SOUTH PLAINFIELD-- South Plainfield High School certainly hasn’t had a shortage of great athletes. In the many years the high school has existed, the Tigers and Lady Tigers have brought home numerous division, conference, sectional and state titles, while also producing a number of standout individual athletes. This winter though, South Plainfield senior Jake Hoffman managed to do something completely unprecedented in his school’s athletic history.
When Hoffman and the rest of the members of South Plainfield’s wrestling team won the 2016-2017 Group 3 state title in February this year, Hoffman became the first ever South Plainfield and Greater Middlesex County athlete to win state titles in three different sports.
When asked how he felt about pulling off an achievement that’s virtually unheard of in the modern high school sports landscape, one word came to Hoffman’s mind : awesome.
“No one has ever done it,” the senior said. “When I was a freshman I never thought that would happen to me, so it’s nice.”
Getting three state championships requires a few cards falling right in your favor, but Hoffman’s accomplishment certainly didn’t come about by accident. Even though Hoffman had no experience wrestling in high school coming into his senior year, he had been a standout grappler up until he quit the sport in the fifth grade.
Even back when he just won his second ring, which he got as a second baseman on the 2015 baseball team, people were already urging Hoffman to try to earn a third championship. A suggestion from South Plainfield wrestling assistant coach Steve Johnston pushed Hoffman into trying out for the team this year, and from then on, Hoffman was set on getting him and the team another state title.
Just surviving on a team like South Plainfield’s wrestling squad is a difficult task on it’s own. South Plainfield has been home to one of the best programs in New Jersey high school wrestling for years, so Hoffman had to go from having no wrestling experience in the past six years to squaring off in practice against teammates like former region winner Kyle Bythell and Ben Lundy.
“Practices were difficult,” Hoffman said. “It’s the hardest sport you could ever do, but it was a great experience coming back.”
Those tough practices helped Hoffman spring back into wrestling shape quickly though, which helped him finish the season with a winning 14-11 record at 152 pounds, and a third place finish in the GMC tournament. Even in his losses Hoffman gave his best for the team, as he rarely gave up bonus points which eased the load for the rest of his teammates in the Tigers’ closer matches.
“That just shows his athleticism and what a true athlete he is, said Kevin McCann, the athletic director and former wrestling head coach at South Plainfield. “In that he could take those years off and come back and still be an integral part of that state championship team,”.
Although Hoffman considers his title win with the wrestling team to be his finest athletic accomplishment, his main sport was and still is soccer. As a sophomore Hoffman was a part of the 2014 South Plainfield soccer team that won a Group 3 title, and in the following two years he became a key part of the team as a center midfielder.
Hoffman kept his soccer form up even during the winter season, as he used to take part in late night indoor pickup games right after he got out of wrestling practice. An injury he suffered during the tail end of the wrestling season is keeping him off the field for now, but he hopes to start playing club soccer after he recovers and eventually work his way onto a college team after he completes a year at Middlesex Community College.
No matter what the future holds for Hoffman, he’ll always be able to say he did something special at South Plainfield.
“It doesn’t matter how big your school is, anybody can win a state championship,” Hoffman said. “It’s all about your grind and hard work.”