All-area wrestling team
COACH OF THE YEAR
By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Don't bother cheering for Nick Bakos during a match. He can't hear you.
He can't hear the screams from the fans. He can't hear his coaches hollering at him, telling him to swing around this way or drive his hips that way.
When Bakos is on the mat, he can't hear anything. He's too focused. While the noise festers around him, Bakos is focused on two things -- his next move and his opponent's next move. Maybe that's why he's so good, so intense during a match. Maybe that's why in four years at Sherando High School, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2009-10 Wrestler of the Year went 163-24, including a 54-2 mark this season. And maybe that's how after years of training and conditioning, Bakos finally achieved his goal of becoming a state champion.
It's difficult to think of what the past few years may have been for Bakos if he had, in fact, let his doubts about wrestling get the best of him. It was back in fifth grade, and Bakos was only months from starting middle school. He had been wrestling for a few years, garnering interest after his older brother, A.J., wrestled, too.
But something wasn't right for Bakos. He wasn't feeling the passion needed to succeed. He thought about quitting.
"I don't know, it kind of got to the point where me and my brother were always a 1-2 punch," he said. "We'd go to tournaments together when we were little and it got really competitive. At one point we were on and off winning and losing so I kind of got burned out with it. I told him I really didn't want to come back. He said, 'Give it one more year. If you don't like it you can do whatever you want.'"
Looking back, it was the best advice anyone had ever given him. Trusting his brother, Bakos stuck with it, and as he grew older, his passion grew as well.
Eventually, Bakos became one of the top wrestlers in the area, but by the time senior year came, he was still without a state championship. Knowing this season was his last chance at a title, Bakos went to work. He went on a diet in order to keep his weight around the 171-mark. He cut out soda, fast food trips and always made sure he came in at weigh-in time.
That hard work began to pay off, as Bakos rolled through the regular season, then captured his third consecutive district and regional championships. In the state tournament, Bakos continued his dominance, winning his first three matches to advance to the state finals, where Tabb High School's Chris Junio awaited.
The night before the match, Bakos sat in his hotel room. His teammates were relaxing, the ones whose tournaments were over. Bakos, meanwhile, began to zone out and look back on his career as a wrestler.
"Thinking about second place wasn't in my mind at all," he said. "I remember, if I got second place I don't know what I would've done with myself. It kind of gave me chills, made me tear up a bit thinking that kids on our team would die to be in this position. I was really nervous, but it was a different nervous. I kind of felt like if I lost, coming back here saying I got second wasn't going to happen. It was either say I got first or say I didn't place to me, that's how I looked at it."
Early on in his match, Bakos found himself trailing by two points, after a takedown by Junio sent him on his back. No matter, however. According to Bakos, wrestling is "back and forth." One guy scores some points, then the other tries to come back and match him. He didn't panic, and neither did coach Pepper Martin. Despite the urge to holler at Bakos, Martin stayed quiet, watching his wrestler fight it out.
"As a coach, and I know some people would say I'm not telling the truth, but I knew we weren't in trouble," Martin said. "I just knew he would find a way to come back, tie it up and take the lead. And [not listening to me] isn't out of disrespect. He would even say sometimes, 'Coach I couldn't hear what you're saying.' It's not like he was ignoring it or anything. It was just simply, there are some wrestlers where you can yell all the moves you want and they're so focused on what they're doing in the match that they don't comprehend it."
Sure enough, Bakos eventually turned the tables on Junio, taking the lead and capturing the Group AA state championship at 171 pounds. After the match, the words were hard to come by for Bakos. He was ecstatic, sure, but the thought that he had actually achieved his goal had yet to hit him.
He had the gold medal around his neck and the winner's plaque in his hand. But the day wasn't complete. There was still the matter of the year-end Sherando tradition.
Before the Warriors headed back home, they stopped off of Interstate 81, where a fuel stop and a trip to Burger King completed the season. For Bakos, it was his first fast food experience since he could remember, and though it sounded like a good reward, his body had forgotten what it was like to indulge.
"It was horrible," he said. "I haven't eaten it since. I was about to throw up."
The meal to end the day may have left him feeling queasy, but it was the feeling just a few hours before that Bakos will never forget. The feeling that everything he worked for had come to fruition. The feeling that persistence and determination had paid off. The feeling that after so long, he was now a state champion.
Bakos said he is unsure what the future holds for him. He plans on making some visits to nearby colleges, including the University of Maryland, West Virginia University and Old Dominion University, and he's not sure if he wants to wrestle again.
If the state championship was the end for Bakos, it was a fitting end for a kid who has worked so hard to reach his goal. In the days following his title Bakos had to remind himself there would be no more wrestling this season. All of the practices were done and all of the cheers for his name were finished.
Not that he could hear them, anyway.