Highland High School senior Trent Rakers became the Bulldogs’ third state wrestling champion in the past five years Saturday at State Farm Center in Champaign. And Rakers did it his way.
Facing the same wrestler he defeated to win the Mascoutah Sectional a week ago — DeMarius Smith, of Rantoul — Rakers slowed the tempo and controlled the match as he came away with a 1-0 win in the Class 2A state title match Saturday at the Illinois High School Association State Wrestling Tournament.
Following in the footsteps of former teammate and two-time Class 2A 285-pound champion Tanner Farmer, Rakers scored an escape to start the third period and held off the athletic Smith for the championship.
“He (Smith) is so explosive that he can score a lot of points in a hurry when he gets on a run. I couldn’t let him get going,” Rakers said. “I went for it and almost got a little greedy in the first period, but I felt like I had to slow down the match and keep the tempo the way I wanted it.
“To be a state champion means the world. The broken leg I suffered during football season was difficult for me to handle. But it made me more focused and want this (state title) even more. This is what I’ve worked for.”
Rakers defeated Smith 4-2 in the final at Mascoutah last week. Rakers was the only wrestler to beat Smith this season and he did so twice in eight days.
Like Rakers, Bulldogs coach Terry Ohren said the tempo of the state championship match was crucial to the victory.
“Trent went out, and he knew what he had to do. He wrestled a smart match. He wrestled his match. I couldn’t be any more proud of him,” Ohren said. “Some coaches go the entire careers without a state champion. I’ve had three in the last five years. I couldn’t be any happier.”
When the final buzzer sounded to end the thrilling but nail-biting 1-0 victory over Smtih and Rakers had put the exclamation point on an unbeaten 35-0 season with the Class 2A state title, the usually-stoic 152-pound grappler finally cut loose with an uncharasteric show of emotion.
“At first, I was kind of shocked,” Rakers said. “It was unfathomable at first, and I didn’t know what to think. But I’m definitely happy that this is it. I went out with a bang.”
Ohren marveled as he watched Rakers jump around in joy seconds after the final buzzer.
“It was great because usually he shows no emotion,” Ohren said. “Win, lose or whatever, and this was the most emotion the kid has ever had and that was awesome.”
Rakers was the fourth Highland wrestler in the last five years to wrestle for a state title. Current University of Nebraska offensive lineman Tanner Farmer went undefeated in back-to-back seasons to repeat as the Class 2A 285-pound crown in both 2013 and 2014, while Nick Czar was the 285-pound state runner-up in 2015.
Rakers finished fourth in the 160-pound class a year ago.
On Thursday, Rakers opened the state tournament by pinning Crystal Lake’s Drake Regenhardt at the 3:11 mark of the match.
Then on Friday morning in the quarterfinals, Rakers scored a 7-0 decision over Jimmy Silva of Manteno.
Later on Friday in the semifinals, Rakers edged out a Woodstock Marian’s Luke Silva 8-6 to advance to the state championship match.
Rakers’ unbeaten state title run is a testament to his will and determination after he suffered a horrific leg injury midway through the football season.
“It was just an amazing story and the willpower to want to be back on the mat through the injury,” Ohren said. “The kid just works at everything.”
Rakers is proud to be able to put his name next to some of the standout former athletes at Highland such as Farmer and Czar. He stands alone in Highland history in career wins as the new benchmark number stands at 149, which is 15 more than second-place Farmer’s 134.
“I was glad that I could leave it all out there and be among people like Tanner (Farmer) and Nick (Czar) who are great athletes at our school,” Rakers said.
A celebration to honor Rakers was held Monday night at the Highland Square.