Even in the biggest moments, the nerves never really get to North Hall wrestler Jacob Pedraza.
As he eyed Jefferson’s Tyson Thurmond ahead of the 120-pound championship bout of the Class 3A traditional meet last Saturday in Macon, Pedraza found a personal moment of zen that he is used to seeking out before important matches.
“Really, when it’s down to those moments, I really just want to stay calm, to myself as much as possible,” he said. “I know I’ve practiced a lot, so I just try to stay calm, and hopefully the rest will work out.”
Usually when he hits the mat, it does. And against Thurmond, Pedraza’s calmness was nearly as valuable as the years of hard work and training leading up to the state title match.
After being taken down early in the bout, Pedraza recovered for a first-period pin on Thurmond that put a neat bow on a season of dominance from the North Hall wrestler. It was his second consecutive individual state championship, as he took home first last year wrestling at 113 pounds. He finished second at the state meet as a freshman.
“It felt good,” he said of his most recent win. “A lot of relief knowing that a lot of hard work has gone to a good place.”
Hard work has been Pedraza’s calling card since he began his wrestling career 12 years ago as a 5-year-old with the Junior Trojans.
Since the beginning, his passion for the sport has only grown.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said.
Pedraza wrestled at the junior level for eight years, and by the time he reached high school, he was ready to take the next step up. Following in the footsteps of his older brother John, Jacob Pedraza had expectations for success when he first arrived at North Hall.
Even still, his skill and knowledge of the sport made an immediate impression on Trojans coach David Nichols.
“He’s just a student of the sport,” Nichols said. “He’s always really loved the technical side of things. That’s where he’s had a strong advantage.”
Coaching Pedraza’s to state titles is nothing new for Nichols — who had already seen both Jacob and John reach the pinnacle of high school wrestling prior to Jacob’s most recent victory — but that did not take anything away from the moment for the North Hall coach.
“Even if you’ve won one before, every one of them is special,” Nichols said. “You know how much hard work goes into winning a state title. You can’t help being super excited for anybody who reached that goal. For me, it’s just feeling blessed to be part of the journey with him.”
For Pedraza, wrestling has meant so much more than winning titles and earning accolades.
Through all his individual success, it’s the moments of cameraderie amongst teammates that have stood out the most to him.
“It’s a way for me to connect with my closest friends at North Hall,” he said. “Everybody on my team, those are my brothers. We get to go out and compete against the best teams in the state. That’s what it’s about for me, being able to bond with people and accomplish something greater than myself.”
That said, winning is nice too.
Part of Pedraza’s pre-match calm stems from having been there before. He’s wrestled for individual state championships three times now and knows what to expect by now. But as he stood victorious on the mat in the Macon Centreplex, the thrill of victory was as strong as its ever been in the last 12 years of competition.
“Honestly,” he said. “The second one felt better.”