Kevin Jack has national championship aspirations with NC State wrestling

After a season where he fell short of his ultimate goal, the 141-pounder is proving hes still one of the top wrestlers in the country

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
N.C. State's Kevin Jack wrestles Duke's Zach Finesilver in the ACC opener at Reynolds Coliseum on Wednesday

RALEIGH — NC State wrestler Kevin Jack comes from two homes, and he has the ink to prove it.Jack grew up in Danbury, Conn., where he blossomed into one of the state’s brightest stars on the mat, winning two state titles at 120 and 126 pounds. Jack commemorated the achievement with an impressive back tattoo that includes the state of Connecticut.His success meant nothing when Jack arrived at NC State in 2014, with the freshman earning the moniker “Babyface Kevin” from coach Pat Popolizio. Jack quickly proved to be an assassin on the mat, finishing the season at 31-9 with All-American honors after a 4-2 record in the NCAA Tournament.This year has been even more dominant for Jack. He’s currently the No. 2 wrestler in the country at 141 pounds after winning the Midlands Championship. The run of success left a new trophy in his case and more ink on his body — over the winter break, he added a wolf tattoo on his left arm.”I like what it symbolizes,” Jack said. “The wolf head obviously stands for NC State. … This place has become a place where I’ve grown as a person and wrestler.”Going back to that freshman season, Popolizio said he knew he had a special wrestler. Jack was supposed to redshirt, but performed so well he earned a spot in the duals. Jack’s been borderline unstoppable since.”He’s the type of kid that shows if you come in with the right mentality you can blossom,” Popolizio said. “When he came here, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to accomplish. “He now not only knows what he wants to accomplish, but he has the tools to do it — becoming a national champion.”Despite finishing with a 26-5 overall and compiling an 18-match win streak at one point, Jack was often overshadowed by Nick Gwiazdowski, a two-time national champion.This year, however, Jack is the face of the Wolfpack wrestling team. Even with four members currently in the top 15 in their respective weight classes, there is no question who the most dominant wrestler on the team has been all season.”Knowing that I have Kevin behind me gives me a sense of relief,” Jamal Morris said. “We really feed off each other and know we have to get the ball rolling. Kevin is an aggressive wrestler who likes to put up points, and that makes all of us want to do the same.”Having wrestlers like Jack and Morris along with Sam Speno and Michael Macchiavello has kept NC State in the top 10 as a team all season. But with Jack setting the pace at 141 — typically the third wrestler to hit the mat — Popolizio knows his team can bounce back from any potential deficit.”As he’s elevated his own personal career, he’s elevated NC State as a program,” Popolizio said. “He came here as ‘Babyface Kevin’ and now he represents this team and University with class. He still has a year left and I can’t imagine where he’ll be a year from now.”As for the nickname, Jack says he wears it as a symbol of pride now.”I don’t think I’ll ever shake that nickname,” Jack said with a laugh. “But they tell me every day I’ve matured on and off the mat. They still joke about where I was when I got here, but I don’t mind. I take it as a compliment, like looking at where I was and where I am now.”From a kid at 126 pounds in Danbury to a 141-pound junior that ranks as one of the best wrestlers in the country at NC State, Jack has certainly developed in Raleigh. And with the ACC slate in full swing and just over two months until the NCAA Championships begin, Jack has just one thing on his mind.”I want to be a national champ,” Jack said. “The goals are high for myself and my team, but we’re all on each other to reach them. There’s a lot of pressure that comes along with that and I know every guy’s going to give me their best shot. I might not have been prepared for that last year, but I’m mentally prepared now more than ever.”