Tempe, Arizona - Ali Naser was off the wrestling grid - an Afghani immigrant, by way of Russia and Uzbekistan, who was wrestling at Fresno City College while his father, Aziz and older brothers, Nasim and Amir (Mo), worked to support a family torn and altered irreparably by the Taliban takeover of his birth nation.
Ali's anonymity vanished at the 2015 U.S. Open in Las Vegas when he made the quarterfinals against 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and No. 1 seed Coleman Scott, the 2008 NCAA champion and four-time All-American from Oklahoma State.
"Everyone is floating around the gym watching matches and then Ali takes a 4-0 lead," Jones said. "Everyone starts crowding around the mat because he's beating Coleman Scott. Ali wins, 5-4, and as you can imagine, every college coach and their mother ran over to the mat and was asking, 'Who is this kid?'
"Everyone finds out he has 2½ years of eligibility left and this kid could have gone anywhere. It was amazing so I called his college coach and within a week he said, 'I don't want to go anywhere but Arizona State.'"
Arizona State afforded Naser the opportunity to stay close to his family in California, and that was paramount for Naser for reasons outside the everyday American experience.
The Taliban took over Naser's city when he was two weeks old and a Taliban bomb killed his mother when he was a baby. With his family in danger, Aziz Naser fled to neighboring Russia where the Nasers set up shop in the Republic of Dagestan, a wrestling mecca, for three years.
"It's an outlier city for wrestling," Jones said. "It has more world and Olympic wrestling champions than any place in the world."
Aziz had family in Uzbekistan so he moved his sons again where they lived and wrestled for the next nine years, with many of their coaches coming from Dagestan.
"My dad was a wrestler and both of my brothers wrestled, too," Ali said. "I was six years old when I told my dad I wanted to wrestle. He wanted to wait until I turned 10 or 11 but I kept pushing him.
"I used to wrestle my brothers at home and it was fun. I didn't want to do it for the competition. I wanted to do it because it was fun."
Naser's definition of fun might differ from others'.
"We trained differently in Uzbekistan," he said. "We focused more on technique. We didn't wrestle as much; not a whole lot of conditioning either. It was mainly technique and situations. We'd be lucky if we got one wrestling match a week.
"There would be workouts in the morning, one in the afternoon, and at 6 o'clock it was just the elite wrestlers so you'd have to work your way up to the 6 o'clock practices."
Within five years, Ali made a name for himself, placing second at the Uzbekistan National Championships when he was 11. One year later, Aziz moved the family to California to provide his sons with better educational opportunities.
Naser was a California State place winner, taking fourth place as a senior at El Camino Real High School (Woodland Hills). All the while, he was training at SK Golden Boys, a famed Armenian gym in California, where had the opportunity to partner with Martin Barbarion, a three-time Armenian Olympian (2000, 2004, 2008).
"I would be lucky to take him down once a week but I got a lot better just training with him," said Naser, who also owns a win over U.S. Olympian Sam Hazewinkel.
Naser didn't compete last year for ASU while he finished his junior college credits through online courses and at Mesa Community College. He is in the lineup this season at 133 pounds and will have a rematch with Ohio State junior, two-time All-American and 2015 NCAA Champion (125 lbs.) Nathan Tomasello, whom Naser defeated in the Bill Farrell Memorial International last year.
The No. 2 Buckeyes come to Tempe on Nov. 19, and will also bring two other 2015 NCAA champions: Olympic champion Kyle Snyder (Hwt) and two-time All-American Myles Martin (174 lbs., now at 184). ASU has wrestlers who have defeated each of those three NCAA champs. Tanner Hall defeated Snyder in 2012 to make the Junior World Team, before serving a two-year Mormon Mission. Zahid Valencia beat Myles Martin at the Walsh Ironman in 2014.
"It's a high profile match and a great test for us," Jones said.
Like most wrestlers, Naser's ultimate goal is to become an Olympian and Jones, the 2012 U.S. Olympic freestyle coach, has seen some of those abilities.
"He has to adjust to college because it's folk style rules," Jones said. "He grew up under an international style so by no means is he a finished product to be an NCAA champion and an Olympian, but he has all the tools, he's in the right environment with all the right pieces and he lives the right lifestyle.
"Some guys need to have fun and that gets in a lot of good guys' way because fun sometimes is outside the wrestling room, going to parties. Ali finds fun in his wrestling. He doesn't need all the extra stimulation that Americans need. He leads a pretty simple lifestyle going to class and to practice, eating right and resting."
When the topic arises, Naser admits to pondering the events of his childhood.
"There have been times it crossed my mind," he said. "What if my dad had never moved from Afghanistan? How would life be different? It would have been nice getting to know my mom but that is life sometimes. It happens and you have no choice but move on."
Naser believes he is in the right place to achieve the future he envisions.
"I love it here," he said. "It's a lot of experience you get from Zeke. He's a silver Olympic medalist. He's been there, done it.
"I also want to take it to the next level. That's my dream. I've spent 16 years of my life on it -- for myself and my family. I'm not going to stop halfway."