Between trips to Raleigh to visit friends and attend camps, the site of North Carolina State University became a second home to AJ Kovacs through the years.
It’s a place he will soon be able to officially call home for four years.
The Danbury native and Iona Prep rising senior announced his commitment to wrestle for the Wolfpack last week. The former Hatter grew up in the program before making a change of scenery a year ago, but the continued winning never stopped for the two-time state champion.
“I have my friends, my family there and I’m just ready,” said Kovacs by phone returning from a camp there Wednesday. “I’ve been there so many times, it’s honestly felt like a second home. I loved all of the coaches.”
The pipeline between Danbury and N.C. State is now becoming absurd. Kovacs becomes the fourth commit (Kevin Jack, Jacob Camacho, Ryan Jack) from the city since 2013.
“It’s just a good relationship,” Danbury coach Ricky Shook said. “Our wrestling community is close and our kids are close. This program has built a lot of friendships and once you get a few guys going, kids want to go. The coaches down there take care of our guys.”
Kovacs was a key member of a Hatters team that won a New England championship in 2017 and a third-place finish in 2018. He transferred to Iona Prep after that year to improve his grades enough to accomplish his goals.
On paper it was a big blow to the Hatters’ lineup, but Danbury went on to sweep the FCIAC, Class LL, State Open and New England championships. Kovacs had just one loss himself all season and avenged it when it mattered most.
“It was hard for my guys having him leave,” Shook said. “He’s been in our program for so long but he needed to do it for the smaller classroom size and more personalized attention. Wrestling is an avenue to get a good education for a cheap price and I’m proud of him.”
“It was definitely weird at first,” Kovacs said. “But since the schools are so close to each other, we’d see each other at tournaments. (Iona Prep) was only about a 35 minute drive.”
Kovacs accomplished a unique feat due to the switch. By winning the Division I championship at 145 pounds last winter, he became the first high schooler to win state titles in both New York and Connecticut. He finished with a 50-1 record and another gold medal.
“It was really fun,” Kovacs said. “There’s a lot of competition in Connecticut but the people in New York riding me by saying Connecticut wasn’t as good. Winning was a great (accomplishment).”
He’s remained close with his Hatters teammates since, including national champion Ryan Jack. The two wrestle at Empire Wrestling Academy and train together on a regular basis. Like Jack, Kovacs began the sport in kindergarten.
“Myself and (Jack) have been in the same room our whole lives,” Kovacs said. “I knew even with changing schools that I would have one of the best practice partners in the country. We just kept grinding and it got (us) here.”
His former coach also believes the transition will be seamless for the physically gifted Kovacs.
“He has a perfect college wrestling style,” Shook said. “He’s long and strong; He’s got great tilt on top, and he’s very athletic on his feet. I think he’s got good college wrestling tools.”