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Boys prep sports: Newman standout goes from silence to stardom

Jake Snow 2.0

Published: Friday, July 4, 2014 11:14 p.m. CDT
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(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Newman's Jake Snow is Sauk Valley Media's Boys Athlete of the Year.

It's the middle of the week, and Jake Snow is in the middle of the longest interview of his life – 22 minutes, 24 seconds, to be exact.

It's a cool and breezy Wednesday, and after spending the morning mulching at his lawn-care job, the Newman grad sits on a weight bench in the warm, quiet, nearly empty Newman weight room. While pondering an answer to the latest query, the 18-year-old subconsciously rubs together the two state championship medals hanging around his neck.

A decade ago, none of this would have been possible. Not the state medals, not the public setting, and most definitely not the conversation with a reporter. All of this has been made possible by Jake Snow 2.0, the young man he has become after spending his youth as a shy, introverted, nearly silent son and brother.

"When I was young, I didn't talk to people; I just talked to my mom and my dad and my sisters, and that was that, no one else, I wouldn't speak," Snow remembers. "I'd cry every day when I'd go to school. The first year I went out for wrestling, in first grade, I think I went to three practices, cried before every single one of them, and that was that, the year was over for me.

"I don't really know why; I guess I was just intimidated by people in general. Some kids are really shy, and I was really, really, really shy. I guess I just had to learn how to be outgoing."

He has definitely done that. Now a gregarious and talkative teen, popular in school and among his wrestling and football teammates, Snow will talk to anyone and everyone about anything and everything.

"It's weird to think that 8, 9 years ago, I would refuse to talk to anyone, and now here I am, going on and conversating with everybody," he said. "It happened slowly as time went on, and it's become really easy for me."

Social skills aren't the only thing that statement relates to for the 2014 SVM Male Athlete of the Year … but we'll get into that in a bit.

•••

Members of his family can hardly reconcile the 18-year-old Jake Snow with the 8-year-old version. His mother, Naomi Shaw, tells stories of how Jake's uncles still give their nephew a hard time for not speaking to them for the longest time.

"Even now, they remind him that he never said a word to them until he was 5 or 6," she said, laughing. "He was just really shy, a mama's boy, with a younger sister and an older sister who talked for him. He always really liked to be a homebody, didn't like crowds, was overwhelmed with all the noise.

"That's why we put him in wrestling, to get around other boys, to get him to come out of his shell."

This is where his impressive and successful sports journey starts … well, after that first crying-through-all-three-practices year, anyway.

See, without the shyness, there maybe wouldn't have been the impetus to get him involved in sports. Without spots, he never would have met Brock Rude, the Newman youth wrestling coach and Comets' varsity assistant.

"When they first brought him up, the first couple of years, he wouldn't say anything," Rude recalled. "You could coach him, and he'd listen to what you said and do what he was supposed to do, but you wouldn't hear a word out of him."

But slowly, surely, Rude and the other coaches and wrestlers coaxed Snow out of that silence, and his performance on the mat improved by leaps and bounds.

That led to a national tournament in Virginia … and what Snow calls a major life-changing event.

•••

By the time he finished eighth grade, Jake Snow had come a long way in both athletics and social settings. But he still wasn't the wrestler he wanted to be.

Then he took a trip to Virginia Beach for a youth wrestling tournament. He won several matches, and the success made him realize just what was possible if he put his mind to it.

"I was always a head case, always afraid of the name and who it was across the mat," Snow said. "But in Virginia Beach, I wrestled top-notch kids from other states, guys I didn't know by name or reputation, and won a lot. That's when I thought, 'Hey, I can compete with the best, and I really want to keep doing this.' I guess I just had an 'A-ha!' moment, and I realized that it's not as difficult as it seems when you put forth the effort."

That's when the light came on. That's when Snow felt his eyes were finally open to something he had never even dreamed of.

"He went out there with no fear," Rude said, "didn't hold anything back. He wrestled his style, he wrestled his way, and that's when the transformation started, the growth into an outstanding high school wrestler."

The confidence he gained in that first foray away from home carried over to more than just the mat. Snow remembers making the conscious decision to push harder and go farther.

"I was never a standout athlete in middle school, but high school was a fresh start, and I took it as an opportunity to change myself," he said. "I changed my whole mentality, and started to enjoy hard work. I started to do things on my own – extra lifting, extra runs, extra workouts – and that's when I started doing things people don't expect a 5-foot-5, 145-pound kid to be able to do. I didn't want people to judge this book by its cover, and that was my ambition from then on."

Snow turned that attitude adjustment into a Class 1A state wrestling title at 112 pounds his freshman year, and the table was set for much, much more.

•••

On the heels of his state championship, Jake Snow knew his renewed determination was working out even better – and quicker – than he ever expected.

But in the aftermath of that, Snow learned a valuable lesson, one he carries with him.

