His wrestling coach rarely hears more than a ‘Hey, Coach’ when Emmanuel Daigbe enters his classroom, eats lunch and leaves.
Daigbe has a quiet determination. He almost daily walks to the weight room for a secluded workout after every wrestling practice. His football coach recalled Daigbe running two miles to the football field and jumping a fence to work out by himself.
Daigbe sheepishly chuckled, simultaneously looking to the wrestling mat below when asked about his abilities both as an all-state wide receiver in football and a defending state wrestling champion.
“Some people think it’s super easy for me,” said the soft-spoken Daigbe, whose family moved from Liberia in 2004. “But my preparation is what I take pride in.
It’s easy to get in the mat room and wrestle a lot of people and work when all those people are watching. But it’s hard to put in the work when nobody is watching. That’s what I take pride in. I like to work out by myself, make sure nobody is watching and keep pushing myself. When it’s time for the big stage – that’s when I shine.
Emmanuel Daigbe, Kent-Meridian
“It’s easy to get in the mat room and wrestle a lot of people and work when all those people are watching. But it’s hard to put in the work when nobody is watching. That’s what I take pride in. I like to work out by myself, make sure nobody is watching and keep pushing myself. When it’s time for the big stage — that’s when I shine.”
Daigbe last year won the 182-pound Class 4A state wrestling title with a 30-0 record after finishing second in the 170-pound title match his sophomore year. He’s 8-0 this year.
“He’s very strong — it’s like not-human strong,” said Kent-Meridian’s Phu Ly. “He’s like a robot.”
His combination of strength and speed was evident ever since he first walked into the Kent-Meridian wrestling program four years ago, but K-M coach Todd Owens says Daigbe’s improved technique has since vaulted him to another level.
“He’s the best wrestler that I’ve coached here,” said Owens, who took over in 2003. “He’s so strong and he’s fast and fluid and he’s forceful. He’s one of those guys who gets it — if I push hard and I burst and I don’t let the guy off the hook, I can just beat him up.
“What you can do in wrestling is you just make somebody quit. That’s what he does.”
And he said Daigbe’s work ethic is unrivaled.
Emmanuel Daigbe won the 182-pound 4A state wrestling title last year, capping a 30-0 season. This past football season he caught 54 passes for 1,098 yards and 10 touchdowns to earn all-state honors.
Owens realizes Daigbe’s passion lies with football, not over wrestling. Daigbe caught 54 passes for 1,098 yards and 10 touchdowns this past season, which earned him 4A all-state honors.
But his college future is still uncertain.
Daigbe, who has four sisters and two brothers, struggled in school when he and his family emigrated to Kent from Liberia, where farm life kept him from initially attending school. His family left a refugee camp to get here, and his parents both work as custodians.
He didn’t initially understand English and spent a year as an English Language Learner.
“It was pretty hard because I didn’t understand what the teachers were talking about,” Daigbe said.
He took special education English and math classes his freshman and sophomore years. But those don’t count toward NCAA core credits, which all NCAA-hopeful student-athletes are required to complete for athletic eligibility.
It’s caused multiple interested Division I universities to back off, Allen said, though Portland State and Division II Central Washington appear to be trying the hardest to work through it. One Pac-12 school recommended he attend a junior college in California, then it would continue to recruit him.
We have just stressed to him that nothing has come easy for him up to this point anyway, and this his goal of to play major college football is still very much intact, he will just have to take a different – and tougher – path than most. We keep telling him that it will just make his story that much more incredible when he does make it.
Brett Allen, Kent-Meridian football coach
“He’s really busted his butt and changed his habits and started to straighten things out,” Allen said. “We have just stressed to him that nothing has come easy for him up to this point anyway and that his goal to play major college football is still very much intact, he will just have to take a different — and tougher — path than most.
“We keep telling him that it will just make his story that much more incredible when he does make it.”
But Daigbe said all the uncertainty has led some to question his attitude.
“People have been asking me questions like, ‘Why aren’t you getting all of these offers?’ and they don’t know the true story,” Daigbe said. “So they mistake me for like a bad kid or something.”
“That’s what hurts him the most, that people are making assumptions and bad-mouthing him, and hating on him without truly knowing all of the particulars of his situation,” Allen said. “He’s a great kid — one of the hardest working kids I have ever coached — and is a freak of an athlete. He deserves to be playing college football. And because of his make-up as a person and athlete, he will.”
He’s a great kid – one of the hardest working kids I have EVER coached – and is a freak of an athlete. He deserves to be playing college football. And because of his make-up as a person and athlete, he will.
Brett Allen, Kent-Meridian football coach
Daigbe said he’s since applied the same diligent work ethic he’s had in sports to his classwork. He began asking for help and waking up early to get help in his coaches’ classrooms. He lives next to assistant football coach Andy Romine, so he’ll also go to his house for help when he needs it, Daigbe said.
“Once I saw that I could be good at sports, it really motivated me to just do good in school,” said Daigbe, who added that he’d like to wrestle in college if the football team allows him to. “The same way I practice in the mat room, that’s how I am at home, just studying.”
Any free time?
“Not really,” he chuckled.
