Athlete of the Month: James Verbeyst ’17

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photo by Aaron Wu

James Verbeyst ’17 started wrestling at five years old, when his father brought him to the Hopewell Youth Club to wrestle. He moved to Princeton during his elementary school years, and now, he is the first-ever PHS wrestler to reach 100 wins.

For Verbeyst, this pivotal match was greatly anticipated. He knew that his goal was just in reach. This led to some nervousness, but he pushed the thought to the back of his mind and remembered his real objective: to dominate his opponent no matter the circumstances. Afterwards, the win was a special moment not only to Verbeyst, but to his family as well.

“It was so surreal to finally get it. It felt like all the hard work I put in was actually paying off,” said Verbeyst.

Head Coach Rashone Johnson was also extremely proud. For the past wrestling seasons, Verbeyst has moved up weight classes every single year. This is not common because at higher weight classes, the technical level and strength of opponents increases tenfold. Coach Johnson helped him to adjust by gradually developing strength and mental toughness, but he gives credit to Verbeyst for always doing his best.

“The thing that [you’ve] got to marvel about James is that he went up two weight classes, and he didn’t just compete, he didn’t just survive, he actually thrived,” Coach Johnson said. “He’s had his best season at his heaviest weight class.”

It is no secret that achieving this requires time and effort. In fact, wrestling is never-ending for Verbeyst. He does it all year long and participates on the PHS team from November to March. With two practices a day for two hours each, three or four times a week, there is little time to wind down and relax.  

“Wrestling has controlled my life,” Verbeyst said. “People were hanging out with friends and I was training instead, [but] it’s transformed me into the person that I am.”

Besides attending team practices and tournaments, Verbeyst wrestles at other clubs around the area: the Apache Wrestling Club and Southeast Pennsylvania Wrestling Club, both located in Pennsylvania, as well as the Princeton Wrestling Club and the Elite Wrestling Club, both located in New Jersey.

Throughout his wrestling career, Verbeyst believes his coaches have been his biggest support. The pressure can get intense because wrestling is one-on-one. Whatever the outcome of a match may be, it all depends on the individual. Yet the fear of losing does not seem to take hold of Verbeyst.

“I think pressure helps me. Once you wrestle for awhile, then you’re not in your head. There’s nothing that beats that.”

While athletes deal with extreme pressure, having confidence is one of the key components to winning matches. Coach Johnson describes Verbeyst as having a loud and infectious personality, which also translates into his style of wrestling.

“He has a bravado with him that he brings around that he tries to rub off on people. He wants people to come watch the ‘James Verbeyst show.’ … When the opportunity presents itself [while wrestling], he likes putting on a show.”

High school marks the end of wrestling for Verbeyst. His career concludes with him as the first PHS wrestler to reach 100 wins, the first PHS wrestler to become a two-time county champion and four-time county finalist. He plans to join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a decision he struggled to make. Verbeyst will be going through a four-year college-based training program to become an officer for the military. He is open to the possibility of coaching or starting his own club in the future because wrestling is an integral part of his life.

“It’s a lifestyle,” Verbeyst said. “Once you get committed to it, there’s nothing better.”

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