Larry Blustein

FRIDAY FOCUS: Athletic John Pope Looks For State Wrestling Title

Larry Blustein
March 08, 2019 - 9:51 am

As John “Jake” Pope went through some last minute preparations for this weekend’s state wrestling tournament, the St. Thomas Aquinas senior was certainly the center of attention on Thursday evening.

With the state wrestling tournament going on today and Saturday at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, there will be a number of quality athletes looking for that elusive state title. But very few have the back story that this 6-6, 275-pounder does.

One of the elite prospects on the football field, heading to the University of Kentucky after the school year, Pope just happens to be one of the top heavyweight wrestlers in Florida, and he brings his 34-0 record in against some quality talent.

While football is paving the way for his future, it’s the wrestling mat that has helped him to become a better football prospect, and he knows that the four years spent learning, has put him in the position he is in today.

“First of all, Coach (George) Smith was the first to encourage me to come out as a ninth grader,” he recalled. “Then, coach (Roger) Harriott has been supportive as well.”

What has happened with Pope through the years is he was a big man who loved the sport of wrestling and had a room of coaches and former wrestlers who were willing to teach him. With coaches such as Hall of Famer Rob Wimberley teaching him and giving Pope some sage advice, things have worked out just fine.

“Jake is a tremendous athlete who is quick and a very smart young man,” Wimberly said. “If he is going to win this thing in his final year, the road will be tough and he knows that, but he also understands that he has met every challenge so far this year.”

Pope goes into the championships as someone to keep an eye on. Last year’s Lake Highland Prep standout Curtis Ruff is now at Sanford Seminole, and figures to be the 3A heavyweight, along with Christian Sanchez of Southwest Miami, as the favorites.

The heavyweight selection, while not as tough as it has been the past few years, does also feature Stanley Hollenbach from Neptune Beach Fletcher, Matt Saint John (Winter Springs), Nicholas Syms (Pinellas Park), Maxwell Diaz (Miami Coral Park) and Lakeland’s Willie Lampkin.

“I know that I have worked very hard for this opportunity,” Pope said. “There is no doubt that anyone had a tougher workout partner than I have had in Tyreak Sapp, who will be right here where I am next year.”


There is no doubt that one of the most anticipated team titles will be up for grabs as head coach Vic Balmaceda and his South Dade Bucs continue to dominate this class. But as this team found out at the team championships, Fleming Island is really good and will be in the hunt.

Other local teams that will have a solid showing includes Southwest Miami, St. Thomas Aquinas, Columbus and Southridge.


After unseating 17-time state champion Brandon a year ago, Lakeland’s Lake Gibson is loaded and ready to contend.

South Florida programs such as Barbara Goleman, South Broward and Doral Academy have talent, but nowhere enough to chase those powers.


For the past five years, Orlando’s Lake Highland Prep has run away with the state title – showing why they are one of the top 10 programs in the nation.

Unfortunately for Cardinal Gibbons, Mater Lakes and Somerset Academy, this is a race for second!


Every year, south Florida sends a number of talented wrestlers to the state tournament. This year, they are bring 123.

Here is a list of all student/athletes who will be in action:


Tyler Cabral (Cardinal Gibbons)

Alexander Couto (Coral Park)

Livan Curbelo (Doral Academy) 

Corey Gallivan (Miami Palmetto) 

Chase Gillis (Somerset) 

Danny Martinez (Mater Lakes) 

Adrian Morales (South Dade)

Christian Papalardo (Taravella)

Nicholas Rios (Southwest Miami)

 Zach Weidler (Calvary Christian Academy)


Christopher Busutil (Miami Southridge) 

Skyler Caban (Somerset Academy)

Nico Cava (Monarch)

Jacob Delgado (South Dade) 

Robert Dusendang (Christopher Columbus)

Sazzad Mabud (Cardinal Gibbons) 

Anthony Montanez (South Broward)

Joseph Riestra (Cooper City)

Jaden Villalobos (Archbishop McCarthy)

Justin Zerbinati (Mater Lakes)


Sawyer Bartlet (Doral Academy)

Pablo Diaz (Coral Park) 

Charles Hoffman (Christopher Columbus)

Raiden Johnson (Coral Springs)

Robert Limperis (Cardinal Gibbons) 

Nicholas Luna (Mater Lakes)

