He’s been out of high school now for nearly 14 years, but David Cordoba will tell you about every high school wrestling match he competed in while wearing a Kearny High School singlet.
Cordoba, a 2000 KHS grad, had a decorated high school wrestling career, putting together a 138-4 record in four varsity seasons. He won the 1999 state championship while finishing second in the state in both 1998 and 2000. As a freshman in 1997, he lost just one match, in the state semifinals, and eventually wrestled back for third.
“Great times,” Cordoba said, recalling his marvelous success. “I can’t believe it’s been 14 years since I was in high school, but the memories never fade. I think there’s a generation of kids now who might not know what I did in high school, but they know me as a coach. Most of the time, if a young kid asks how I did as a wrestler, I’ll say ‘ask your parents.'”
Cordoba finished undefeated in his junior year (1998-1999), and won the state title by defeating Frankie Edgar of Toms River East, in the 130-pound final.
(Photo courtesy of D. Cordoba)
Yes, that Frankie Edgar, today a renown Ultimate Fighter.
“A lot of people will say, ‘wow you beat Frankie Edgar?'” Cordoba said. “Would I want to get into a cage with him now? No. But the relationships you build in this sport last a lifetime. Frankie and I get along good. And being a state champion stays with you, forever.
“A lot of people recognize you because of being a state champ. Not many win one. Would I have liked to win more? Of course. I still think about losing in the (1998) final to (Oliver) Ruiz, (of Cliffside Park, the state tourney’s eventual Outstanding Wrestler that year). That one still bothers me, a little. In my senior year, I wrestled (Mike) Booth (of Camden Catholic in the 135-pound final), but in that one, I lost. I’m proud of what I accomplished. It was a great run.”
Cordoba will be on hand this Saturday, Dec. 14, at Princeton University for a big match between Princeton and Rutgers at Jadwin Gym.
Before the first bout commences at 5 p.m., the Tigers will be honoring all the living NJSIAA champions. Princeton assistant coach Joe Dubuque, himself a two-time NJSIAA champion at Glen Ridge High School (2000 and 2001) before winning a pair of NCAA titles at the University of Indiana (2005 and 2006) has been proactive in putting together the event. Dubuque will also be hosting a wrestling clinic at Princeton on Saturday, which starts around 2 p.m.
In the annals of New Jersey high school athletics, few sports invoke the passion that wrestling does and Princeton head wrestling coach Chris Ayres, who graduated from Newton High in Sussex County, NJ, can’t wait for Saturday’s festivities.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity for our program to compete at Jadwin Gym, once again,” Ayres said. “And wrestling Rutgers is a natural for us, especially with what we have planned for that day.”
The first New Jersey state champions in high school wrestling were crowned back in 1934, meaning a wrestler from that era could very well be a World War II vet and is in his late 80s. In 1934, there were nine champions, with five hailing from Ayres’ alma mater. The weight classes back then started at 95 pounds and extended through the heavyweight bracket.
“I’m pretty sure Newton still has the most state champions,” said Ayres, proudly. “It’s amazing how this sport keeps people together, long after their final match.”
Cordoba hopes people think of him now as a coach.
“I had a good time as a high school wrestler, but I want to contribute to the sport now as a coach and hopefully, people will see me in that light,” Cordoba said. “I think I can offer a lot. It’s a great sport.”
For Cordoba, seeing a lot of old friends at Princeton will be special.
“We’d go at it on the mat pretty good, but in the end, we had a lot of respect for each other,” Cordoba said. “And we have each other’s backs today, too. It should be a great time, seeing those guys again. It’s a special fraternity.