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High school wrestling: Two state titles down, one to go for South phenom Jacob Cox

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE — Jacob Cox doesn’t do anything routinely, even his down-time.

Cox is currently on vacation out west, taking in the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and a half-dozen national parks.

“It’s a cool vacation, but it’s been hot in Arizona and Utah,” Cox said.

Cox recently finished an epic wrestling season that merited a grand vacation. He was 22-0 and was crowned as 2A state champion at 138 pounds. He shares the Post’s Wrestler of the Year honor with East Rowan’s 160-pound 3A champ Oren Bost.

“He and I are close, good friends through club wrestling,” Cox said. “During the worst of COVID, we helped each other to keep pushing.”

Cox, the son of former Northwest Cabarrus wrestler Adam Cox, a state champion in 1999 and a college wrestler at N.C. State, burst on the local wrestling scene with a third-place finish at 113 pounds in 2019 as a South freshman. He became a state champion, while managing to stick at 113 as a sophomore, surviving on lean meat, avocados, fish, chicken and oatmeal.

But Cox is growing, not unusual for a high school junior.

“I wrestled in a tournament at Myrtle Beach at 120, but that was pretty tough, and then I wrestled some at 130, but it was still kind of hard to make the weight,” Cox said. “About halfway though this season, I just decided I’d go on up to 138 where I could eat a lot.  I decided I was done with cutting weight and I just wanted to compete at my natural weight. I got addicted to the weight room and aspired to continue to see the gains that I was steadily making throughout the year. Also, I wanted to show that I was not afraid of larger competition. I wasn’t going to cut weight to run away from anyone, because I am confident in my abilities as a wrestler.”

The wrestlers he faced at 138 were much different than the ones he’d been overpowering at 113, but Cox is Cox. He kept on being successful. He’s laser-focused and driven to be the best.

“First of all, I just hate losing,” Cox said. “Losing makes me feel as though I’ve let everyone down, myself included. I hold a very high standard for myself, and this year I believe I have finally accomplished an unbeaten season. My coaches and family have given me so much support that I didn’t want to do anything but dominate throughout the year.”

This shortened and delayed COVID season seriously tested his laser-focus. Every time there was a new COVID outbreak in a neighboring county, there was fear that there wouldn’t be a season at all, but wrestlers finally got on the mat the last week of April.

“We had a very small team at South due to the change in season as well as the change in season duration,” Cox said. “We only had a few conference matches with a few extra duals and no tournaments.  It was more difficul  to stay focused and consistent throughout the season because it was mostly in the summer and late in the school year, conflicting the interests of most of us from work, wrestling and summer time. There were a ton of distractions.”

Distractions or not, Cox, the Central Carolina Conference Wrestler of the Year, powered through the 2A Midwest Regional, taking his third straight regional title. He posted two pins and a 15-4 major decision before facing North Davidson’s Ian Murdock in the regional final. Murdock (23-4) was strong — but Cox beat him for the second time this season, taking a 5-0 decision.

Then Cox faced a daunting bracket for the 2A State Championships — and could not have gotten a worse draw.

“I believe I had the toughest draw in the entire bracket of the state tournament, regardless of weight class,” Cox said. “With no wrestle-backs this year, the quarterfinals became the ‘blood round,’ meaning if you lose, you don’t place, and if you win, you place. In the quarterfinals, I faced a returning state champion and three-time state placer in (R-S Central’s) Zachariah Lewis. Based on the speculations of many, my match with Lewis (23-4) was the hardest quarterfinal match of the entire state tournament, regardless of weight class or division.”

Cox won the match with relative ease, a 9-1 decision. He scored on a takedown and an escape and racked up near-fall points.

In the semifinals, Cox took on undefeated David Makupson of Trinity, another returning state placer.

Cox got a quick takedown and then pinned Makupson (28-2) in the second round out of a scramble.

“I’ve done a ton of work on what to do when I’m in that position,” Cox said. “I’ve worked on optimizing scoring points instead of just rolling around out there. When I got into a favorable position, I pinned him.”

The championship match against Pisgah’s Louis Mehaffey (27-1) meant taking on another unbeaten wrestler.

“I’d had a comparatively harder road than he did to get to the finals,” Cox said. “I was confident.”

Cox led 3-2 after the first period.

“The first ended with us in a crazy position — he got points for a reversal and I got points for an escape,” Cox said.  “The match was relatively calm after that, with both of us earning escape points.”

Cox eked out a 5-4 decision, not the dominant victory he would have preferred, but a win and his second state title — after moving up four weight classes.

“Maybe not the win I wanted, but it was a win, after all,” Cox said.

Cox lost his grandfather, one of the biggest supporters on his wrestling journey, on New Year’s Day. It was a terrible way to start 2021, but that loss provided the inspiration for his season, and he dedicated the season to his grandfather.

“My grandpa was always there for me, and I know he was watching over me across this whole season, and cheering me on,” Cox said.  “I miss him so much, but I’m thankful that he was able to see me win my first state championship. Now it still hurts that he can’t see how hard I work.”

The next goal for Cox, a rising senior, is difficult, but obvious. While Rowan County has produced a number of two-time state champions (Salisbury’s Gordy Witte and Dwayne Coward, North’s Will Robertson and Marc Gonzalez, East’s Steve Fox and South’s Logan Durham and Logan Lambert), Cox has a chance to be the first three-time champ.

While wrestling is Cox’s thing, he brings equal efficiency and dedication to the classroom. He’s gifted in science and math and good in everything. He holds the highest GPA (4.57) in his grade level at South, so he has a chance to be the valedictorian next school year as well as an unforgettable, all-time athlete.

“I’ve succeeded in every high level class that I have taken at South, as well as Rowan Cabarrus Community College,” Cox said. “I hold very high academic expectations for myself and will strive to attend a good academic school. I would love to compete as a college wrestler — as long as it coincides with my academics.”

Cox, who would like to be an engineer down the road, is taking a summer class at RCCC just to make sure he stays ahead in the classroom.

Cox is 104-5 in his career and understands who he is, where he’s been, and where he’s headed. As talented as he is, he understands that he hasn’t gotten to the podium alone.

“I’m thankful for the continued support from amazing friends, family and coaches,” Cox said. “My family has made so many sacrifices for me and for my teammates. My dad is so passionate, not just for me, but for all of my wrestling club team. My mother has been there for everyone as well. She’s been there for them at their very highest, and at their lowest.”

 

 

 

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