Sebastian Melguizo (Southwest Miami) 

Adiran Neco (South Dade)


Roger Arocha (Doral Academy)

Dylan Burton (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Jose Gonzalez (Southwest Miami)

Brian Mas (Cardinal Gibbons) 

Tyler Orta (South Dade) 

Gonzalo Perez (Mater Lakes)

Fredy Rizo (Miami Ferguson)

Michael Sarron (Coral Springs Charter)

Justin Valdes (Christopher Columbus)

Rhys Willenborg (Archbishop McCarthy)


Omar Armengol (Mater Lakes)

Destin Jones (Miami Palmetto) 

Alejandro Mas (Cardinal Gibbons)

Dylan Mira (Christopher Columbus)

Bretli Reyna (South Dade)

Jackson Wenberg (North Miami)


Rafael Alvarez (Mater Lakes)

Alexander Baldomero (Braddock)

Alek Chitty (Coral Springs Charter)

Andy Dematas (Southwest Miami)

Steven Erched (Parkland Douglas)

Mario Garcia (South Broward)

Ramiro Mosquera (Somerset Academy)

Angel Sanchez (North Miami)

Joshua Swan (South Dade) 


Kevin Augustin (Monsignor Pace) 

Darian Diaz (Somerset Academy)

Ryan Garcia (Coral Park)

Julian Hernandez (Southwest Miami) 

Jonathan Ley (Cardinal Gibbons)

David Milton (Christopher Columbus)

Eric Temes (South Dade) 


Raul Chavarry (Barbara Goleman)

Xavier Diaz (Coral Springs)

Darian Estevez (Somerset Academy) 

Ryan Gonzalez (Christopher Columbus)

Gianni Guerriero (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Jack Limperis (Cardinal Gibbons) 

Johnny Lovett (Miami Southridge)

Justin Maynard (South Broward) 

Jorge Vasquez II (Southwest Miami) 

Steven Villalobos (Coral Park) 


Brevin Balmeceda (South Dade)

Niko Chitty (Coral Springs Charter)

Sean Concepcion (Somerset Academy)

Daniel Ellison (Cardinal Gibbons)

George Llanes (Coral Park) 

Mason Mulka (Fort Lauderdale)

Nestor Nunez (Mater Lakes)

Major Threlkeld (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Rivaldo Valmy (North Miami)

Charles Veliz (Miami Palmetto)


Brent Becerra (Christopher Columbus) 

Shane Cannon (Cardinal Gibbons)

Caleb Casas (Somerset Academy)

Nico Esposito (Fort Lauderdale)

Skyler Hall (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Todd Perry (South Dade)

Carl Henry Pierre (Miami Edison)

Dreyson Rolle (Miami Ferguson)

Rafael Ruiz (Miami Belen Jesuit)

Bryan Valdes (Southwest Miami)


Sammy Bencid (Coral Park) 

Nicholas Benton (Somerset Academy) 

Damian Castro (Cardinal Gibbons)

Maximo Fernandez (Barbara Goleman)

Dedric Marshall (Miami Southridge) 

Josh Mizelle (Miami Palmetto)

Chase Rutledge (Coral Springs) 

Adrian Vidaud (Southwest Miami)


David Alvarez (Mater Lakes)

Max Benjamin (Miami Monsignor Pace)

Carmine D’ascoli (Christopher Columbus)

Caio DeAlmeida (Cypress Bay) 

Juhnari Dye (Miami Central)

Christopher Green (Miami Palmetto)

Noah Lusk (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Jesus Rodriguez (Hollywood McArthur) 


Kenneth Crouse (South Dade)

Taso Kourtakis (Miami Southridge)

Ray Lugo (Miami Monsignor Pace)

Clarouly Meca (North Miami)

Daniel Miranda (Somerset Academy) 

Danny Rodriguez (Mater Lakes)

Shawn Rodriguez (Barbara Goleman)

Christopher Valdes (Miami High) 


Max Diaz (Coral Park)

Umari Dixon Gordon (Miami Edison)

Isaac Joseph (Miami Dr. Krop) 

Rafael Medina (Miami Jackson)

Tyreek Ormil (Coral Springs Charter)

John Pope  (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Jose Ramirez (Miami Northwestern)

Christian Sanchez (Southwest Miami)

Tanavious Shropshire (South Dade) 

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