All wrestle, no mania: Jupiter's Jesse Stephanos stays calm and unbeaten
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
by Matt Porter
Soon after the young wrestlers roll out the green mats on the Jupiter High cafeteria floor, they pair off into groups and go at it. And the old guys, the former wrestlers turned coaches, are talking about the kid in the middle of the room, the one with the V-shaped torso and curly mop of black hair, like he's Mike Tyson in 1986.
No one in the state can touch him, they say. They'll run from him. Whatever weight class he's wrestling in -- 182 or 195 -- that's where they won't be.
"The next guy that beats him will be in college," Jupiter head coach Doug Rasmusson said.
The wrestler, Jesse Stephanos, is undefeated (42-0) in his senior year. All of his matches have been decided by more than 10 points. He's the winningest wrestler in Palm Beach County history and, they say, the best in 10 years. Maybe more.
But he's no Iron Mike.
In his 18 years as Jupiter's coach, Rasmusson has seen kids who make themselves volcanic before competing. They would remember past defeats or personal pain to get into that mental state they felt would make them unstoppable on the mat. Or, they just constantly raged, like a young Tyson.
"I try to tell these guys," Rasmusson said. "If my mother lined up across me, I'd try to kill her. That's the attitude you have to have."
Stephanos has that kind of fire. He's just cool about it.
"Before a match, I try to stay as calm as I can," he said. "I don't listen to any crazy music or anything like that. I kind of stay calm so my adrenalin doesn't get too high, so I don't tire myself out too quick. I come out and it's not a spastic thing, it's kind of controlled. I'm constantly stalking the guy."
Stephanos, a sinewy 5-foot-11, hasn't lost in high school competition since December of 2011. Since then, he won a Class 1A state title (182 pounds) competing for Jupiter Christian, became an All-American and finished fourth at the prestigious Super 32 tournament. Last month, he broke the county wins record (200) held by Jupiter High alum Brian Radli.
He began wrestling in third grade, and started competing as a sixth-grader at Jupiter Christian. He's "tried every sport imaginable," but nothing speaks to him like wrestling.
"I just love that it's a one-on-one thing," he said. "Win or lose, you don't have anyone else to blame. It's all you. There's no excuses."
He hasn't needed to make many of those. He has 215 wins heading into this weekend's county championships against 18 losses. He is expected to run the table all the way to a Class 3A state title next month.
In college -- Stephanos is considering several Division I programs, including Maryland and North Carolina State -- he'll face a much higher level of competition. To prepare him, Stephanos' coaches pit him against adults in practice. His personal trainer, Jupiter Christian alum Jonathan Velazquez, is a 26 and qualified for the NCAA Tournament at 184 just two years ago. Stephanos keeps up with him.
"He's not your average high school athlete," Velazquez said.
Stephanos knows there are larger, meaner forces out there. So he trains like the next guy will put his shoulders on the mat.
"No matter where you are, there's someone out there that can beat you," he said.
Jupiter High School senior wrestler Jesse Stephanos in a portrait at the school Monday, January 14, 2012. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)