Vic’s Subs Cover Story: Justin Bishop becomes first 100-win wrestler in Mainland Regional history

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Justin Bishop remembers former Holy Spirit state champion Pat D’Arcy tooling on him when Bishop was a 106-pound freshman four years ago. Bishop was flat on his back counting ceiling lights after getting pinned and thinking, hmmm, maybe this whole wrestling thing isn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe I should just stick to football and track. Good thing Bishop didn’t pack it in right then and there. Four years later, the 6-foot, 138-pound senior will be the first name ever inscribed on Mainland Regional wrestling’s 100-win club banner. Bishop picked up the historic win by getting a 10-second pin during a match against Vineland on Feb. 1. He would have gotten it much sooner this season, as he was just nine wins away coming in, but missed the first month of the season after tearing the AC joint in his right shoulder during a football game — against Vineland. “It’s amazing. Especially to be the first one at Mainland Regional High School. It’s unbelievable. I think that was my fastest pin ever. It felt awesome,” Bishop said. “I was all smiles the whole time. Even right before the match, I was having a good time and enjoying the environment. That was probably the most amount of fans we’ve ever had. I told all my friends to come out, and everyone came out. There were fliers all over the school telling people to come out.” Mainland has had a wrestling program for more than four decades, but had never had a 100-match winner, and before this year the Mustangs hadn’t made the playoffs in 42 years. They ended that drought by qualifying as the No. 5 seed in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament, but lost a heartbreaker — 28-27 on criteria — to Absegami on Feb. 8. Still, this has been a memorable season for both Bishop and the Mustangs. “We’ve had a couple who have come close. The kid who held the record for the longest time was Dean Jones with 92 wins. We’ve had some quality wrestlers, they just didn’t quite make it to 100. So it is kind of amazing that we haven’t had a 100-win wrestler yet,” said Mainland coach Clayton Smith. “This has sparked my 145-pounder, John DiNofrio. He’s right there and could get his 100th later this season if all goes well. That has him buzzing thinking that if Justin can do it maybe he can pull it off, too.” Senior 138-pounder Justin Bishop became Mainland Regional's first 100-match winner earlier this month when he scored a pin against Vineland. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Senior 138-pounder Justin Bishop became Mainland Regional’s first 100-match winner earlier this month when he scored a pin against Vineland. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) Kolin Roberts, a 195-pounder, also probably could have been a 100-match winner if not for a shoulder injury that kept him out of a number of matches his sophomore year. This year has been sort of a renaissance for Mainland Regional wrestling, and those three seniors — Bishop, DiNofrio and Roberts — have spearheaded the effort to make Mainland a relevant program in South Jersey wrestling. “It’s not going to be easy to replace Justin, John or Kolin. You just don’t replace guys like that immediately,” Smith said. “Justin’s job after high school is going to be football. That’s what he has his mind set on. And I can’t wait for the day to come when I can go to a college football game, watch him catch a pass for a touchdown and be able to say to the guy next to me, ‘that’s one of my kids.'” Perhaps the most amazing thing about Bishop’s accomplishment is the fact that he is only a part-time wrestler. He was one of the top wide receivers in the Cape-Atlantic League for the Mustangs’ football team last fall, and also is a solid track and field athlete in the spring. He doesn’t have the time that a full-time wrestler has to devote to the sport. Most 100-win wrestlers are guys who wrestle year-round. “He’s a three-sport athlete, and primarily 100-win wrestlers are just wrestlers. But he’s a three-sport varsity letter winner,” Smith said. “It’s not like he just participates, he’s one of the backbones on all three teams.” Bishop also had to face an uphill battle his senior year in trying to come back from the shoulder injury. He had to put in a lot of hard work in rehab to be able to get back on the mat, something other part-time wrestlers might not be willing to do, especially during their senior year. While his future likely lies in college football, Bishop said he never had a doubt about finishing out his high school wrestling career on a high note. “Doctors said I should have gotten surgery, but it was really dependent upon my pain and whether I could handle it enough to wrestle. Initially, I couldn’t lift my arm up. I did physical therapy at school for about two months, and that helped a lot. I started to build up my range of motion. Getting my strength back was the hardest part. I couldn’t even bench the (45-pound) bar at first,” Bishop said. “I knew I was going to come back. I started feeling pressure to get 100 wins (in late January). I almost got it in a quad, but we only wrestled two matches. But I loved getting it on senior night. It was great. People had 100-win signs up, the little kids from the junior program were there with a big banner. People can beat my wins, but I’ll always be the first one. Hopefully there will be more names up there. Hopefully John DiNofrio will be the