Jake Norris thought the worst had happened.
The 160-pound Coeur d’Alene High School wrestler was trying to get away from his opponent in a tournament in early January when he felt his left knee pop.
His doctor gave him hope, though, when he told him he had strained the medial collateral ligament.
“It hurt real bad at first,” Norris said. “I thought I hurt it worse.”
The doctor told him it would heal over time. But Norris didn’t have time to wait. He wasn’t about to sit out the rest of the season.
So he tried to find a compromise that would allow his knee to heal ever so slowly but continue to compete this season. He decided to take things lightly in practice between matches.
In his first match a week after the injury at the Rocky Mountain Classic in Missoula, Norris was too tentative. He lost and ended up finishing seventh.
“I favored it in my first match,” Norris said. “Then I got over it.”
In a way, Norris had to try to wrestle as if the injury didn’t occur.
A junior, this is Norris’ first year at CHS. He transferred from Kellogg this year because his parents thought he and his brother would have more academic and athletic opportunities at a bigger school.
A two-time state qualifier, Norris placed fifth at 160 at the State 3A tournament last year.
Norris will take a 27-8 record into the state-qualifying 5A Region I tournament this weekend at Lakeland High School. He’s ranked second in the state. He lost 7-3 to top-ranked Charlie McMartin of Capital in the semifinals of the Rollie Lane tournament at Nampa. He was injured two matches later while wrestling for third and fourth places.
“I didn’t come out explosive enough against him,” Norris said of the loss to McMartin. “I usually push the pace. I got behind and he controlled the match. I didn’t do anything offensively.”
So Norris has his mind on redemption. If the current rankings translate into seedings at state, McMartin and Norris could meet in the championship match.
“I’ve got my eyes set on him,” Norris said.
“Before he got hurt one of the things he had going for him was he has a great gas tank,” CHS coach Jeff Moffat said of Norris.
In other words, Norris’ engine never stops.
“He’s a tough kid and a lot of kids wouldn’t wrestle with his injury,” Moffat said. “If he were healthy I’d give him a great shot to win a state title.”
One of Norris’ top assets, Moffat said, is his intelligence. Norris carries a 3.9 grade-point average.
Norris already knows what he wants to do in life. He’s considering a major in architectural or civil engineering.
Although Norris placed at state last year, Moffat thought he was underdeveloped in many ways when he arrived at CHS.
“He had some bad habits we needed to break,” Moffat said. “He’s picked up on things quick. He’s very coachable. He always wants to learn.”
Even though Norris is injured, Moffat thinks a one-legged Norris is better than no Norris.
“He’s going to be hard to beat no matter what,” Moffat said. “How well he’ll do, it’s hard to say because the state format is different this year (two days instead of three). He’s going to have less recovery time between matches.”
Norris believes his knee has healed somewhat.
“(The ligaments) are tightening up which is a good sign,” Norris said. “It means the tendons are coming back together.”
He has the knee taped and wears a brace for each match.
“I don’t think about it during a match,” he said. “The match is more important to me than the knee. There are times that it hurts. But you’ve got to push past it. It definitely feels like it’s stabilized a little.”
Norris credits Moffat for helping him sharpen his technique this year.
“He’s definitely taught me a lot,” Norris said. “I’ve always been an aggressive wrestler, but he’s made me more so – I’m always attacking and trying to control the match.”
CHSis ranked second in the state. Norris expects the Viks to fare well at state.
“If we wrestle to our full potential we’ll take the state title,” Norris said. “We just have to turn it on.”