How a Man Chasing His Dreams, a Coach Finding Himself, and a University
Came Together To Achieve Immortality
I’ll never forget the first time I heard about Jake Evans. We have this group chat among me and my three brothers, and I wanted to know who this guy was that came in as a freshman and beat Waynesburg’s presumed starter at heavyweight heading into the 2015 season. Gennaro was a rookie coach, in his first year as a Graduate Assistant with the program. Gennaro explained that Jake had joined the program after taking a few years off from school, but he was very impressed by his work ethic and brute strength. Anthony jumped in and said he heard that he wasn’t very athletic, and that the returning starter would beat him next time. But Gennaro said this was no fluke, and that Jake might be better than everybody initially expected. Anthony also said that his heavyweight would beat Jake in a match, which led to one of the most heated debates in BBOYZ brother group chat history.
The first time I got to see Jake wrestle live, I understood why Gennaro felt the way he did. It was December of 2015, and I flew down to Ft. Lauderdale with my parents to see Waynesburg compete in the Citrus Invitational. Jake actually ended up taking third at that tournament (he was pinned by the returning National Champion in the semifinals), but the reasons for Gennaro’s excitement were on full display. Heavyweights are traditionally overweight, plodding, and boring. Jake on the other hand looks like he was carefully chiseled by Michelangelo, and made of steel. He has the physique of a heavyweight boxing champion. He used the time off from the sport to find his work ethic, and dedicate himself to weightlifting. He’s also the most aggressive heavyweight in the country. He’s not waiting to feel you out, or try to score off your mistakes. He’s trying to go straight through you. The final thing that stuck out to me was the bond between Jake and Gennaro.
Gennaro had expressed to us that as a rookie coach he was nervous to offer ideas, and help plan practice, but he felt at home working with the heavyweights every day. I asked Coach Jeff Havelka, about it, and he told me that G goes with him every day in the room. Havelka said before he realized how powerful Jake was, he used to go live with Jake and he was curious why he was able to beat Jake so easily. Finally, one day he called Jake out and questioned whether he could do anything else. Jake responded by shooting a double leg takedown, slamming him to the mat, and pinning him in 30 seconds. Havelka said it felt like he had been hit by a car, and he decided G could handle going with Evans after that. Head Coach Ron Headlee didn’t think that Jake was very athletic originally after watching him try to play ultimate frisbee during an early practice, but he quickly learned what a powerhouse Jake was as well. There was a heavyweight at the Citrus Invitational from John Carroll named Will Porter and Jake mercilessly destroyed his soul. He beat him in the quarterfinals, and then again to take 3rd place. I was sitting next to two of his teammates who were mesmerized by the way Jake had manhandled their friend. They wanted to know where he had come from. They compared him to Ivan Drago. Jake finished that with season with 38 wins, but it ended with him losing to Porter at the regional tournament, and falling a match short of reaching the National Championships, a result that devastated both Gennaro and Jake. After some time to reflect on the season, and taking time to appreciate how remarkable it was that Jake had even been in that position, they went back to work.
Jake came back the following season and put the nation on notice quickly. He knocked off some of the top ranked kids in the country and became nationally recognized for the first time. He was among the nation’s leaders in pins, and he won his regional tournament and secured a spot at the National Championships in Wisconsin, where despite a 49-5 record, he was unseeded. Jake knocked off the 7 seed from Concordia Moorhead, before beating Jake O’Brien from Ithaca. In the quarterfinals he ran into Lance Evans of Wartburg who pinned him in the first period. Jake was focused though, and he didn’t panic. He followed up that loss with a win in the round of 12 to secure all-American status, before losing to be dropped into the 7th and 8th place match where he again defeated O’Brien.
Heading into the 2017-2018 season Jake was earning some respect on a national level, but he wasn’t considered a favorite to win a national title. Jake went back to work pinning opponents every week, and dominating every opponent his path. He finished the regular season 45-3, and he again won his region. His only two losses at the Division 3 level to Nathan Barcaskey from Ohio Northern, and Paul Triandafilou of Gettysburg, were losses that he later avenged by pinning each of them. Despite that he came into the national championships seeded 5th. Quietly confident, Gennaro and Coach Headlee knew that if Jake wrestled the way he was capable of, he would win the whole thing. Jake started off the tournament knocking off De’Andre Johnson from Wisconsin-Platteville, which set up a matchup between Jake and the 4th seeded Isaiah Bellamy from Wesleyan. Jake and Bellamy had traded places atop the nation’s leaders for pins all season, but Jake won this one in dramatic fashion, securing a late takedown to set up a rematch with Lance Evans in the national semifinals.
A year after being pinned in the first period by Lance, Jake came out and left no doubt, that he was the better heavyweight as he finished with over 2 minutes of riding time, and an 8-6 victory. Jake started the match off with a takedown that nobody, including Lance, saw coming. Lance quickly escaped to make it 2-1, and Jake followed that up with a blast double to make it 4-1, and then rode him out for the remainder of the period. In the 2nd period Jake took neutral, only to be taken down twice, making the score 5-5 heading into the third period. To my, and Gennaro’s, and probably Jake’s astonishment, Lance took neutral to start the 3rd. Jake hit a beautiful takedown to make it 7-5 and Lance escaped to make it 7-6, leading to a dramatic final minute. Jake was never in danger of being taken down though, and when Lance hit a shot as time expired, we all knew it was over as he had no chance to finish it before the clock expired. The Wartburg coaches challenged the call, and the referees took an awful long time to review it before finally confirming that Jake was headed to the national finals, which led to this:
In the finals Jake would be taking on the 2nd seed James Bethel from Oneonta. Jake started off the match with a takedown, but Bethel quickly escaped and took Jake down. Following 2 questionable stall calls, Jake found himself down 4-2 heading into the 2nd. Bethel was so confident that he was going to win that he flashed a number 1 over to his cheering section during the middle of the 1st period. I later asked Jake if he caught this, and he said he didn’t but he heard the Oneonta cheering section get louder, and that pissed him off. Jake got back on track in the second period. After Bethel escaped to make it 5-2, Jake took him down again to cut Bethel’s lead 5-4. In the 3rd period Jake took neutral and worked to set up his shot. Finally, with 1:00 left he shot a double and grabbed hold of Bethel’s legs. The shot had no real set up, but on sheer strength, and will power, he drove directly through Bethel and took him straight to his back for a 6 point move and held him there for the remainder of the match securing his place as the first National Champion in school history. The Johnson and Wales coaches captured Gennaro sprawled across the mat, as if he was trying to pin Bethel himself. The arena erupted in applause. It was easily the one of the most emotional moments I have ever had while watching a match. The Waynesburg cheering section was going absolutely wild yelling, cheering, and crying, as they celebrated their champion.
After the match we celebrated with the team, and the cheering section at Brasa Steakhouse. There was so much joy, and laughter, and meat consumed. Hearing the emotion in Coach Headlee’s voice as he thanked everybody that had come to support Jake was incredibly powerful. Coach Headlee and Coach Yates took over a program that went 0-11 the year before, and has turned them into a program that is respected on a national level. As I watched Gennaro confidently speak about Jake and the direction of the program, and the support that the team and the community provided, and I saw how many people from Waynesburg were there to support Jake, it resonated with me on a level that is hard to define, but in a way that only the power of sports can produce, as it brings people together. It is a power that was passed down to us from our parents, and that I know everybody who was there last night felt. No matter what Jake chooses to do when he graduates, he will be able to use the lessons he learned, and remember the amount of work he put in to reach that moment, and he will always be remembered, as a National Champion.