Prep wrestling: Figueroa wins Meyer Award
By Mike London
Never one to back away from a challenge, Salisbury junior Joseph Figueroa took up wrestling in middle school on a dare.
“It was seventh grade,” Figueroa said. “I wasn’t gonna wrestle at Knox, but our SOS (Support Our Students) leader, Mr. Shoaf, dared me to. I liked it right off. It was a way to get all my emotions out in a controlled way.”
That was the start. Four years later, the 5-foot-5 Figueroa pours emotion, heart and muscle into Salisbury athletic programs around the clock.
“Everything Figgy’s got he gives you, and that’s why he’s successful,” Salisbury AD and football coach Joe Pinyan said. “Guys like that, success seems to follow them around. He’s always in the weight room, always trying to get better.”
“Figgy” is a gritty, undersized defensive back on the football team. Pinyan says wrestlers, as a rule, make excellent tacklers.
This spring, Figueroa ran the 100 and 200 dashes and handled a leg on the 4×100 and 4×200 relays for Salisbury’s state-championship track team.
Still, wrestling is the sport where he’s starting to gain recognition as someone special. He recently received the Dutch Meyer Award as Rowan County Wrestler of the Year.
“This award is big and means a lot to me,” Figueroa said. “There are some really good wrestlers around like (East Rowan’s) Coleton Boone. That’s someone I looked up to from the time I started wrestling. I wanted to be like him.”
Dutch Meyer was a former Nebraska quarterback who coached football and wrestling at many schools before arriving in Salisbury in 1969. He served as Catawba’s wrestling coach from 1970-83 and was a fixture in the college’s P.E. department for 37 years.
Meyer who died in September, 2008, is remembered for his fighting spirit. He would have been pleased with the selection of Figueroa (37-7), a tough little guy who was county champion at 130 pounds and nearly joined this season’s long list of Salisbury state-title winners when he was runner-up in the 1A-2A state tournament in Winston-Salem.
Figueroa lost to Hillsborough Orange’s James Norman 12-5 in the final.
“In my opinion, I should have won,” Figueroa said. “I had it in me.”
Figueroa couldn’t follow Salisbury’s recent state champs Gordon Witte and Will Mowery, but he won three matches at the state tournament and had his opportunities in the final. For a grappler who didn’t qualify for the state event as a sophomore, he made huge strides.
“I’d say it was because I got pretty good on my takedowns and standups (an escape move) this year,” Figueroa said. “Most of the time I could beat my opponent to the punch.”
Salisbury wrestling coach Todd Allen, part of the program for eight years and head coach for six, extended two impressive streaks through Figueroa.
Allen’s had a state placer every season since he was named head coach. He’s also produced the last four Meyer Award winners. Witte was honored twice, and Mowery once.
Allen, who scheduled several rugged tournaments during the season to test his prize trio of All-CCC wrestlers ó Figueroa, Tre Jackson and Dontarius Mills ó offered his analysis of his latest honoree.
“Joseph is motivated and dedicated,” Allen said. “He’s a bit short, but he uses his height to his advantage. He can get underneath guys and take his shots.”
Salisbury last won the county championship in the 2000-01 school year and isn’t traditionally as strong across the board as East, which has taken the last three county championships ó or South, which won five straight years before East took over.
But Allen is optimistic times are changing.
“The hope is to be good year after year after year,” Allen said. “Next year, we have a good group of eight guys coming back, with many of them AAU wrestlers.
“Jackson and Mills are very good, and we’ve got more coming along. (Football fullback) Ike Whitaker hadn’t wrestled, but he came out for the team this year and was just one match away from state. It’s actually going to be easier for our guys to qualify for state next year with 1A and 2A in separate brackets rather than being combined.”
A key to Salisbury’s dreams will be Figueroa.
He says he doesn’t get tired, loves staying busy with three sports and can’t wait for his senior year.
As the Meyer Award winner he’ll go into that senior year brimming with confidence.
“We’ve got great past state champions here at Salisbury,” he said. “I want to live up to them.”