North Forsyth wrestling coach Travis Jarrard knew the difference between Keigan Radake quitting and dominating was all in Radake’s head last season.
Mired in a mid-season slump of disappointing losses, Radake was frustrated enough to entertain the thought of walking away from wrestling, especially after he lost to his back-up in a varsity tournament.
"I was just tired of losing," he said.
Jarrard saw nothing wrong with Radake’s technical skill, and he knew Radake had the requisite resolve somewhere within him. He’d seen it before.
He knew that Radake had fallen through a friend’s attic the summer before eighth grade, fracturing his back but playing football and wrestling before he’d fully healed leaving him with pain he feels to this day.
At the county meet his sophomore season, Jarrard fumed at Radake after he won a close match he should’ve dominated. When Radake seemed to ignore Jarrard coming off the mat, the head coach’s frustration boiled over. Jarrard snapped his clipboard over his knee, shattering it into pieces. The noise stunned the gym into silence. Radake went on to go undefeated the rest of the tournament.
So when Jarrard called in Radake last season to talk, he was looking to excavate that same tenacity from Radake’s psyche.
"You’re still the starter, you’re still good, you’re still talented," Jarrard said he told Radake. "It’s up to you whether you’re going to believe in yourself. That’s the only thing missing for you right now."
It was an endorsement and a map from Jarrard, one that Radake took and followed the rest of the season to help him finish 36-26, win an area championship and place sixth in Class AAAAAA at the traditional state tournament.
"I gained a lot of self-confidence," Radake said. "I walked like I knew I was going to win after that."
This is what Jarrard calls "podium confidence." It happens often to seniors coming off their first time placing at the state tournament. They return the following season with a different look, a poise and self-assurance that wasn’t there before.
"When you come out and you’re a returning state placer, you don’t second-guess yourself," Jarrard said. "You just go. You’re the attacker. You have that confidence in knowing that what you do works because it’s worked before."
Jarrard said he’d seen that confidence in Radake before, but only in glimpses. It could disappear at times, like during Radake’s mid-season slump a year ago. But he’s noticed it in Radake from the very start this season.
Maybe all of Radake’s offseason work had something to do with it too. There were the spring evenings spent at Compound Wrestling’s training facility in Buford. There were summer morning practices at North. There were fall mornings before school with Raiders assistant coach Rusty Transue for 30 or 45 minutes of Cross Fit-style conditioning workouts.
"I’m definitely going to go into this season ready to win more than I did last season," Radake said, "and more prepared to win and just go into every match knowing that I can win."