Photo by Darryl Maxie
Locust Grove wrestler Jared Benefield (left) demonstrates the spladle on freshman Quinn Thomas. Benefield is 52-2 with 45 pins after realizing “how much easier it is to beat kids with it,” he said. “I was wrestling my butt off when I could just pin kids in the first round.”
Jarred Benefield used to take his sweet time in wrestling matches, hoping to have enough points after three periods to win a decision. Then, the Locust Grove senior grappler happened upon a sure-fire shortcut, one that has helped make him one of the state’s best.
It is a maneuver that nobody wants any part of, not even in slow motion for the purpose of demonstrating to a visitor. Benefield was going to do just that Thursday, but faster than you can say, “Not it!” Dillon Palmer quickly excused himself from life as a sacrificial lamb.
“You’re not getting me in that,” Palmer said. “Get a freshman.”
In walked Quinn Thomas, a freshman with eyes wide open, sent in by Locust Grove coach Nick Fordham. In a cheerful tone that hardly fit what was to follow, Thomas said, “Hi, I’m Quinn and I’ll be getting spladled today” — words that eerily sounded like those of the ancient gladiators: “We who are about to die salute you.”
That’s what the move is called, the spladle. Benefield has imposed it upon the majority of his 52 victims in 54 matches this season, 45 victories by pin. He plans on using it this weekend as traditional area wrestling tournaments break out all over the state, including the Area 4-AAA tournament at Locust Grove on Saturday.
To describe what happens during the spladle, think of a breadstick. If Benefield were a chef, the spladle would be the method by which he takes that breadstick and — voila! — makes it a pretzel.
You do not want to be the pretzel.
“It’s pretty embarrassing to be hit with it,” Benefield said.
“It’s painful,” Palmer said. “In the groin. In the general area.”
“I’m not sure it hurts the groin as much as it does the ego,” Fordham said.
Wherever it hurts most, one thing seems certain: “You get them in this,” Benefield said, “and they’re done.”
There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to it: “Spladle, the deadliest move in wrestling.”
It’s an inside leg move that Fordham taught Benefield and then Benefield modified and made his own. Locust Grove may be the only team in the state that uses it, Fordham said, and Benefield’s teammates try to copy it. In fact, anybody who successfully ends his match using it receives a T-shirt with “Spladle Squad” on the back.
It is a move that, even when an opponent knows it’s coming, might be helpless to prevent. Benefield has used it against good opponents as well as those he overmatches.
“It’s his go-to move,” said Fordham, who uses words like “funky” to describe it.
For Benefield, it’s not just about winning, but conserving energy.
“I went from beating kids by points to pinning them,” Benefield said. “I just realized how much easier it is to beat kids with it. I was wrestling my butt off when I could just pin kids in the first round.”
Benefield is 5 feet 8, 138 pounds.
“He doesn’t look like an intimidating wrestler who’s going to be 52-2,” Fordham said. “A couple of coaches didn’t believe he could do what he did to their wrestlers. But technique takes a front seat to athleticism.”
What makes Benefield good at it, Fordham said, are his natural gifts.
“He’s got tremendous balance, is tremendously flexible,” the coach said. “You have to have great hips and your joints have to bend to the max.”
Benefield loves being underestimated, looking like Clark Kent, and then going all Superman on an unsuspecting foe by unleashing the spladle.
“They’re probably thinking they can try to muscle me around,” he said of his opponents. “Like when we went to Louisiana and they didn’t know about me. Or in Alabama, after I beat one kid, I heard him talking to his dad. He said, ‘I don’t know how to defend something I haven’t seen.’ ”
Even those who know what’s coming and survive it don’t want anything to do with The Spladler. White County wrestler Caleb Morris, who beat Benefield 7-6 in the 130-pound state championship last year, was nevertheless quoted by his home county newspaper as saying, “I just didn’t want to wrestle (Benefield).”
A year wiser and stronger, Benefield believes he can couple the spladle with his other wrestling skills and parlay it all into a state championship.
“I’m going in there thinking I’m going to win,” he said. “I don’t want to go in there thinking I’m going to lose.”
Benefield has lost only one match in his weight class, to Eastside’s Kevin Thompson, admittedly having underestimated him because of the matches in which he beat Thompson. The other was against Stockbridge’s Shakeno Jenkins, who wrestles at the heavier 145 pounds.
Locust Grove has several wrestlers who could place in the state tournament, Fordham said, assuming they survive area and sectional tournaments in the coming weeks. There’s Chaz Brown at 152, Peter Baus at 126, Tyler Rapes at 195 and the spladle-avoiding Palmer at 132.
But Benefield might be the one with the best chance to join Zach Brown as the only state champions in Locust Grove history. Brown won last year at 135.
“It’s his unique style,” Fordham said of Benefield. “He’s not an overpowering kid. But he definitely brings something to the table that most wrestlers are not familiar with. The unknown is his biggest asset.”
When you’re standing opposite Benefield, this much seems clear: What you don’t know most definitely can hurt you.