GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After 25 years of battling with some of the best athletes and coaches in Florida, Clay High wrestling coach Jim Reape announced Monday that he would give the keys to his Blue …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After 25 years of battling with some of the best athletes and coaches in Florida, Clay High wrestling coach Jim Reape announced Monday that he would give the keys to his Blue Devil wrestling machine to long-time assistant coach Hunter Hill.
“Family-wise, it’s time,” said Reape, who has a 25 year history for Clay as wrestling coach and even football coach. “My son Tucker is a junior and my daughter Mattie is in junior high. It’s time to spend more time with my family. Hunter, who has a young son that is active in sports, and I have talked about this day for the past four or five years.”
Reape’s prowess as a builder of champions in Florida wrestling includes one state title in 2004; 23 individual champions with a handful of two and three times, plus four-timer P.J. Cobbert, now the wrestling coach at Fleming Island High School. Reape, inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame of Florida in 2016, took over from Pete McCabe who coached until becoming principal at Clay High School.
“It is surreal after 25 years of being an athlete and then, recently, having to coach against him,” said Cobbert, whom Hill admitted beat him when Hill was a freshman. “I love coach Reape.”
Hill, a second in state finisher at 152 pounds in 2004 under Reape, finished his college days at Stetson University in 2008, coached at Atlantic High School in Volusia County, then returned to his alma mater in 2013 under Reape. Hill has also been a defensive coach for the Clay football team. Reape was head football coach for seven years with Cliff Avril, NFL All Pro defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, a top graduate.
“Hunter gets to become the face of the program for, hopefully, the next 10 years,” said Reape. “He has a better pulse with the kids and the new technology of communications today.”
For Reape, the history of Clay wrestling includes 19 straight district titles, 17 region titles and state runnerup seven times with all the emotional pulls and tugs of competition.
“When you are around 25 years in a sport, you have so many highs and lows that it is hard to pick one or two,” said Reape. “In 2014 or 2015, we beat Lake Highland Prep in a dual meet at Gateway. That was pretty big for our program. We’ve been runnerup to them like five of the last seven state meets.”
Lake Highland Prep coach Mike Palazzo, a 10 year veteran against Reape and Clay High with the Blue Devils runnerups in 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017 and 2018, offered high praise for his rival.
“I know one thing, when you have to wrestle a Clay guy, he will be tough and well coached,” said Palazzo. “I was not around for the 2004 team, but I know the Clay teams in the last decade always came ready to wrestle hard and that comes from the coaches.”
With the roster of wrestlers on the Clay High wrestling room walls; chockful of state placers well into the 1970s, Reape popped off Jake Bain as one his more memorable athletes; though never a state champion. Team-wise, the 2004 team was, at the time, the highest scoring wrestling team in the state.
“Jake, second in 2012 at 160, is one of the best kids we ever had that never won a state title,” said Reape. “He lost his first match as a junior in 2011 and my assistant Robb Baudendistel said he was done. He fought back to take third after winning the region title. He later beat the guy who beat him in the first round. Just a tough kid. That 2004 team had 11 placers; four champions.”
Hill, younger and a bit more fiery at times than Reape in the heat of the battle, said both have learned to create a good atmosphere to teach not just wrestling, but digging down to win matches.
“It’s kind of a good cop, bad cop with us,” said Hill. “I get emotional and he becomes the teacher. When he gets emotional, I become the teacher. We have a good thing going between each other. It’s two head coaches on the same mat.”