- Tuesday, 03 March 2020
- Written by Earl Vaughan Jr.
Back in the late 1960s, veteran character Walter Brennan starred in a short-lived television Western series called “The Sons of Will Sonnet.’’
Though the show lasted only two seasons, Brennan uttered a line describing his talents with a gun that has lingered through the years. It was only four words:
"No brag, just fact.’’
In wrapping up the high school wrestling accomplishments of himself and his Cape Fear teammates the last four seasons, three-time state champion Heath Wilson uttered a statement that borrowed from Brennan’s line, and is hard to argue with.
“We’ve been the most successful athletic program at Cape Fear, even in Cumberland County, since I got to Cape Fear,’’ Wilson said.
He pointed to the last four years that saw the Colts bring home at least two individual state wrestling champions each of those years. Three of the eight state titles Cape Fear won were his, the last one coming just over a week ago when he dominated the 3-A 145-pound weight class in the state tournament in Greensboro to win his title.
He was not alone and teammate Nick Minacapelli had a similarly dominating effort en route to taking the 220-pound championship, erasing the disappointment of finishing third the season before.
For Wilson, one of the biggest obstacles he had to deal with all season was the pressure of chasing a third state title after winning as a sophomore and junior. But Wilson said the pressure to win the second straight championship last year was tougher than the pressure he faced this season.
“Butterflies are normally a routine for me,’’ Dallas said. “Don’t get me wrong, they were there. I knew what I had to do, and I got the job done.’’
Heath Wilson, Dallas’ father and head coach, said the seeds for his son’s string of titles were sown during Dallas’ freshman year, when he came up short in his first bid for a state championship.
Heath scored a lopsided win earlier in the season over the wrestler who would win the state title in his weight class. But he eventually suffered from what his dad calls “sticker shock."
“They get in there, look at the lights, look up in the stands,’’ Heath said. “There’s not a whole lot that don’t get wide-eyed.’’ He finished third in the 4-A East Regional tournament that year and lost in the quarterfinals of the state tournament, failing to place in the top six in his weight class that year.
That experience was all Dallas needed to correct the problem. “He blames it on his mental toughness,’’ Heath said. “After that, he decided he was going to fix it.’’
Dallas said he would lie in bed at night and convince himself that no matter who stepped on the mat to face him, he was going to win.
His final record for this season was 48-2, but those two losses were not against any living opponent. After he felt a sharp pain in his knee during a late-season tournament, he elected not to compete, to save himself for the upcoming run to the state finals.
It got him two losses via injury default. “I was being safe and I took the right path,’’ he said.
It showed in his dominance in the state tournament. None of his four matches went the distance. He defeated two of his opponents by pin. The other two, including his state finals match, were by technical fall, both matches stopped because he had gotten so far ahead in total points.
Now that his high school career is over, Dallas is pointing to college, where he has yet to make a final decision. He’s got an official visit to North Carolina State coming up. The University of North Carolina talked to him after the semifinals of the state tournament, and he also has Campbell University on his mind.
“Everything is still up in the air,’’ he said. “I want to take my time.’’
So does his teammate, Minacapelli, who has scholarship offers in both football and wrestling.
Like Dallas, Minacapelli was motivated to do better this year after a disappointing finish last season.
“It definitely inspired me to work way harder,’’ he said after a third-place finish in 2019. “I felt like I didn’t leave it all on the mat last year. I had to prove myself. I had a chip on my shoulder.’’
He made up for it by wrestling more aggressively this season, taking more shots and no longer relying on defense to win matches. “Now I rely on offense,’’ he said. “I could definitely see improvement.’’
It clearly showed in the state finals. Of his four wins, three were by pin, one in just 32 seconds and only one of his three wins by pin extending to the third period. The fourth win was a major decision, 16-8.
He said he was “super nervous” going into his finals match and could hear his heart beating in his chest. He quickly overcame that problem by scoring five points in the first period and taking command of an opponent he would eventually pin for the title.
“Everything went away and I knew I had the win,’’ he said.
It was not only a win for Minacapelli, it was the final high school wrestling match as coach for Heath Wilson, who told his team before the season that he was going to step down after 15 years at Cape Fear as both an assistant and head coach. A wrestler himself at the school, Heath Wilson was also a Cape Fear state champion.
“We had some great kids at Cape Fear,’’ Wilson said. “To read a kid and be able to figure out how he’s motivated is a passion of mine. You’ve got to really figure out what buttons to push and what buttons not to push because you’ll run them out of the room.’’
But the biggest thrill, obviously, was getting to coach his son to three state titles.
“It was the best of both worlds, as father and coach,’’ Heath said. “Both the good and the bad, that experience is indescribable.’’