second, and maybe Anthony Yeoman and my brother, Jesse, can get there.” Bishop’s freshman year was similar to his brother’s current rookie campaign. He didn’t wow area wrestling fans, but near the end of that season he and coach Smith realized he was on pace for 25 wins. Get 25 wins as a freshman, and 100 wins starts to look a whole lot more attainable. “I really didn’t have a goal as a freshman. I just wanted to start on varsity. I’ve always been more into football, so I just wanted to start on varsity. I thought that would be pretty cool as a freshman,” Bishop said. “I think I was around 20 wins when coach (Smith) said that if I get five more, and keep getting 25 each year, I could have 100 wins. That was the first time it became my goal.” “About halfway through his freshman season, I said to myself, ‘this kid has a chance to get 25 wins as a freshman.’ And, obviously, if you can get 25 as a freshman you are on pace,” Smith added. “Here we are four years later — and even after the football injury that kept him out for half of his senior season — he’s got it.” Bishop is a difficult wrestler to handle because at six feet tall, he is much taller than most other 138-pounders. Bishop is a difficult wrestler to handle because at six feet tall, he is much taller than most other 138-pounders. What makes Bishop such a unique wrestler is that he is a very tall 138-pounder. He started out as a 5-foot-6 freshman in the 106-pound weight class. Now, at six feet tall, he is tough for most 138-pounders to handle. Generally, guys in that weight class are much shorter, which gives Bishop a decided reach advantage. “It’s an advantage. I can reach very far for a shot. The double-leg takedown is one of my best moves because I can reach so far on a shot,” Bishop said. “It does go both ways. He has problems sometimes, but for the most part he makes it hard on guys,” Smith said. “Guys that are tall and lanky at that weight class are hard to deal with because they can reach any part of your body at any time. He’s definitely unique.” Smith said Bishop is at the top of his game right now, and believes Bishop could win his second straight District 32 championship and possibly even make it out of regions and on to the state championships at Boardwalk Hall in early March. For Bishop, becoming a two-time district champion is the next thing he is focused on. “My confidence is a lot higher. I used to be very nervous and do research on the wrestler I was wrestling, but I don’t really care anymore. And my strength has improved,” Bishop said. “There’s definitely a lot of pressure at regions. Especially if you have to wrestle on Wednesday night, because if you lose, it’s one-and-done and your season is over. The competition is so much better. You don’t see a lot of pins at regions, mostly it’s just decisions. Mentally, you have to prepare. A successful finish for me would be becoming a two-time district champ. Mainland has never had a two-time district champ, so hopefully I will be the first to get that, too. And then hopefully advance on to states from regions.” “Right now, he’s wrestling the best he ever has. He’s very sharp and a lot more aggressive than he has been in the past. He’s taking chances,” Smith said. “Before, he was much more calculated, but now he’s taking chances. He takes what’s available. In the past, he would try to get an arm bar and tilt a kid, and he would work until he got that. Now, whatever is available he takes it and uses it with a lot more aggression than he ever has, and that’s huge for him. To me, that’s what’s going to carry him through the district level.” Smith said what makes Bishop even more valuable — aside from his obvious talents on the mat — is the type of teammate and leader he is off the mat. “He had to go to rehab several times per week, but the days he didn’t have to go to rehab he would stop by practice and watch. He went to every away match and came to every home match until he was cleared to get back out there. You could tell it was killing him, having to sit out at our season opener. He was miserable. Having to sit there and watch, you could tell it was eating at him, but him being around all the time was part of the driving force in getting him back,” Smith said. “He’s one of the kids the younger kids want to be like. At every home match we have our youth wrestlers out there cheering us on, and they know who he is. He’s that guy.” “I’m definitely going to remember getting 100 wins for a long time. And also making the playoffs for the first time in 42 years. We only had about six wins my sophomore year, then last year we were around .500,” Bishop said. “At first, I was always thinking wrestling is an individual sport, but I’ve come to realize what a team thing it is, and (our success) has been great.” Smith said he couldn’t have picked a better young man to represent Mainland as the school’s first 100-match winner. “I’m glad it was Justin. It could have easily been John, and he’s another fine kid. Kolin Roberts is close, but he’s just not going to have enough matches because he hurt his shoulder during his sophomore year. So we could almost have three (get their 100th win) this season. It’s nice to have a guy like Justin Bishop, his face be that guy (as the first 100-match winner),” Smith said. “He’s a nice kid, he’s smart, he’s a hard worker who is dedicated. He’s the kind of kid that if you have a daughter, you wouldn’t mind her dating him.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]


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