For Jimmy Mullen, the reality of the end of his high school career hit the moment he left the wrestling mats at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall as a three-time state champion.
It wasn’t until the next day when he could truly reflect on all he has accomplished. The thousands of screaming fans had been replaced with just his best friend – Kearny wrestler Joey Rocco – and a quiet boardwalk.
“We relaxed and took a day to let it all sink in,” said Mullen, the Kearny native and star heavyweight at St. Joseph Regional in Montvale. “You get a lot of joy, thinking about how you never lost a single match down here, but then it hits you that you’re never going to be down here competing again. I could come down here a million more times, but it won’t be the same feeling.”
It might be a long time before New Jersey sees a heavyweight with the talent and charisma of Mullen. Three state championships (he didn’t participate in the state tournament his sophomore season), a 111-7 record with none of those losses coming against NJSIAA competition.
Mullen’s final performance on that Boardwalk Hall stage won’t soon be forgotten. Facing longtime rival and friend Max Acciardi, Mullen earned the clinching takedown in the final seconds for a 5-3 victory.
“Usually my gameplan is ‘alright, let’s go score more points.But this one was more like ‘ok, I need to score more points. You can lose with a couple of seconds left, you can wrestle a full six minutes,’” said Mullen. “That’s how it turned out. I wrestled for 5 minutes and 59 seconds.The last second, I laid on top of him to preserve the win.
“I think I’ve wrestled Max like 15 times in my high school career so we know each other like the back of our hand. That’s why every match we have is a really good one. It’s exciting to watch because it’s like two practice partners going at it. He’s a really good wrestler. Hat’s off to him, he had a great match and we put on a really good show for the crowd.”
For all of the individual accomplishments, what Mullen is most proud of is being a part of a St. Joseph team that enjoyed the greatest season in program history. The Green Knights beat Bergen Catholic for the first time in more than 20 years in the regular season, then, in the NJSIAA Non-Public Tournament, St. Joseph stunned nationally-ranked Delbarton to win the Non-Public title and finish as the state’s No. 1 ranked team.
In the individuals tournament, St. Joseph set a record with 10 guys placing in the top eight in their respective weight classes.
“It was unbelievable. The amount of joy that we had as a team this year was incredible,” Mullen said. “We set so many different records state and school wise. It just was a special, special year and I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.
“My state titles, I’ll put them up with anything I’ve ever done, except the team state title. I’ll put that over anything I’ve ever done because it was a moment I got to share with 20 other guys. They were just as excited as I was. We were happy for each other and you could see the real joy coming out of their faces because they just won a state championship. It’s a feeling that you can share with others who have the exact same feeling.”
Mullen will compete in the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic on March 25, which is known as “The Rose Bowl of Wrestling” before he begins focusing on getting ready to wrestle and play football at Virginia Tech.
But even as he gets ready for the next level, Mullen’s hometown won’t be far away. He’s already making plans for hometown friends to visit him in Blacksburg, VA. And, as those at St. Joseph can attest to, Mullen will make it clear to all where he’s come from to get here.
“I’m still going to be rocking my Kearny gear when I’m out there,” Mullen said. “When I was at St. Joe’s everyone knew I was from Kearny and by the end of my four years everyone knew where Kearny was because I made it known that I’m still a Kearny kid at heart. I rock my Kearny gear, I still post about everything Kearny does.
“You can take the kid out of Kearny, but you can’t take the Kearny out of the kid.”
Learn more about the writer ...
Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)