Danbury, Connecticut, and Raleigh, North Carolina, do not have too much in common, yet a pipeline is developing between the former’s high school and the latter’s largest university.
Danbury High’s wrestling team is consistently one of the top programs in New England, and is on track to send a third standout to NC State. Junior Ryan Jack committed to the school in the offseason.
That falls on the heels of Kevin Jack winning the ACC championships at 141 pounds for the Wolfpack, and Jacob Camacho joining the program this year. Ryan Jack spent the summer in Raleigh training nonstop.
“I’ve got 10 years of watching NC State wrestling upcoming, and there may be more,” said Hatters veteran coach Ricky Shook. “They’re taking all my guys and it’s a great thing. You couldn’t ask for a better program for my guys to go to, it’s the same concepts of a program. It’s great for our program that a lot of our guys want to go there.”
“I have some friends down there and I just thought it was a nice place,” Ryan Jack said. “It’s a nice area and beautiful campus; it’s fun and they have a good team.”
Jack is just one of several standouts for the Hatters, who have somehow increased their normally lofty standards even higher over the past two years. Danbury has swept every competition in the state and earned a New England title (2017) and a third (2018) in that time.
“He just loves the sport,” Shook said of Jack. “If you love it and you’re talented — he’s got God-given talent and a hard worker. He’s exceptional right now and he’s brought it to another level this year. He thinks he’s the coach.”
The Hatters will look a little different this winter, as new starters are set to take over up and down the lineup. Shook noted that with several wrestlers with limited varsity experience, a learning curve will occur.
A core four should keep the Hatters atop the state. Jack (120), Kyle Fields (132), Ben LeBlanc (113) and Montez Osbey (195) are all capable of winning championships; Jack, Fields and LeBlanc won at Class LL last season while Osbey made the final at 220.
“You go through waves of kids and we’ve been lucky that way,” Shook said. “This year we have our studs, but we have some green kids. We’ll see; we have to teach a lot more this year.”
One key loss was in the middle of the lineup, where nationally ranked AJ Kovacs transferred to Iona Prep. DJ Donovan will wrestle at 220 after grappling at 195 a year ago, switching with Osbey.
Danbury faces another gantlet of a schedule before the postseason begins. The biggest tournament takes place the weekend of Dec. 22-23, when the Hatters travel to Delaware for the Beast of the East Tournament.
“It’s going to be fun,” Fields said. “I think we have a pretty good team this year and we’re looking forward to it.”
Following the trip south, Danbury hosts the Ryan Sabbagh Holiday Tournament on Dec. 29; then makes two visits in January to two of the best teams in New England: Mount Anthony (Jan. 21) and Timberlane (Jan. 26).
“It will be an interesting year,” Shook said. “We go to the toughest tournament in the country in two weeks; we have a lot of new guys in the lineup and a lot of guys who did work in the offseason, so it’s hard to tell how good they are with our own guys wrestling them.”
“It’s always a goal to win everything,” Jack said. “We just have to work as hard as we can and see what happens.”