MADISON — For some athletes, it takes years of playing multiple sports to discover which one is right for them.
Jacob Sacra’s passion for wrestling was instilled in him at a very early age.
The son of longtime Madison County wrestling coach Mike Sacra, the sophomore admits that his love for the sport is hereditary.
“My dad has been the coach since before I was born, so I have always been around it,” Jacob Sacra said.
The Sacras shared the ultimate father-son moment last month after Jacob pinned Marion’s Will Moss to capture the VHSL Class 2 state heavyweight wrestling championship at the Salem Civic Center.
Jacob Sacra’s first state championship came in Mike Sacra’s final match as Madison County coach after 28 years at the helm of the Mountaineers’ program.
“He is always pushing me to be better,” Jacob Sacra said of his father. “He always tells me anyone can be beaten on any day. The biggest thing I’ve learned from him is how to be mentally focused.”
The 6-foot-6, 290-pound sophomore qualified for states as a freshman, but lost in the semifinals and had to settle for third place. He said that loss served as motivation this winter.
But the season wasn’t without its peaks and valleys.
Sacra rolled through most of the regular season before suffering a difficult loss to Fluvanna County’s Alden Custer at the Big Red Invitational at Riverheads High School.
That match served as a wake-up call for Sacra.
“This season went pretty well,” he said. “Our last big tournament before the postseason was an eye-opener. I didn’t wrestle well and it was right before postseason stated.”
Sacra rebounded and won the Bull Run District and Region 2B titles to secure another trip to the state tournament.
“You have to be mentally focused before you can get caught up in all of the extra stuff and listen to people that can cause you not to perform well,” Sacra said. “When I step on to a mat, I want to dominate my opponent. I want him to feel my presence physically until the match is over.”
He credits that mindset from studying other wrestlers, such as Kyle Dake, who won four NCAA titles in four different weight classes at Cornell University. Sacra also is a big fan of Jordan Burroughs, who won gold for the United States during the 2012 Olympics in London.
The Madison County product said wrestling is unique. It’s more than a battle of brute force, it’s also one of the mind.
“If you are not in a sport like wrestling, it is easy to get down on yourself,” Sacra said. “If you give up an early takedown, you’re not mentally focused and it is going to be hard for you to come back and win that match.”
Wrestling has also served Sacra well in his other sport — football. He started as a freshman and has been named all-district in each of his first two seasons as a two-way standout up front for the Mountaineers. Not bad for someone that didn’t start playing the sport until the ninth grade.
Sacra said there are a lot of similarities between the two sports, which made the transition seamless.
“In wrestling, there is a lot of position work and that helps me a lot in football, especially being on the line,” Sacra said. “Football is a physically demanding sport too, so it helps me get ready for wrestling.”
But as with any contact sport, injuries are always a concern. Sacra was injured in the third game last fall, which kept him out for the remainder of the season.
The injury helped him learn more about the game from a different perspective.
“I was pretty upset that I was not able to play, but I think I was still a good influence to the team by just being at practice and still helping as much as I could,” Sacra said. “It was a good experience because I got to do more than play. I got to help my teammates learn and I got to encourage them a little more than I did the previous year.”
That commitment to the sport and his prowess on the gridiron has made him a very hot commodity among college coaches.
“The recruiting process is going pretty well,” Sacra said. “I will probably play football, just given my size. I am still growing and already cutting for 285 pounds. Liberty offered me last summer. I have some interest from Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and a couple others.”
Another one of Sacra’s passions is fishing. He enjoys fishing trips to Lake Anna, Chesapeake Bay and Virginia Beach. His biggest catch was a stingray at Virginia Beach.
In the classroom, his favorite subject is history.
“I don’t have much spare time between school, practice and workouts,” Sacra said. “My life revolves around sports and athletics. I don’t know what I would do without them.”
That is why his performance at the Class 2 state championships was so memorable for Sacra and his family.
“It was awesome to end the season and [my father’s coaching] career the way we did,” Sacra said. “I didn’t feel any extra pressure. Before the match he told me, ‘You’re here, the pressure’s off, just wrestle.’”
Sacra did just that and he returned home a state champion.
“Ever since, I was little, I wanted to win states,” Sacra said. “It has been a goal of mine. It was very important, especially this year.”