Following His Dreams – The Jonovan Smith Story by Al Fontes (TCW)

Al Fontes – TCW Editor
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I have been involved in the sport of wrestling for the last forty plus years and from the first day I set foot on the mat, I learned a great deal about the life lessons it teaches. Trust me, my first experience on the mat did not bode well. It was either give up and make excuses, or press forward and work harder to get better. I chose the latter. Many of the life lessons we learn while growing up, such as good things don’t come easy, never fail to try more, or to remember that in life, it all begins with a small step grounded in a desire to be better or do better. To sum it up, nothing in the sport of wrestling comes easy without hard work, sacrifice, and a commitment to achieve your goals, even in the midst of failure.

Jonovan in the beginning

More recently, I wrote an article/Q&A about Birmingham’s Head Wrestling Coach James Medeiros. This article focused on his athletic history and the impact he has had on many wrestlers at Birmingham High School and the Los Angeles City Section. Coach Medeiros is the definition of hard work, commitment, and desire to achieve excellence. His system of wrestling is making a big difference and the results are proof positive in the number of kids that have earned a medal at state or All-American honors at the Cadet & Junior Nationals in Fargo. I have always said that the Los Angeles City area is a gold mine for talent, all it needs is a leader to bring out the best of its athletes. One particular wrestler from Birmingham that has impressed me a great deal is Jonovan Smith. This past year, he took the state of California and nation by storm by reaching the CIF State Championship finals and more recently won the prestigious Junior Nationals in Freestyle and doubled it up with an All-American honor in Greco-Roman.  

Jonovan began in the sport of wrestling at an early age. If not for his love for WWE on Television coupled by his father, an accomplished Martial Artist, taking him to compete for Team Freedom, which taught Catch Wrestling mixed with martial arts, he may not be competing today.

“Honestly, if it wasn’t for my crazy love for WWE and my Dad taking me there to compete against my peers, I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue about who I am on this earth.”

Jonovan Smith
LA City Section Champions

During the early part of his wrestling experience, Jonovan had his ups and downs, but he never gave up. He understood from his humble beginnings that nothing comes easy without hard work, sacrifice, and having the will to be the best he can be. It was during his sophomore year in high school that his overall outlook at wrestling changed. Knowing that he was surrounded by several accomplished coaches in the room that influenced his wrestling aptitude, Jonovan began to set his expectations higher than his abilities at the time. His formula for success started to pay off as he earned his first All-American honor at the Cadet Greco-Roman Nationals that summer and earned his first medal at the CIF State Championships his junior season.

Fast forward to post Fargo 2019, Jonovan has already set his future goals and expectations even higher than his more recent achievement of winning a Junior National Championship. He understands very well that to be the best of the best one has to conquer the dreams of others to achieve their dreams. If one thing is certain, Jonovan Smith is a prime example that if you believe you can achieve. Entering the 2019 Junior Nationals, he was definitely not the favorite to win it all, but Jonovan had other plans than those set by the powers to be ranking the tournament. I look forward to watching your journey and wish you the best. Remember, FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!

To learn more about Jonovan, read my Q&A below.


CIF State Championships Finalist – Birmingham Charter HS (LA)

2x California “CIF” State Medalist (8th, 2nd)

3x California “CIF” State Qualifier 2017 – ’19

Junior National Champion – Freestyle 2019

Junior National All-American – Greco-Roman 2019

USAW Junior Folkstyle All-American/Finalist 2019

6x State Champion

Cadet Greco-Roman All-American 2017

California USA Wrestling Triple Crown Winner 2019

Open Greco-Roman State Champion 2019

Junior Folkstyle State Champion 2019

Junior Freestyle State Champion 2019

4th Junior Freestyle State Championships 2018

Cadet & Junior Greco-Roman State Champion 2017, ’18, ’19

5th Cadet Greco-Roman State 2016

7th Junior Greco-Roman State 2016

3x Los Angeles City Section Champion 2017 – ‘19

4x Los Angeles Regional Champion 2016 – ’19

Los Angeles Daily News Wrestler of the Year 2019

Stats: 349 career takedowns – 119 career near falls – 81 pins – 43 Reversals

Career Record: 162 – 39 *School record for most wins

Single season takedown record of 140

Mission San Jose Invitational Champion 2019

Jonovan punching his ticket into the CIF State Championship finals


Reach the CIF State Championship Finals

Earn 2 CIF State Medals (8th, 2nd)

Earn Double Junior All-American honors at Fargo – Freestyle/Greco

Earn 4 All-American honors – Cadet/Junior/Folkstyle Divisions

Win 3 Los Angeles City Section Titles

Win 4 Los Angeles Regional Titles

Birmingham Charter HS – CIF State Finalist/2x CIF State Medalist


How did you first get involved in the sport of wrestling?

