jake Warner’s dad. Jake is from Tolono and wrestles at Iowa now, and so Jake had already committed for a while. ... His dad being a close family friend, he was like, “You know, you said you didn’t want to go to Illinois, but I think you should really consider applying there. It makes a lot of sense.” So I started to consider it after that. He’s like another dad to me, so I know he really just wanted me to do what was best for me.

How have you stayed right around your prep wresting weight of 152 pounds?

I’m going to move up a weight this upcoming year, a couple weights. I went from 152 to 149 my first two years, which I wouldn’t say that I stayed around (152). I just got a lot better at dieting. I’m definitely way bigger now than I was in high school, but I’ve gotten a lot better being dedicated to my diet and lifestyle.

How would you describe your time as a college wrestler so far, and what’s next?

I’d say mostly it’s as much as you make it. I learned that being in such a high-level room, everybody’s going to get better. It’s inevitable.

You can’t be in that room and practice every day and not get better. ... So just getting up and going after it every practice every day is a decision. ... Being an upperclassman, I’m real confident now and, honestly, I want to take it to the next level. I want to be a level of dedicated I’ve never been before. I want to do things that I’ve never done before to get to places I’ve never been.

What does it mean to have Champaign County so well-represented on this team?

It’s great. I think that’s so awesome. ... Me watching (Justin Cardani and Luke Luffman) being able to succeed like they have (in their high school careers) and working hard every day, it gives me a little bit of confidence. It kind of tells me I can do the same.

News-Gazette

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).