Cleveland High School wrestling coach Joey Knox hires fellow former Mocs

First-year Cleveland High School wrestling coach Joey Knox has completed his staff, and he went back to his college roots to do so.

The former Southern Conference champion and two-time NCAA tournament qualifier for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga arranged for two other UTC SoCon champs to help with the Blue Raiders: Niko Brown and Nick Soto.

“I reached out to Niko because I knew he was interested in coaching. His passion is helping people, and he’d been thinking about coaching,” Knox said.

In turn, Brown contacted Soto.

Photo by
Contributed Photo
/Times Free Press.

UTC assistant coach Niko Brown watches the match against Purdue Friday at Maclellan Gym.

UTC assistant coach Niko Brown watches the match…

Photo by
Angela Lewis Foster
/Times Free Press.

UTC wrestler Nick Soto applauds for a teammate as UTC defeats VMI by a team score of 35-3 on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, at the Maclellan Gym on the UTC campus in Chattanooga, Tenn.

UTC wrestler Nick Soto applauds for a teammate…

Photo by
John Rawlston
/Times Free Press.

“Nick had been around, giving lessons and helping kids. He just loves the sport of wrestling,” Knox said. “He’d been living in Florida trying to decide what he wanted to do with his life, and Niko told him how much Cleveland had helped him.”

Brown and Soto are working as teacher assistants while gaining their teacher certifications.

In addition to his credentials as a wrestler — a SoCon championship and a pair of NCAA tournament qualifications plus a top-10 NCAA ranking — Brown served as an assistant to Mocs coach Heath Eslinger from 2014 through April of this year.

“I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do when Joey called. Going to Cleveland was a big change and unexpected,” said Brown, who had thought of leaving the sport to enter private business. “I had two knee surgeries and couldn’t wrestle, and the longer I was out of wrestling the more miserable I was.”

Soto, a three-time high school All-American at Springstead in Florida, was a four-time SoCon champion and four-time NCAA qualifier. He has spent his time since graduating from UTC in 2015 working in boat sales in Vonore and then in Clearwater, Fla.

“I always loved being in Chattanooga and felt there was where I needed to be,” he said. “Cleveland has a history as a great wrestling program. The opportunity opened up, and here I am.”

The two new additions join Sean Russell and several volunteers, but they provide a unique opportunity for Cleveland wrestlers.

“You’re going to be hard-pressed to go to any high school program and find the caliber of coaches with the diverse weight classes,” said Knox, who assumed the head coaching reins when Josh Bosken resigned. “Nick will be working with the lightweight guys, I’ll be with the middleweights and Niko will work with the heavier weights. There is so much specific attention from talented wrestlers who can relate to the kids.”

Brown also noted the diversity of the group.

“You’ve got three D-I athletes on one coaching staff. We all wrestled at the same place, we all had success at the college level and we have different styles and techniques,” he said. “We learned differently and teach differently, but I think we can collaborate on styles.”

Soto said he already had learned much from Knox, Russell and Brown.

“I’ve learned a little bit of everything,” he said. “I’ve picked up a few techniques and I’m learning about the direction of the program and building relationships with kids. It’s great to see it and be a part of it.”

Contact Ward Gossett at or 423-886-4765. Follow him on Twitter @ wardgossett.

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