My dad. I got involved with wrestling being a kid, I can’t help but laugh at the day my father had taken me to a special club, it was beautiful in its own way. If I’m being completely honest, I watched a lot of wrestling…WWE. My favorite wrestlers were Arn Anderson and Ron Simons. My first Coach Amhad taught us in the ways of education. This team was known as Team Freedom. We weren’t even wrestling with shoes, we were kids in shorts just ironically learning every single day in the ways of Catch Wrestling mixed martial arts. There wasn’t a lesson I remember about wrestling or the Catch Wrestling I was doing, but it was lessons on how to be a man that still to this day live through me. Accepting your fellow friend, brother, mother, or child. I wasn’t learning how just to be a wrestler like every other athlete, neither was the team. We were learning how to be educated young men. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my crazy love for WWE and my Dad taking me there to compete against my peers, I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue about who I am on this earth. I understand why I’m different from every other wrestler, why I bring something to the table that they don’t, why I care about being a better man than wrestler. Honestly, I can’t wrestle without being selfish and helping those around me. Otherwise I feel like I’ve lost the match with my heart.

Who was your biggest influence in the sport?

I had quite a few influences in my journey of wrestling. My biggest influence in the sport of wrestling is honestly myself. My confidence is really what has driven and influenced me to go far. Then again, I could be biased on that. At an early age, my  big brother influenced me a great deal;  each and every day, watching him wrestle against other opponents impressed me. He was truly an intense wrestler for his age. It made me happy knowing that I had a big brother who could beat the kids in the room that I could not…He did it very well.

A story for example: My father took us to a new club called the South Bay Wrestling Club. This is where we met the coach and his two sons, Jake and Tyler, on the mat one on one. As far as Jake, I was able to compete with him, but Tyler, I didn’t even come close as he beat on me like a little kid. My feelings were hurt and my brother saw that, so he challenged Tyler. Like my big brother does best on the mat, he totally dominated Tyler. Although I didn’t beat Tyler that day, seeing my brother go to such lengths when he didn’t have to really influenced me…I truly look up to him.

“I worked very hard to show the world that I’m the best wrestler to ever come from LA City Section, but my mission is not completed yet.”

Jonovan Smith

What does it feel like to be the first wrestler from the Los Angeles City Section to win a Junior National Championship?

It’s definitely a wonderful feeling. I worked very hard to show the world that I’m the best wrestler to ever come from LA City Section, but my mission is not completed yet. Even though I won the Junior National Championship title in Freestyle, I still failed to capture the CIF state title, the Folkstyle national title, and the Junior Greco-Roman National Championship. I still have a lot to prove to the section and mostly to myself, but when that day and time comes, I will be the greatest wrestler of this age.

Having won the prestigious Junior Nationals in Fargo, what are your short and long-term goals? 

My short-term goals are to win the upcoming national qualifiers for the Olympic trials and go on to win the trials. Also winning the NCAA Division 1 title this year, but those things come and go. My goal, my destiny is to win the 2020 Olympics at 86 kilos for freestyle and 85 kilos for Greco roman wrestling. Long term goals are to beat the wrestlers at the top, World & Olympic level.

When in your wrestling career did you realize that you were at the right level, both mentally and physically, to place at a national level competition, such as the Cadet & Junior Nationals in Fargo?

My outlook at wrestling changed during my Sophomore year in high school. I give a lot of credit to Coaches James Medeiros, Kenny Johnson, and Sarkis from SK Golden Boys for believing in me and teaching me a system of wrestling that works at the highest level. They taught me a lot of new techniques, the meaning of conditioning at the elite level,  as well as understanding positioning and scoring in multiple positions. It was at this point I began to train harder, study more film, and prepare for national level competition…I had a special feeling inside that I could beat anyone with what I had learned. Shortly thereafter, I earned my first All-American honor at the Cadet Greco-Roman Nationals in Fargo.

Having earned All-American honors at the Cadet Nationals, how did you prepare for the Junior Nationals?

