Henson, who won the 152-pound title last season and finished second at 140 in 2011, has won three Cobb County Invitational championships and two region crowns since joining the Greyhounds’ varsity program for the 2010-11 season.
A lot of his success stems from his natural ability. The junior has also been a standout football and baseball player at Pope before deciding to focus more of his time on wrestling this season.
Behind the scenes has been Henson’s father, Brian, who has steadfastly assisted in his son’s development over the years and is often in the front row of many of his matches.
“He’s been with me my whole life,” Jake said. “He’s at pretty much every sporting event I have. He doesn’t get a lot of sleep, and makes it to most of them, whether it was football, baseball or wrestling.
“He’s there pushing me and he makes me practice. I know I wouldn’t be as successful as I am without him. No doubt, he’s the one that puts me through it, and it’s been paying off.”
Jake’s success has almost been by design.
Brian Henson, a four-year varsity wrestler at McEachern who graduated in 1987, never won or placed at the state meet. He started wrestling late in life — at least, by current standards — when he joined his middle-school team in the eighth grade.
Brian and his brother, Brent, who also wrestled at McEachern and was a state-placer before graduating in 1990, introduced Jake to the sport when he was in the second grade.
“I mostly started because of my dad and his brother,” Jake said. “They wrestled in high school, and I saw how much they liked it, so that’s how I started out. I joined Etowah’s junior program and went from there.”
Brian saw how much Jake enjoyed the sport, and it paved the groundwork for his future accomplishments.
“I knew he had natural ability,” Brian said. “He liked it and worked hard to be better. I wanted to get him in a situation to be the best he could be.”
At an early age, Jake would travel to out-of-state tournaments by his father to challenge some of the best wrestlers in the country.
“We spent a lot of time doing that,” Brian said. “Because I wrestled, I knew enough of the basics to help him when I could. But, to help him get better, we would take 12- to 14-hour trips together, maybe three times a year, to get him competing. Those were some of the best times of our life, and he’d win or almost always place at every tournament he entered.”
Jake has appreciated all of the time he’s spent with his father, and he can tell that the feeling is mutual.
“He’s a lot like most dads,” Jake said, “but I can tell how into a match he is. If anybody pays as much attention to wrestling, it’s him. He watches video and takes notes and shows me stuff he’s seen.”
Brian acknowledged that part of the reason he’s so committed to helping his son is because he never really found the success he wanted to achieve in the sport. Seeing Jake do so well gives him an opportunity to live vicariously through him.
“When you look back, I feel like I didn’t do as well in high school as I wanted,” Brian said. “My job now is to keep (Jake) in position to have the success I didn’t have. When that happens, I feel like I’ve done something right by him.
“I’m really proud of him. He’s an excellent athlete. He does things the right way. When he wins or loses, he does it with dignity. He’s going to try and wrestle in college and continues to work really hard at it.”
Brian also helps his son by not eating around him. Because Jake needs to maintain a certain weight during wrestling season, his father tries to keep distractions — like food — to a minimum.
“He understands what I’m going through and diets with me when he can,” Jake said. “If I can’t eat too much, he’s right there with me not eating.”
It’s that kind of devotion that has made father and son such a great team over the years. Even Jake has felt the need to provide his father with the kind of success he didn’t have as a teenager.
“Every guy dreams to make his dad happy,” Jake said. “Wrestling is a tough sport. We’ve talked in the past about whether I want to quit or not, but I’ve been doing well. It’s definitely my best sport, which is why I gave up football in the spring. I’ll play baseball this springs, but not over the summer. That’s when I’ll focus again on wrestling.
“My dad gets into wrestling, so I can’t see me ever quitting. I see myself living through him as well.”