Kearny native Cardenas honored for winning state wrestling title

Jacob Cardenas can get used to the attention.

A year ago at this time, Cardenas was honored by Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos and the town council with a special proclamation for winning the NJSIAA wrestling championship.

Last Tuesday night, it was more of the same, as the Kearny native, who wrestled for Bergen Catholic, was in the packed council chambers once again to receive his second proclamation for becoming the first-ever Kearny native to win consecutive state championships.

Cardenas posted an impressive 41-2 record for his senior campaign. He received honors from Santos and the council for a second straight year.

“It’s really amazing,” Cardenas said. “The first time was great, but the second time, it’s amazing. I get so much support from the people of my hometown. It means the world to me to receive something like this. My hometown still sticks with me. Kearny is always in me. Everyone knows that. I am Kearny.”

Cardenas was asked if he can fathom the idea that he’s the first two-time state champion in Kearny history.

“Not really,” Cardenas said. “It really hasn’t sunk in yet.”

His roots in wrestling began with the Kearny Recreation program and now he’s someone for all of those kids to admire and emulate.

“It’s crazy how time flies,” Cardenas said. “I guess it proves that you can do anything if you set your mind to it. As long as you work hard and you have the tools, you can do it.”

Cardenas is now headed to Cornell University and will wrestle there.

“I never thought that was possible,” Cardenas said. “I thought maybe I could wrestle at a (NCAA) Division III school. Never in my mind did I think I could wrestle in the Ivy League. It’s amazing. That also still hasn’t hit me.”

Cardenas is undecided about declaring a major at Cornell.

Cardenas spent last weekend working out with the Cornell wrestling team. He recently competed in an open tournament in Las Vegas against college competition where he took sixth.

“I’m so grateful and excited about Cornell,” Cardenas said. “I can’t wait to get there.”

Cardenas will head to upstate New York for good in August. He plans on spending the rest of the summer in Kearny training and getting ready for his college career.

“I really thought all of this was impossible,” Cardenas said. “It’s almost surreal. So many people in Kearny have supported me and had faith in me. They always believed in me.”

Santos addressed the chambers to discuss Cardenas’ incredible achievements.

“You’ve brought pride to your family and your school, but you also brought a lot of pride to your community,” Santos said. “We’re always particularly proud when a resident achieves great things. Well, you achieved some great things, winning two state championships. That is something that will not be replicated. It will go down in the history books.”
The only other Kearny native to win a state title was David Cordoba, who won a state title for Kearny High in 1999. Cordoba, who trains with Cardenas, was also on hand for the presentation, meaning that both Kearny state champs were in the chambers at the same time.

Cardenas now has the upper hand on his friend and mentor.

“I bust his chops a little bit about it,” Cardenas said of Cordoba. “It’s all good.”

Santos reminded Cardenas of his importance to the community.

“This is something that you will carry with you for the rest of your life,” Santos said. “We will always be proud of you. We look forward to see how well you advance in college. We congratulate you and we appreciate you, as does your community.”

Cardenas realizes that he’s already looked up to by the aspiring wrestlers. They all want to be the next Jacob Cardenas.

“It’s great that I’ve had an impact on the kids,” said Cardenas, who has attended recreation workouts to interact with the younger kids. “I understand the kids look up to me. I love little kids and love being around them. I started coaching little kids already. People who don’t even know me are congratulating me and shaking my hand. It’s all really amazing. I just hope I can continue to make the town proud of me in college.”

Chances are that will definitely be the case. Even after two state championships, Cardenas’ star is still on the rise.

Learn more about the writer ...

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”