Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
The hallways surrounding the gym at Longmont High School are filled with photos of athletes who have succeeded before graduating and moving on. Each year, the photos are updated, and the latest class will see their names and memories added to the walls.
Drake Engelking will leave the greatest resume for a wrestler in Longmont High School program history that will be added to those walls upon graduation later this year. The senior was the first to accomplish some big goals with the team. He was the first athlete in Longmont wrestling history to qualify for state as a freshman and to place his freshman year, and then he followed by becoming the first state placer as a sophomore. His career would end by becoming the first four-time state placer and first two-time state champion for the program.
For his historic run with the Longmont Trojans, Engelking has been named the BoCoPreps.com wrestler of the year for the 2018-19 season.
“That’s very cool to leave a huge legacy behind,” Engelking said. “It helps out the future of the program knowing that I went through it, and now people will want to join. It’s amazing and crazy to think about, but it’s super cool.”
Becoming an all-time great in school history started by finding a passion for the sport, something Engelking said did not happen right away.
“When my dad got me into wrestling he told me that he never thought I would be a wrestler,” Engelking said. “Back in the day, I wanted to be a baseball player really bad. I thought it was my thing. In eighth grade and my freshman year, having (my dad) being named the head coach, I went from there.”
With his father in his corner, Engelking made a surprise run to the state championship finals his freshman year and took second place. More tournaments would follow that saw him place and perform well.
The rest is history.
This season marked a new challenge for Engelking to handle the pressures of defending a state championship and being the man everyone was looking to dethrone.
“I definitely worked harder in the wrestling room and tried to do my best during the tournament so that no one could have that will or chance to beat me,” Engelking said. “I tried to give everything I could so I could make it back.”
The work paid off. Engelking reached the state tournament as the No. 1 seed at 170 pounds in Class 4A with a 28-1 record. He cruised to the finals, winning his first three matches by fall twice and by technical fall. His final match put him against Cody Eaton of Windsor, the man with the second-most wins in the weight bracket at 38-6 entering state.
“The pressure was huge going into the finals,” Engelking said. “The Pepsi Center nerves are real.”
Engelking scored the first takedown and escaped to neutral position to lead 3-0. Eaton scored two points to get into the match in the third period. With 21 seconds remaining, Engelking suffered a dislocated thumb injury that forced him to use one hand to defend takedown attempts down the stretch to hang on for the decision win.
Today, he wears a brace on his thumb, but the pain felt that night is dampened by the memories of winning his second state title to close his high school career.
“I felt a sigh of relief, but it was also a sad moment knowing that my high school career was over,” Engelking said. “It was my last high school sport, but there was a big sigh of relief winning that last state championship, especially with the injury.”
The man who thought his future would be in baseball leaves behind the greatest legacy in Longmont wrestling history, and he will continue his wrestling career up the road in Greeley at the University of Northern Colorado next year. Engelking calls the next chapter an exciting opportunity and looks forward to staying close to home to continue with the sport that has treated him well.
Before he leaves, though, he will take time to reflect on all of his accomplishments along the way.
“You have to enjoy the moment. It goes really quick,” Engelking said. “I still remember like it was yesterday going to state my freshman year, and now it’s over. There are ups and downs along the way, but you have to enjoy every moment.”