I set my expectations higher than what my abilities were at the time. This was my third trip to Fargo and my expectation was to win two national titles, both in Greco and Freestyle.

What did it feel like to be on the national stage in the championship finals of the Junior Nationals in Fargo?

I was very nervous…Many thoughts were going through my mind, some demons of doubt and others of confidence. However, the second I ran out on the mat, all these thoughts went away…I was then focused on winning a national title.

What went through your mind when you realized that you were a National Champion?

During the final seconds of the match, I got an overwhelming burst of energy…Once the match was over, I dropped to my knees and thanked God for this opportunity. I then thought to myself, what can I accomplish next.

Is there an Olympic level wrestler or someone that you want to aspire to be someday?

I have no particular wrestler that I aspire to be.  I am most inspired by the Biblical verse Genesis (32:22-32) where Jacob wrestles with the angel sent from God. Even though Jacob was not able to prevail, he wrestled all night and refused to let go until God blessed him. So in a sense, Jacob knew that he wasn’t going to win the overall battle, but would actually prevail in the end since he was blessed by God. This is powerful!

What are your fondest memories of wrestling at Birmingham High School under Coach James Medeiros?

My fondest wrestling memories under Coach James Medeiros was the fun we had in the room. Don’t get me wrong, our wrestling club is very serious, but the banter that we have with our teams’ comedic ways, combined with our tenacity and willingness to be the great team we aspired to be makes for a love/hate relationship I nor the rest of Birmingham high school would change for the world. There is no coach like James, he isn’t a coach, he’s a Dad. Coach James just doesn’t teach us how to wrestle, he teaches us how to live. I will always be thankful for the love, support, discipline, minutes he took to be more than our coach.

What life lessons have you learned in the sport of wrestling that applies in your day-to-day life?

So many to recall. I am the embodiment of the man you see with love and joy from the lessons and discipline from the sport. The biggest thing I learned in this sport is you don’t need or want for anything to be great, because each individual is already great. In my everyday life I apply that, I don’t need to be rich to be great, or I don’t need to have the greatest body, all I need is belief in the greatness I know I have.

Jonovan with his Dad and older Brother

Whom were your role models growing up? How did they inspire you to be the person you are today?

Role models I had growing up came from a variety; my father, mother, to my aunt, uncle, to my coaches and staff. I still have role models I look up to that still play a huge part in my life by just being successful on their own. My biggest role models growing up was my father Fernando Smith and my mother Candis white. The strength it took to take care of me and my brother, to teach us the ways of responsibility, accountability, and being fine young men of God took so much work that I am forever grateful for. My mother was the meaning of strength, a symbol of a lion keeping me straight in line, smart, and open minded. My father was a walking testimony to me of a man who came from a poor impoverished community in Philadelphia, strait-laced a hard-nosed man of discipline, he taught me the true meaning of taking responsibility for my actions. The lessons they taught me I hope to teach to others to give them the will the grace my parents gave me.

Outside the sport of wrestling, what other goals do you have in life?

I have other athletic goals, such as going into the premier fighting organizations…showing off my young mixed martial arts skills well into an age that shows my MMA is reliable for being used as an art of expression and self-defense. That’s the simple goals I have, the more complicated involve my plans to produce the scripts I have in the workshop into fruition. I have plans to own businesses to build an empire of greatness through sports, education, but built from kindness love and hard work.

What advice would you give a young wrestler wanting to be successful in the sport? 

Don’t give up, open your mind, be the student who learns, be the friend that teaches, and be the teacher that allows the knowledge into fruition. Work hard because you want to be the best…better than all the greats before you, better than me. Work smart to protect your body from all the dangers, the wear and tear it takes to be at that level. Most of all have fun and love what you do enjoy everyone around you, because on this earth you never know when your final day is going to come…at least make it worthwhile and enjoy it with the loved ones who are like you willing to work hard. Last but not least, grind.

2019 Junior Freestyle National Champions – Jonovan Smith (195s)

Jonovan holding his championship plaque with teammates Jeremy Luchau and Andres Gonzales
2019 Triple Crown Winner
2019 Junior Nationals in Fargo – Double All-American (Freestyle/Greco-Roman)
Jonovan with Team California at USAW Folkstyle Nationals
Winning the BIG PRIZE – the Fargo Stop Sign
Cadet Greco-Roman All-American
CIF State Championships
Los Angeles City Section Champion