Jason Davis, a 184-pound wrestler for Fleming Island High School, changed his mental approach and won a state title on his third attempt. The Golden Eagles finished as the Class 3A state runner-up for the first time.
Davis, who posted a 48-2 record along with a district and regional title, said his life has not really changed since winning a state title.
“I’m still getting after it every day in practice,” Davis said. “(The state title) was expected from hard work the team and I put it. I’m still doing the same thing that I’ve been doing every day.”
Davis is involved in a year-round club called the North Florida Wrestling Academy. He was practicing with the club the Monday after winning the state title. He said the NFWA regularly attends tournaments and trains with teams from other states.
Fleming Island wrestling coach Travis Cunningham said that from day one Davis has been a pleasure to be around and coach.
“He has such a laid-back demeanor and gets along well with anyone and is the kind of person you want to be around,” Cunningham said. “He’s a great kid that comes from a great family. Jason made it a goal after last season to get on top of the podium this year after two third-place finishes. The experience at the state tournament his sophomore and junior year paid off big. It was almost as if it was a third time was the charm sort of thing. He knew exactly what to expect and was able to calibrate each thing he needed to this season to make it all work.”
Davis is excited about wrestling at Southeastern University in Lakeland in a few weeks after graduation.
“Southeastern is the only scholarship program in the state of Florida for wrestling,” Davis said. “They are a young team, but a team full of studs now. They have a lot of kids on the same mission.”
After wrestling in the state tournament at 184 pounds, David is currently up to 200 pounds while on an offseason weightlifting program. He said he will wrestle at 184 pounds in college.
Wrestling is a sport that requires a tough mental approach. Davis said his change in thinking was the difference in his capturing the state title.
“I always had the drive, but I used to think, ‘I’m going against a good kid,’” Davis said. “The difference was thinking, ‘This year they’re going against me.’ It’s a difference in mentality. It’s thinking, ‘I’m the best in state, and no one’s going to stop me,’ as opposed to, ‘I’m going to wrestle a tough kid.’”
Davis started wrestling at Oakleaf Junior High School in the seventh grade. A neighbor advised him to wrestle at Fleming Island. He eventually made the change and connected with Fleming Island assistant wrestling coach PJ Cobbert, who won four straight state titles at Clay High School. Davis went to Fleming Island his freshman year, then he went to Oakleaf High School (his zoned school) because of transportation issues his sophomore year before going back to Fleming Island High his last two years.
As a team, Fleming Island made strides over the past few seasons. Clay County has arguably the best high school wrestling program in the Jacksonville area. Clay, coached by Jim Reape, has long been the standard in the county, but Fleming Island has had the upper hand over Clay the past two seasons.
Davis said the team’s mentality against Clay has also changed.
“This year we didn’t have anyone out, and we were mentally ready for it,” Davis said. “We realized we are (Class) 3A and they are (Class) 1A, and we’re supposed to beat them.”
An improvement in technique has also benefited the Golden Eagles.
“Technique-wise, this is best team I’ve been on,” Davis said. “I’ve been wrestling since seventh grade, so I’ve seen the older guys. This team was not like older teams I was on. This team is coached a different way because it’s more about technique. It turned out great ‘cause we are the state runner-up. PJ is not as hard-nosed as he used to be because of different technique.”
Davis expects next year’s team to also challenge for a state title.
“Our team’s not going to fall off,” Davis said. “We’ve a lot of kids who really train in offseason. We just don’t show up in October. That’s why we have so many state qualifiers.”
Davis is appreciative of the FIHS coaching staff. He praised his former coaches Jeff Jordan and Douglas Cuthbert and current coaches Colby Pisani, Cobbert, and Cunningham.
“They love kids and dedicate their lives to the program,” Davis said. “PJ is there every day. Coach Cunningham does a lot for kids. He does the paperwork and gets us in the toughest tournaments in the state. PJ puts on his shoes and rolls with us. I wrestle PJ nearly every day.”
Even with this year’s accolades, Davis knows he has to improve to compete in college.
“I have a lot to work on,” Davis said. “I need more offense. I need to be attacking more. I’m working on it now in the wrestling room. Staying in shape is what I want to focus on, too.”
Davis said thinking about his future has been weighing heavily on him lately. He grew up in a military family: His dad just retired from the Air Force, and his uncle and brother are marines. Up until last October, he was close to starting his military career until his brother influenced him to go to college first.
“It’s not if I go in the military, it’s when I go in,” Davis said. “I’ve decided now to do it after college. I’m looking to majoring in sports medicine. I hurt my shoulder, and during rehab it was cool to see what they do in rehab. I’m going into the marines. We have had past wrestlers from Fleming Island who are in the military such as Nathan Bradley, who was a marine, and Evan McCall, who is also in the marines and our first state finalists.”
Davis said he learned hard work and perseverance from growing up in a military family.
“I wanted to quit many times during my freshman year, but there was no way I was going to quit,” Davis said. “We do it with excellence. We don’t do it the lazy way.”
His toughness helped him weather being sick during the postseason.
“From two third-place finishes to state title, wrestling is 90 percent mental,” Davis said. “I wrestled in the state tournament with nearly a 102-degree fever. In districts, I had food poisoning and strep throat in regionals. Mentally, I have to say that I’m going to do this. Wrestling taught me more life lessons. I’ll be in the work force one day, and I’m not going to tell my boss that I’m going to stay home if I don’t feel good.”
Making weight has been a challenge for Davis. He said he allowed himself to get up to 235 pounds in the offseason, which means he cut 50 pounds in order to make his weight.
“I did lose a lot of strength,” Davis said. “I did it (cutting weight) the wrong way. My procrastination got to me. I waited till the last minute. I cut 10 pounds per week. My body got used to my weight of 235.”
Cunningham is impressed with the qualities of a champion that Davis has displayed this season.
“Jason combines tremendous strength for a 182-pounder with a rare form of athleticism at the weight,” Cunningham said. “He was tough to beat because he wrestled like someone in the 145/152 weight class. He has very few weaknesses. He’s extremely tough on his feet, and on the mat he didn’t get turned, and he developed a top game that scored him a bunch of near falls and pins this year.”
Cunningham believes Davis will succeed in college wrestling.
“Once Jason truly believes in all his tools, then the sky is the limit,” Cunningham said. “He’s still relatively young in the sport and will only get better. I think he has a new-found drive since winning his state title, and it will be extremely exciting to see how he performs at the next level at Southeastern University in Lakeland.”
Written by: Brent Beaird
Photography by: Travis Cunningham