Over the course of his high school wrestling career, Neosho senior Braxton Barnes has become familiar with Mizzou Arena on the campus of the University of Missouri after earning two state medals at 138 pounds his sophomore and junior years.

In the next few years, it’s possible that Barnes will become a lot more familiar with Mizzou Arena.

Barnes signed his letter of intent Wednesday afternoon to continue his academic and athletic career at Mizzou.

“I’ve got Mizzou tatted on me,” Barnes said. “Missouri’s always been home. I feel like once I got the call to go up there. I’ve already been to the facilities a couple times. Up there, meeting the coaches, meeting the wrestlers, the facilities, it’s top in the country, there’s just no beating it. Missouri’s definitely home.

“I had quite a few schools calling. Not too many D1s, only talked to a couple. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen. Coach Clemsen (associate head coach Alex Clemsen) gave me a call and he said he wanted me to come up there and visit. Once I got the visit, then I knew.”

Mizzou, currently ranked No. 5 in the nation, has won 71 of its last 72 duals since 2014, including 34 straight and all 14 so far this season. The Tigers finished their Mid-American Conference slate unbeaten this season, a feat they have accomplished four times in the last seven seasons.

Neosho head coach Jeremy Phillips said a few words about the two-time conference champion and the so-far two-time state medalist.

“Braxton and I, if you ask the rest of the team, they call it a man crush that we have on each other,” Phillips said. “I would disagree with that, but it’s definitely a strong and special relationship. Part of the reason Neosho wrestling’s had success is that we understand and believe in the relationships first. Braxton is one that he and I have connected and been able to, if nothing else, be there for each other when we have needed it.

“I’ve always believed in Braxton. I saw the talent early on, when he didn’t even see it himself, as early as a freshman. … He continues to learn and I think that’s what makes me most proud about Braxton. He’s not stayed where he’s at, he started off very talented but now he’s added some character and some humility to the talent he had already. … I truly believe Braxton has his best yet to come.”

Wrestling at a high-caliber program like Neosho prepares its student-athletes for the next level.

“Jeremy Phillips is definitely the best coach in the state,” Barnes said, “if not the country. He’s given me every bit of talent I’ve had. Everything’s on him. He’s the one who gave me this opportunity and I pay him all the respect in the world. Definitely, he’s impacted me so greatly and I’m so blessed to have a high school coach like him.”

Barnes and the rest of the Wildcats begin their quest for a 12th straight district title on Friday and action wraps up Saturday. The Wildcats travel to Union and their competition includes wrestlers from Branson, Camdenton, Glendale, Hillcrest, Lebanon, Marshfield, Parkview, Republic, Rolla, Union, Webb City, and Willard.

“Goal is to be a state champion,” Barnes said. “It puts a target on my back at the same time. Every kid wants to come out and they want to beat the D1 guy. I’ve got to be the hunter and not the hunted.”

Barnes, 43-4 on the season, stands as the No. 1 ranked wrestler in Class 3 at 145 pounds by MissouriWrestling.com.

Last season, Barnes took fourth at 138 and finished with a 47-8 record. As a sophomore, he placed fourth at 138 and finished with a 46-11 record.