"When you're a freshman, a lot of kids – especially boys – are immature, and when something good happens, they talk about it and talk about it and talk about it … and that was my problem," Snow said. "All I did was talk about winning state. Someone would say something, wouldn't matter what it was we were talking about, and my first response was, 'I won state.'

"But that's not a good idea, because people don't like that, and that makes them not like you."

Because of that backlash, for the first time since he was a little boy, Snow started to seek solace in that shell he grew out of so many years ago. And those closest to him noticed.

"That sudden celebrity after he won the championship was very overwhelming, I think," his mother said, "and you could see him kind of pulling back to that little boy again. He didn't want to be in that spotlight after awhile, and maturity hit him and he got very humble."

But like before, Snow made a conscious decision that changed things. This time, it was spurred on by something outside of his control.

•••

Nine matches into his sophomore season, with expectations on him like never before in his life, Jake Snow's title defense stopped before it really even started. He felt pain in his wrist during a bout, and later found out it was broken.

Doctors told him it would take 3˝ or 4 months to heal, and he was done for the rest of that winter.

"That was my first-ever real personal heartbreak," Snow said. "Before that, I had thought, 'I already did what I always wanted to do by winning state, why keep going?' After they said I couldn't wrestle that next year, that's when I knew I really wanted it."

The comeback involved a lot of hard work, but didn't have that fairy-tale ending he was looking for … at least not right away. Snow lost in the quarterfinals of the state tournament his junior season, something he is still loathe to discuss to this day.

But just like everything else in his life, Snow found a silver lining in battling back to win third place and turned it into motivation.

"I told my parents, 'I don't want this medal, I'm going to throw it away,'" Snow said. "But it's still there, I let it stay, because it's a reminder of a downfall. I never wanted to feel that way again.

"But it was also big for me because it taught me that I can bounce back."

He rode that all the way to the 1A 145-pound state title this past winter, when he finished 40-1, and celebrated his championship-match victory in a subdued way.

"I didn't freak out, I didn't scream or flex," Snow said. "It was exciting, but it was more relieving to me after all I had gone through. I just thought, 'Thank God I was able to do this.'

"Some people get lucky and have the opportunity to be something big, and it's cool and humbling and a real honor to think that I got that chance."

•••

Bouncing back isn't just something Jake Snow is good at metaphorically. A viewing of any game film from Newman's run to the Class 2A state football championship last fall is proof of that.

Snow spent much of the season doing his best pinball imitation, bouncing off would-be tacklers and scooting down the field for big chunks of yardage. After earning his first start at running back five games into his junior season, Snow has been a fixture ever since in the Comet backfield. He ran for 1,756 yards and 30 touchdowns on his way to the only non-wrestling medal in his collection.

And as impressive as his ability and jaw-dropping running style is, longtime coach Mike Papoccia was an even bigger fan of the way in which Snow went about it.

"He's one of those guys that every one of the kids in the program looked up to," Papoccia said, "but not because of his unbelievable strength and balance. He always had that chip on his shoulder, that attitude of, 'Come on, I dare ya,' and he was harder on himself than anybody else could have been because he never wanted to let the team down."

And that's the thing that, through it all, has never changed for Snow. From his days as a silent toddler, all the way through his wrestling career at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside that will begin in September, Snow has – and will – always put others ahead of himself.

"I hate letting down my friends and family and teammates, really anybody else," Snow said. "I love winning – there's nothing better than a win – but I just feel that I'm not as important as the other people in my life. I do what I do because I love it, and I'll love it even more when it's all over and I can stop looking ahead and start looking back on it. But I want my friends and family to be proud of me, and that means more to me than anything else."

That's yet another area in his life where Jake Snow is a big winner.

"He's exceeded all my expectations," his mother said. "It amazes me how speaking to people, being in big crowds is second-nature to him now, doesn't even bother him. He's not the same kid – it's like two different people – but we couldn't be prouder of either one."

"It's a complete transformation, from a kid that wouldn't talk to a young man who thrives in the spotlight," Rude said. "He's really matured and grown up, and it's been amazing to see."

Jake Snow file

Age: 18

Family: Parents Bret & Naomi Shaw; sisters Allyson (21), Madison (17) & Emmalie (8)

High school: Newman, class of 2014

Football stats: Ran for 2,356 yards & 38 TDs on 275 rushes over past 2 seasons. … Ran 185 times for 1,756 yards & 30 TDs this past season. … Started the final 23 games of his career. … Helped Comets to 25-2 record over past 2 years, including 2A state title in 2014.

Wrestling stats: 143-10 record in 3+ seasons. … Won 1A state titles at 112 pounds in 2011 & 145 pounds in 2014. … Wrestled only 9 matches as a sophomore in 2012 before breaking his wrist. … Lone loss this past season was in a dual meet to Dakota's J.J. Wolfe, who won the 1A state title at 138 pounds. … Was part of Newman's 20?? dual team state title.

College: UW Parkside, to wrestle and major in pre-health with a focus on physical therapy

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