“In my classes, he’s always been one of the hardest workers I’ve had,” Owens said. “He’s always focused and ready to go. That’s my experience.”
It doesn’t require a room of onlookers to jump-start his work ethic.
Daigbe is quiet. His abilities aren’t.
“I don’t really like to talk a lot. I’ve been quiet since I can remember,” Daigbe said. “I just like to stay to myself and just stay in my zone, worry about me, do me.
“I’m just determined to win. Every time I go on that mat, I know — I’m going to win that match. I never hold back. I just give it my all.”
SOUTH SOUND WRESTLING PRIMER
TEAMS TO WATCH
4A – Curtis: Returns eight state wrestlers, including Jon Bridgman, who placed third in the 182-pound weight class and won both league and regional wrestling titles. The Vikings placed second out of 76 schools at the Las Vegas Holiday Classic behind Liberty of Arizona on Dec. 19.
3A – Bonney Lake: Finished ahead of defending Class 3A state champion Enumclaw at the all-SPSL tournament and returns defending state 106-pound champion Brandon Kaylor, who won the title as a freshman. The Panthers have five returning state participants, including 145-pound state runner-up Avery Meyer.
2A – Orting: The Cardinals have placed in the top five at state every year since 2005, with four consecutive 1A state titles from 2009-2012. Jody Coleman’s squad has taken third each of the past three years in 2A, and has three returning wrestlers who have won state titles (Alex Cruz, Ben Gore, Hunter Mullins).
1A – Vashon: There’s soaring expectations around the Pirates with 11 returning state participants and a core group of seniors led by Chase Wickman and Logan Nelson, who have wrestled together the past 10 years. Team placed eighth last year and seventh in 2014, but could be in top three this year.
Girls – Puyallup: Placed sixth in state last year and returns three-time state champion Jordyn Bartelson and Brooklyn Bartelson, who as a sophomore last year took third in the 115-pound weight class. Todd Beamer was a half point off of the team title, but lost two-time state champ Arian Carpio and 170-pound champ Daiza Vann.
TOP OF THE CLASS
4A – Emmanuel Daigbe, Kent-Meridian, sr.: Reigning 182-pound state champion as physical and explosive as they come, and still improving. Lost to Union’s Alex Berfanger in the 170-pound title match as a sophomore, then came back and beat Berfanger in last year’s 182-pound title rematch.
3A – Kyle Opland, Enumclaw, sr.: Motivation? Opland placed fourth as a freshman in the state 106-pound bracket, then third each of the past two years in 113. Enumclaw coach Adam Eilers said Opland is on a mission to end his high school career with his first state title.
2A – Hunter Mullins, Orting, sr.: The reigning state 285-pound champion is ranked the No. 10 heavyweight wrestler in the nation by FloWrestling. But not even the best fighter in his neighborhood with Demetrious Johnson, one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in Ultimate Fighting, living next door.
1A – Chase Wickman, Vashon Island, sr.: Two-time defending state champion took the 106-pound title in 2013 and won the title and capped an undefeated season with a pin in the 113 finals last year. Could become first three-time champion in Vashon’s history.
Girls – Jordyn Bartelson, Puyallup, sr.: Could potentially be one of two four-time state girls champions (alongside Grandview’s Desiree Zavala) if she wins it all her final year. She won the 120-pound title last year, 118 in 2014 and 2013. Also an all-state midfielder in soccer.
BEST OF THE REST
4A – Leviticus Arizpe, Decatur, sr.; Jon Bridgman, Curtis, sr.; Derek Freitag, Kentridge, sr.; Andrzej Hughes-Murray, Federal Way, sr.; Mitchell Owens, Todd Beamer, sr.; Chad Simonson, Graham-Kapowsin, so.; Justin Sipila, Tahoma, jr.; Oscar Springsteen, Bethel, sr.; Sean Van Earwage, Todd Beamer, sr.; Troy Wilson, Rogers, sr.; Ty Wilson, Rogers, sr.; Dante Springsteen, Bethel, jr.; Nick Whitehead, Tahoma, sr.
3A – Antonio Corea, Auburn Mountainview, sr.; Dylan Foley, Auburn Mountainview, sr.; Kione Gill, Enumclaw, so.; Brandon Kaylor, Bonney Lake, so.; Avery Meyer, Bonney Lake, sr.; Yahya Mirzaei, Auburn Mountainview, jr.; Josiah Schliesman, Sumner, sr.; Quinton Southcott, Enumclaw, so.; Chance Stolz, Peninsula, sr.; Jake Treece, Enumclaw, jr.; Will Willsey, Lincoln, jr.
2A – Alex Cruz, Orting, so.; Ben Gore, Orting, jr.; Cy Hicks, Tumwater, so.
1A – Bryce Hoisington, Vashon Island, jr.; Logan Nelson, Vashon Island, sr.
GIRLS – Brooklyn Bartelson, Puyallup, jr.; Lou Faletagoai, Clover Park, sr.; Raquel Gray, Spanaway Lake, sr.; Jasmine Parker-Borrero, Wilson, so.; Anesia Ramirez, Lakes, sr.; Erin Redford, White River, jr.