It didn’t take long for Kearny’s last state wrestling champion to recognize the talents of the next one.
In 1999, Kearny High School junior David Cordoba won the NJSIAA state wrestling championship at 130 pounds, defeating a guy named Frankie Edgar who has now made a career as one of the top contenders in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Ever since his career ended as a competitive wrestler, Cordoba has always worked diligently as a coach and trainer and owns his own training facility called Cordoba Training Wrestling Club in Little Falls.
One time, Cordoba was working with the youngsters in the Kearny Recreation wrestling program and he found Jacob Cardenas, who at the time was just in fifth grade.
Right away, Cordoba saw what he had and liked what he saw.
“I always told Jacob that he would be the next state champion from Kearny,” Cordoba said. “He just had that mentality and he was physically gifted. Of course, he was talented.”
When the time came to attend high school, Cardenas and his family made the tough decision to leave Kearny and go to a Catholic school, at that time, Queen of Peace. It was not an easy move, especially since Cardenas had developed friendships with the people in his hometown.
Last year, Cardenas was playing baseball for Queen of Peace when he got the news. The school was going to close at the end of the year.
“I was just coming off the field and someone told me,” Cardenas said. “I was in shock. I was kind of heartbroken.”
It meant the end of his association with former QP coach Scot Weaver, a native of Lyndhurst. It also meant that Cardenas had to find another school.
“I was always leaning toward Bergen Catholic,” Cardenas said. “I was just worried about getting there.”
Cardenas fit in with the wrestling program there and found a niche at 195 pounds.
And he always had that Kearny connection.
“Me and Cordoba are close,” Cardenas said. “He helps me a lot. It’s like having a personal coach. He tells me just what I need to do. I just have to take one match at a time.”
This season, Cardenas wrestled a highly competitive schedule and won both the District 5 and Region 2 championships in relatively easy fashion.
Still, when it came time for last week’s NJSIAA state championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Cardenas was given a snub, earning only the No. 7 seed in the bracket.
“It didn’t bother me at all,” Cardenas said. “It wasn’t too much of a drag.”
Cordoba was a little different.
“I was a little taken back by that seed,” Cordoba said. “But I liked it because it meant we would get the No. 1 seed early. Jacob loves being the underdog. He wanted to show people that he could win the tournament.
Cardenas didn’t just win the tournament. He wrestled like he owned it.
He won his first match by a 12-0 score over Sean Lenzsch of St. Augustine Prep, then won by a technical fall in 2:55 with a score of 15-0 over Anthony Morina of Paulsboro.
Then Cardenas started to open some eyes when he pinned the bracket’s top seed, Bryan Martin of Williamstown, in 4:47. He then knocked off Robert Gennat of Sparta by technical fall, winning in 3:56 with the score 16-0 in the semifinals.
In the finals against Sam Wusterfeld of Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Cardenas jumped out to a traditional early lead.
“When he racks up the points, the matches come easily,” Cordoba said. “He likes wrestling from the lead.”
“My coaches all said to let it fly, so I did and the points started to fly,” Cardenas said. “I was a little nervous at first, but once I got on the mat, I was in my zone.”
As the seconds began to click down, Cardenas started to realize what was going to happen.
“When I looked up at the clock and saw 18 seconds left, I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to become a state champion,’” Cardenas said.
Cardenas had a 10-2 decision win.
And yes, the kid from Kearny who was told by a kid from Kearny seven years ago that he would reach the pinnacle in New Jersey high school wrestling much like he did absolutely lived up to Cordoba’s prophecy. Cardenas is the new state champion at 195 pounds.
And with it, he’s become the Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“The first person I thanked was my Dad (Roy), who has put up with a lot,” Cardenas said. “I then hugged my coaches. My teammates came down. Once everything paused a little, I was on the podium. I still couldn’t believe it. It still hasn’t hit me yet.”
Cardenas said that he also keeps his days at QP in his heart.
“There’s a little bit of QP in me, in the room every day,” said Cardenas, who has Enrique Sanchez of North Arlington and Dylan Weaver of Lyndhurst (Scot’s son) with him at Bergen Catholic. “And all my friends in Kearny. They say I make them proud.”
Cordoba already told Cardenas to set his sight on the next goal _ winning another state championship.
“That would be awesome, to get to do it again,” Cardenas said. “I’ll just try to do the same thing again.”
Then, Cardenas would be the only two-time state champ from Kearny. His mentor and friend wasn’t as fortunate, falling in the state finals in 2000.
Cordoba already has something planned for his club.
“We’re going to put up a banner for him,” Cordoba said. “I always knew he could do it.”
“When he told me, I never thought it would happen,” Cardenas said. “Dave is always on my side.”
Now the second state wrestling champion to ever come from Kearny, Jacob Cardenas (right) shares time with his teammate at Bergen Catholic Dylan Weaver of Lyndhurst (left). Cardenas won the 195-pound state championship Sunday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Photo courtesy of Scot Weaver