Old Dominion freshman Jack Dechow never lost faith as he watched his former Richmond-Burton teammates, Cameron Kennedy and Garrett Sutton, in the state individual wrestling tournament via live stream Saturday night.
Both were losing in the final minute, but Dechow, watching in his dormitory room in Norfolk, Va., had a feeling. He knew Kennedy and Sutton had the training and talent to pull out a championship. He also knew that Rockets coach Bret Wojcik had them mentally prepared.
“Coach [Wojcik] says, ‘Wrestle to compete, don’t wrestle to win.’ ” said Dechow, the Class 2A 182-pound state champion a year ago. “When you’re competing, you’re thinking about taking 100 shots, taking it to kids, wrestling to the buzzer. That’s when you wrestle your best.”
Sure enough, Kennedy scored a takedown just before time expired and beat Montini’s Jordan Laster, 3-2. Sutton got a takedown with less than 30 seconds remaining and held on to defeat Sycamore’s Austin Culton, 5-4.
In nine seasons as R-B’s head coach, Wojcik has coached wrestlers to six individual state championships – Jordan Blanton (2005, ’06 and ’08), Dechow and now Kennedy and Sutton. Wojcik made such an impression with Dechow and Blanton, who now wrestles at Illinois, that they both consider him a friend for life.
“I told Woj that the way they won was exactly what I got out of being an R-B wrestler,” said Blanton, who was at Illinois’ Assembly Hall, sitting with Rockets fans for the tournament. “Our motto’s ‘Relentless.’ It’s about wrestling the whole six minutes. It was great.”
It’s funny how Wojcik, a football guy at Glenbard East and Wisconsin-Platteville, who used high school wrestling as “offseason training,” now is full metal wrestling all the way.
“I really fell in love with wrestling later,” Wojcik said. “I wish I’d gotten into it more in high school.”
Wrestling, however, did make an impact with Wojcik at East, particularly through assistant coach Kevin Carlson. Wojcik graduated in 1998, Carlson took over as head coach the next year and remains as head coach. The two are so close now that Carlson will serve as best man in Wojcik’s wedding this summer.
“That always stuck with me, that he wanted to have that lasting relationship with his former coach,” Blanton said.
Blanton and Dechow regard Wojcik just like Wojcik looked to Carlson. They admire how hard he works and how he shows the same attitude toward a junior-varsity wrestler as he would a star. With all his wrestlers, Wojcik preaches visualization and a positive mental attitude. He says he learned a lot about that aspect of the sport from Carlson.
“I have the same format for all the kids who have that potential and tweak it to fit their personality,” Wojcik said. “Jack and Jordan gave me a lot of feedback. Garrett and Cam are a little quieter. It’s making them realize the little things that helped give our guys the edge and our conditioning and things like that.”
Dechow, who was state runner-up as a sophomore and junior, says his discussions about the mental side with Wojcik pushed him over the top to win as a senior.
“It’s always staying mentally strong, don’t let anybody get in your head,” Dechow said. “The only person who can beat you is yourself. He could always tell when I have a problem and we would talk. You try not to let it come into the wrestling room.”
Wojcik came to R-B as an assistant in the 2003-04 school year and took over as head coach the next season, Blanton’s freshman year. Blanton won three state championships, lost one match and finished fifth in the NCAA tournament at 174 pounds last year. Blanton still values Wojcik’s input.
“He’s probably the most motivating coach I’ve ever had in my life,” Blanton said. “I plan on being around the sport of wrestling the rest of my life and I’ll pick his brain and find out how he did such a good job pushing my buttons.”
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.