After beating Bel Air’s previously undefeated William Holder-Moore, 8-5, for the 3A/4A East regional title Feb. 23, Wilde Lake senior Tola Morakinyo (170) finds himself 36-0 and four wins away from a state title.
And on Saturday evening at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House, Morakinyo plans to finish the season 40-0.
“I’ve faced some pretty good kids, and I’m happy with my season so far,” said Morakinyo, before winning the Howard County title earlier this month. My goal is “just to be undefeated all the way through and be a state champ. That’s what I’m going for.”
Morakinyo and Holder-Moore are the top two ranked 170-pounders by the Maryland State Wrestling Association, and they could meet again in the state final.
“To be honest, I’m hoping (to see him again) in the state finals match,” said Morakinyo. “Not because I won here but because win or lose … in the long run you’re like ‘this is a quality person I lost to’ and you can be OK with that loss.”
Not that he’s planning to lose.
Morakinyo says that his newfound confidence this year — in addition to rigorous training, weightlifting and a healthy diet — has helped him take the next step as a senior. As a junior he finished 35-8, losing to River Hill’s Cory Daniel (also undefeated this year at 195) in the county finals, and placing third at both the regional and state tournaments.
“He actually broke out at the regional tournament” last year, coach Jeff Starnes said. “That’s when the light went on.”
“He’s a hard worker and the most gifted athlete I’ve had in 30 years of coaching,” said Bill Smith, who coaches Wilde Lake along with Starnes.
The difference between the 2012 Tola and the 2013 Tola, though, is that second or third isn't good enough.
“Last year I knew I was good, but I didn’t really have the confidence that I do this year. This year when I’m on the mat I just know I’m going to win before the match starts,” he said. “I’m not worried about who I’m wrestling anymore, I’m ready to just get out there and (win).”
It’s no surprise that mental preparation is a strong point for Morakinyo, considering that both of his parents are psychologists.
His father, Akintunde Morakinyo, runs competitively with the Howard County Striders and coaches with the Junior Striders. His mother, Sue Ellen, is also a competitive marathon runner.
Tola Morakinyo has an older sister, Alexis, who played soccer for Wilde Lake and now attends Colgate University, and a younger sister at Harpers Choice Middle School.
Growing up, Tola Morakinyo competed in gymnastics and running, and just about everything else.
“I think I’ve played pretty much every sport out there at one point,” he said. “I’m pretty bad at basketball and tennis.”
By the time he reached middle school, Morakinyo was drawn toward contact sports. He played football all through middle school and up until his freshman year at Wilde Lake when he lost interest.
He didn’t step on the football field again until this year, when he went out for the team and became a first-team all-county defensive lineman (seven sacks) playing alongside Maryland recruit Moise Larose.
“At the beginning of this year I was like, it's my senior year, might as well,” he said. “It was more of a sport to have fun with because wrestling is now my main sport, but I enjoyed it.”
Morakinyo, who also won a county championship in the pole vault as a sophomore, had a similar experience when he first tried wrestling as a freshman.
“I just came out as a freshman, 125, our coach at the time (Azmar Hagler) just stuck me on varsity and I ended up actually having a pretty good season,” he said. “I think I was 24-17.”
As a sophomore, Morakinyo finished 24-8, after placing third in the county.
“Up until last year all I would do is throws, so a lot of people thought I was just strength, but I’ve always had the ability (to win on technique),” said Morakinyo, who trains with Wilde Lake 195-pounder Nate Haase and two-time county-champion Malik Jackson (145) in the practice room.
Jackson “is really fast so it keeps me on my toes,” Morakinyo said. “And it’s great working with Nate. He’s a really hard worker.”
After graduation, Morakinyo plans to join the military.
“I’ve been interested in going into the military since I’ve been little, it’s just something I feel like I’d be good at and, it’s something I want to do. I want to travel and just experience the world, and that’s a good way to do that,” he said. “I’m looking at the Army right now. I’m thinking about being a Ranger. That’s what the goal is right now.”
And Starnes, who says that Morakinyo is like a third coach in the room for him and Bill Smith, knows that once Morakinyo has his mind set on something, you might as well just get behind him.
“One way or another, he’s going to be in the armed forces. There’s no talking him out of that,” he said. “I’d go over the hill with him any day of the week.”