When Kevin Innis was growing up in his native Secaucus, the St. Peter’s Prep sophomore didn’t have to look far for his inspiration.
“My older brother Brian was a very good wrestler,” the younger Innis said of his older brother, who wrestled at St. Mary’s of Rutherford eight years ago. “I grew up watching him and admiring him. I went to all of his matches and videotaped them. Then, I’d go home and watch them again. He was always teaching me things about wrestling. I looked up to him so much.”
So, it was only natural that Kevin Innis would want to follow in his older brother’s footsteps. Another older brother, Chris, chose the baseball route and still currently plays at St. Peter’s College. But Kevin wanted to be a wrestler like Brian.
Kevin Innis joined the Secaucus Recreation wrestling program and quickly became a standout, along with his good friend and workout partner, Bob Roesing, who wrestles for Secaucus High School.
It was also helpful that Kevin had a workout partner and coach living under the same roof.
“I can’t begin to tell you how many times I would drill with Brian and he would hand my head to me,” Kevin Innis said. “We would drill together and go at it pretty good. It was all part of learning the sport.”
When the time came for the youngest of the three Innis brothers to choose a high school, Kevin chose St. Peter’s Prep over St. Mary’s of Rutherford, where Brian and Chris both attended.
Kevin Innis had a successful freshman campaign for the Marauders, posting a 23-6 record.
“But I always got caught up with who I was going to wrestle,” Innis said. “I made a lot of freshman mistakes. I knew I had to give wrestling more of an effort.”
So, Innis joined a wrestling club in Bergen County to work out more with other top wrestlers. He worked on drilling and getting quicker.
“I gave it my all,” Innis said. “I spent a lot more time on the mat.”
“I knew that he had ability,” said St. Peter’s Prep wrestling coach Anthony Verdi. “We expected good things from him this year. Kevin just has natural ability. He trains seven days a week and is constantly working on improving himself. His wrestling style is a little different for someone his size. He’s quick on his feet and uses his speed to his advantage.”
Even though every time Innis takes the mat, he’s at a disadvantage. Innis wrestles at the 215-pound class, even though he weighs 200 pounds. So he’s surrendering 15 pounds to his opponent every time he wrestles.
“I think that’s actually an advantage to him,” Verdi said. “He’s quicker than everyone else he wrestles. He’s certainly not weaker by 15 pounds. He wrestles more like a 171-pounder in terms of his quickness. He just outhustles a lot of his opponents.”
When the season began, Innis had one goal in mind – making it to the NJSIAA state championships in Atlantic City.
“I knew what I wanted to do and that was to get to Atlantic City,” Innis said. “I always kept the postseason in my mind. I kept reminding myself of that goal to give me a little push when I needed it.”
Two weeks ago, the sophomore Innis completed the first step of his goal by capturing the gold medal in the 215-pound weight class at the NJSIAA District 16 tourney in North Bergen.
Last week, the meteoric climb continued, when Innis won again, this time winning Region 4 championship in the same weight class, defeating the surprising Jeremy Jermin of Hudson Catholic in the finals.
Jermin, a first-year wrestler, had upset top-seeded and undefeated Dillon Lawler of Verona earlier in the Region 4 tourney. But Innis took care of Jermin in the final round, taking an 8-5 decision to become one of four Hudson County wrestlers to earn a Region 4 gold medal.
For his efforts, Innis has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“My goal was to place in the regions [among the top three], so I could get to Atlantic City, but winning was great,” Innis said. “I was hoping to win, and I thought I had a shot. I feel like I’m getting better as a wrestler. Last year, I took my beatings. I’m just happy that I’ve improved from last year and that I just keep getting better.”
Innis will take a 32-3 record with him to the state tournament. He became the first Prep wrestler to win a Region 4 gold medal since Sean O’Grady won three years ago and is only the seventh Marauder wrestler to ever win a region gold.
“Kevin is a smart wrestler who is also very skilled,” Verdi said. “He’s the hardest working kid in our room. He’s beaten seven kids this year that were District champs from 189 pounds to heavyweight. That’s a lot of quality wins. He’s just the kind of kid who is simply going to outwork people.”
Innis was also happy that his former Secaucus Recreation workout partner Roesing also won at the Region 4 tourney.
“I had flashbacks to my days with the Secaucus Rec,” Innis said. “It reminded me of middle school, Bobby and me winning together. We’re really good friends and I’m really happy for him. It was awesome to see him win.”
Innis is also an aspiring football player at the Prep with a lot of promise. He’s not ready to handle the title of being a wrestler who happens to play football.
“No, I don’t want the coaches to hear me say that,” Innis said. “I’m very happy being both. I think wrestling is a lot harder, because there’s a lot more mental work than anyone would imagine. It’s not a sport for those who are mentally weak. It’s very taxing. But I think wrestling helps me get ready for football, because when training begins for football, I’m in the best possible shape.”
Innis says that he owes so much to his older brother, who now serves as an assistant wrestling coach at Prep.
“It’s all about Brian,” Innis said. “I can’t be more grateful to anyone but my brother. He pushed me to be where I am today. He’s always teaching me new things and pushing me up the ladder.”
Considering that Innis is just a sophomore, it’s safe that the ladder has a few more rungs to climb. Perhaps it will start this weekend in Atlantic City. – Jim Hague