Most athletes go into their senior years with goals of individual or team glory, but that wasn’t necessarily the case with Ridgeland’s Jacob Mariakis this past season.
Make no mistake, Mariakis badly wanted to win, for himself and for his team. But most of all, he simply wanted to enjoy his final season on the mat free from injury, something that had eluded him the past two seasons.
And after two years of fighting through painful shoulder injuries, surgeries and rehab — all while still managing to gut out a pair of state championships in abbreviated seasons — Mariakis got his wish...and that spelled major trouble for the opposition.
He capped an incredible high school career with a school record-tying third consecutive GHSA state championship back in February and, today, he adds to his list of achievements with the 2018-2019 Walker County Boys’ Athlete of the Year award.
“I’m very appreciative and just grateful for the opportunity,” said Mariakis, who was also awarded the Vonn Bell Male Athlete of the Year award at Ridgeland High back in the spring. “God gets all the glory and it’s just an honor because I know a bunch of the other athletes from the other schools in our county and there are some really good athletes.”
Mariakis took Walker County Wrestler of the Year honors earlier this year after a 50-1 senior season. He won area and state sectionals titles before dominating the Class 4A 152-pound field at the state finals in Macon. He quickly won his first two matches by first-period pin before scoring a 15-0 technical fall in the semifinals.
Then, in the championship bout, he dispatched Woodward Academy’s Michael Wiley, 13-1, just a week after he beat the War Eagles’ standout 15-0 in the state sectional finals. His title, along with some more high podium finishes by his teammates, helped Ridgeland finish a very respectable sixth overall in the Class 4A team standings.
Mariakis said he tried to treat his senior year just like any other year on the mat.
“What I’ll remember most of all (about his senior year) is just how I competed,” he explained. “I was able to compete at my best for a whole year. That’s hard to do and it’s rarely done. I had been hurt the past couple of seasons, so just the fact that I was consistently the same the whole time was great.”
The future Chattanooga Moc finished 149-6 for his Ridgeland career with five of the losses coming in a freshman season that saw him finish as state runner-up. His three state titles left him tied with former Ridgeland great Jacob Harris for the most ever in a Panther singlet. Harris is now the head wrestling coach at Saddle Ridge Middle School.
“It’s special, especially tying (the record) with Coach Harris,” he said. “There was a picture of him hanging up at Ridgeland that I used to look at when I was young. Every time I would walk past it, I would look up at it and say ‘I want to be like that and I want to do that’. Now that I’ve accomplished that goal, it just makes me want to go accomplish even more.”
Mariakis said the magnitude of what he was able to accomplish during his four years at Ridgeland is starting to sink in. However, he said he’s already thinking ahead and not resting on his laurels.
“There are bigger accomplishments now that I need to try and achieve,” he added. “High school is kind of in the past now. Not that I can’t look back and be thankful, but I have bigger plans and goals for my life.”
He also credited those close to him for helping him get to the level he is now.
“My family and teammates have constantly helped me get better and helped me practice hard,” he continued. “Even if I wanted to slack off, I’ve always had somebody right there in my ear telling me ‘just a little bit more’ and pushing me to be my best. They’ve kind of taught me how to do it on my own now, so I’m self-driven.”