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By JARED BELL
After he lost in his first state title match four seasons ago, Washington’s Jacob Warner did something rather peculiar.
He went for a run.
“As a freshman in the state final, he wrestled (Richmond-Burton alumnus and two-time state champion) Garrett Sutton, who is now at Michigan, and gave him a good run, but in the end a lack of strength and size cost him,” Washington coach Bryan Medlin recalls.
“Afterwards, we went to the tunnel and he started doing wind sprints. I’ll never forget it because that’s the end of the year for most people, but for him it wasn’t about that. He wanted to be better and wasn’t as worried about that match. Rather, he wanted to be better for it. I’m sure some people looked at him like he had lost his mind.”
Instead of crying, sulking or even taking a moment to catch his breath, Warner went back to work – immediately.
“After he was done running his sprints,” Medlin said, “I told him, ‘If you can continue being like this, if you can keep whatever this is, you’ll really have something special.’”
While Warner always had the talent to be good, his unrelenting work ethic and desire to become the best has made him great and one of the state’s – and nation’s – best wrestlers.
After Warner proved his merit by qualifying for Team USA and competing in September’s UWW Cadet World Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia in Europe/Asia, he continued his run of success last weekend.
Now a senior and a two-time state champion, Warner won the 195-pound weight class at the star-studded Walsh Jesuit Ironman Tournament in Ohio to avenge last year’s runner-up performance.
“I expected to win it last year, too, but that didn’t happen, so this year I really wanted to come out on top,” Warner said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I was the best, and I think I did that.”
Did he ever.
As the weight’s No. 1 seed, Warner cruised through the tournament as he outscored his opponents by an astonishing score of 43-1.
“It was kind of surprising a little bit, but it also wasn’t because I hold myself to high expectations,” Warner said. “I wanted to dominate like that, but 43-1 is a pretty big margin and I didn’t know it’d be that big.”
It was just yet another step in his wrestling journey, which started at age six.
As “a participant in almost every sport as a kid,” he eventually settled on wrestling and gave up the rest.
He began to take the sport more seriously in junior high and experienced success his freshman season at Washington when he placed second in the Class 2A 160-pound weight class.
As a sophomore, he won the Class 2A 170-pound state title and repeated as state champion in February at 182 pounds.
“Coming into high school, my expectations were not what I am now,” Warner said. “I never thought I’d be this good or have this kind of success. I thought maybe I could win a state title by my junior or senior year and maybe wrestle in college. My goals were a lot different than what they are now.”
In the latest GO EARN IT Wrestling Apparel rankings, Warner is currently the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the Class 2A 195-pound weight class as he looks for his third straight state title and fourth state medal this season.
“Being at Washington really changed everything,” said Warner, who won a Class 2A dual team state title with Washington last season. “The mindset is just different. Once I surrounded myself with everything and everyone, it wasn’t hard to buy into it. The coaches showed me the road and kind of opened my eyes to how good I could be.”
His success – both in the Illinois season and on the offseason cadet stage – made him one of the nation’s most sought-after recruits, but in the end deciding to wrestle at Iowa was an easy choice.
“With Iowa, it’s Iowa so it’s like the Mecca of wrestling – or at least it is in my eyes,” Warner said. “The first time I heard from them it was a cool experience. The whole recruiting process was great, and I couldn’t be more pleased with where I am going. I’m going to be surrounded by kids and coaches who have the same goals as I do.”
After he won his second state title last season, Warner qualified for Team USA and competed in the UWW Cadet World Championships at 85kg. He finished with a bronze medal.
“Coming into high school, his attitude was special,” Medlin said. “He’s the type of kid who every day wants to know more. Every day he wanted to be bigger and stronger and understand positions more. Anytime you have that attitude and can keep it for this long, you’re going to be successful, and he sure has been.”
With two individual state titles, a dual team state title and an appearance in an elite international tournament under his belt, what does Warner have left to prove and keep him motivated this season?
“I want to win a world title,” he said. “This year, I didn’t get it and ended up getting bronze, so this season and into next summer is all about training to make the junior world team and then winning a world title. Some people may say that’s a lot, but that’s what I want to do and where I want to go. I don’t want to just wrestle in college. I want to go past that and wrestle in the Olympics.”
Given his success so far and his work ethic, there’s few people betting against him.
“What I’m most proud of is that he’s remained a good kid throughout this whole process,” Medlin said. “The fact that he went through this development process and never got a big head or felt like he was better than anyone else is what I’m most proud of. He’s never really acted like he’s a superstar.”
Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.