“My parents say, my sister is in gymnastics and she is like wearing her leotards, so they decided to put me in something that resembled that (a singlet) so I started when I was 4 and I’ve been going ever since,” Jake Otuafi, a junior wrestler at Reed, said.
Now 16 years old, Otuafi, the owner of a 4.0 grade-point average, is one of the better 145-pound wrestlers in the North. With a 35-8 record after Wednesday night’s dual with Reno, the junior is determined to earn a state berth after a cruel ending to his sophomore campaign.
In the match to earn a spot in the third-fourth place match in the North tournament last season (top three go to state) Otuafi saw his season end in double overtime, by a single point, after being called for locking hands.
“(It has) definitely (provided motivation). Last year, I honestly thought I was going to go to state but ended up not because of the ref making that decision,” Otuafi said. “So this year it has definitely motivated me because I want to get to state again and prove that I can win.”
As a freshman, Otuafi advanced to the state tournament in the 120-pound weight class after finishing third in the North.
First-year Reed wrestling coach Mike Klapp believes a second trip to the state tournament in three years is certainly a reachable goal for Otuafi.
“It is certainly the expectation is that Jake gets to that next level…,” Klapp said. “He wrestles with a mat presence that most kids don’t have. I think he has a fight in him that a lot of kids don’t on the mat.”
Otuafi and Klapp both named Reno’s Jeremy Smith and Carson’s Brady O’Keefe as obstacles in a potential return trip to state.
Otuafi, who is 3-1 in league duals, beat O’Keefe in points in a dual at Carson, and fell in points in a tournament at Fernley. . He lost to Smith last week.
Following last year’s disheartening defeat, Otuafi made a change in his wrestling style. Formerly wrestling more passively, he decided to become more of an aggressor – it’s working.
“He has made a big choice to kind of change things up and it’s been effective for him,” Klapp said. “I think some of his most effective stuff has been coming off his offense and he sees it. He has a lot of naturally ability and it shows.”
Only a junior, Otuafi says he sees collegiate wrestling in his future but is unsure where he wants to land.
Wrestling is not the only sport the Reed junior started at a young age. When he was 7, he strapped on the shoulder pads and started playing football. As a future Raider, it only made sense that he would continue playing at the school that has now become a powerhouse in the North. The Reed football team has won three consecutive North titles and four in the last five years.
But once Otuafi walked in the Reed halls as a freshman, he left the cleats at the door.
“I have been wrestling for so long I just had more passion for wrestling than I did for football,” Otuafi said. “So that kind of persuaded which way I wanted to go.”
The Reed wrestling program has undoubtedly been the beneficiary of his decision as Klapp says Otuafi is one of his top three wrestlers.
What started as an excuse to throw on a singlet has grown into a way of life for Otuafi. And given his success on the mat, it may open the door to college as well – not that he needs it with a spotless G.P.A.
Otuafi starts his quest to return the state tournament Friday in the North tournament at Reno High.