After one match in his freshman wrestling season, Jake Mason of University had to quit because of a ruptured testicle that swelled to the size of a grapefruit.
At that point, immaturity took over. Without being able to participate in the sport he loved, Mason lost direction.
“I hit the party scene too much after the injury and went downhill,” Mason, now a senior, recalled. “I turned to booze and drugs (marijuana) and got in trouble.”
He was cited for minor in possession.
“It was affecting school – everything in my life,” he said. “I was going down the wrong path. I was so angry that I couldn’t wrestle.”
As life is wont to do, a second chance came along in the form of divine intervention.
“Pretty much God turned it around for me,” Mason said. “I realized how stupid my actions were. I realized all of my wrestling idols don’t booze or party.”
Among Mason’s wrestling idols is University coach Don Owen.
“I looked at the way Don lived his life,” Mason said. “He’s a role model. I’ll look up to him the rest of my life. He helped me become a man.”
The maturation process began his sophomore year. He qualified for state at 145 pounds and came within a match of placing.
Then things took a giant leap as a junior. He surprised his coach, going 35-1 and capturing a 4A state championship at 160.
“When the year started, I had no reason to believe he was going to be as close to as good as he would be as the season progressed,” Owen said.
Mason capped the season in a remarkable way, winning by technical fall, 18-3, in the final.
“That’s almost unheard of,” Owen said of Mason’s domination in the final.
Mason’s lone loss came in the quarterfinals at the Rocky Mountain Classic in Missoula. He lost 11-10 to Andre Rivera of Ferris. Mason avenged that loss quickly, facing off with Rivera in the same tourney for third and winning 7-1. He went on to beat Rivera three more times last year.
Mason returned to the Rocky Mountain Classic two weeks ago hoping to claim the one tourney title that eluded him last year. And he ended up facing a familiar foe, Mead’s Jordan Rogers, who captured a state title last year as a freshman.
Late in the second period, Mason tried a double-leg shot but Rogers not only fended it off, he caught Mason in a head-and-arm move, throwing him to his back. Five points later the match essentially was over with Rogers winning 10-4.
Mason was so disgusted by the loss that he watched video of the match four times the next day. He had topped Rogers 3-2 in the final at the Tri-State tournament for his second win there and pinned the Panther in a dual earlier this season.
Mason chalked up the loss to being impatient.
“I wanted to go undefeated this year,” said Mason, who is 29-1. “I’ve had a huge re-evaluation of my attitude. This whole season I wanted to win every match in a dominating way and I haven’t. There have been matches where I’ve just gotten by.”
Mason and Rogers have developed a friendly rivalry. They’ll likely face off three more times this year, perhaps in the state final.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Mason said. “He’s a tough kid.”
The respect is mutual.
“He’s a classy guy on and off the mat,” Rogers said. “What’s difficult against him is he stays in good position all the time. He’s got a good gas tank on him. He’s tough to score on.”
Mason, who wants to go on and wrestle in college, credits much of his ability to endure to senior teammate Ryan Zumwalt, a 152-pounder. They tangle each day in practice.
“Ryan has made me as successful as I can be and I’ve made Ryan as successful as he can be,” Mason said.
Zumwalt, who was denied a state championship last year on a late controversial call in his title match, agreed.
“He has this thing about him that he never gives up,” Zumwalt said. “So going against him seems to make my other matches seem easier. I don’t get tired because of the way we go at in practice. When we battle every day it’s like a state final match.”
Owen has enjoyed watching a boy become a man.
“Wrestling helped him connect with the right people and get his life squared away and develop some goals,” Owen said. “Last year he became a mature, respectful young man.
“He’s such a joy to coach.”