The setbacks many young athletes faced for the first time in 2020 were nothing new to Jake Andrews.
Andrews, currently a senior heavyweight wrestler at Frontier, almost saw his promising athletic career end before he'd even finished his first year of high school.
Riding on a trail at the end of his freshman year, Andrews crashed his dirt bike, landing so hard it caused his kidney to rupture. The injury knocked Andrews, who also played on the Titans football team, out of competition for the entirety of his sophomore year.
Feeling he'd been too casual about sports prior to his accident, Andrews attempted to shift his priorities during the year away. Fully committing to his craft, his efforts paid off in his return to the mat his junior season, where he went 32-18 and qualified for the state tournament, compiling a 2-2 record.
"At the time (of the accident) it was really scary, but right now, I feel like it was kind of a blessing to realize that I need to put all my efforts into sports," he said. "From that point on, I started taking sports more seriously because I didn't know if I'd have another chance."
When it seemed COVID-19 would take away his senior season as well, Andrews made sure to seize any training opportunities that came his way.
For the first two months of quarantine, he and his teammates got together as often as possible to go through any workouts available to them. Unfortunately, without access to a wrestling room, only minimal improvements could be made.
But things opened up in August, thanks largely to the efforts of Torrey Casper, an assistant coach at Frontier.
With several kids losing needed training opportunities, Casper, aided by numerous coaches throughout the area, launched the NexGen Wrestling Club in Bakersfield. A K-12 Regional Training Center, NexGen not only helped wrestlers make technical improvements, but also gave them access to out-of-state tournaments at a time when California wasn't allowing competition.
"This COVID year presented opportunities," Casper said. "You have all this time you're sitting at home, you can either eat potato chips and play video games or you can focus on your future and do better."
Perhaps no one in the group has been more focused on getting better than Andrews, who competed in Arizona, Idaho and South Carolina before having a major breakthrough last week.
After making it though a qualifier in Bullhead City, Ariz., Andrews had a superb showing at the USA Wrestling High School National Recruiting Showcase in Coralville, Iowa. In a deep tournament with elite talent from all over the country, Andrews came home an All-American in the heavyweight division, clinching a third-place finish with a 7-1 decision over Aiden Butler in his final match.
"It was amazing," he said of his experience in Iowa. "Seeing all the different styles of wrestling throughout the states and see how different people compete is super fun to see. It was awesome to be a part of it."
Traveling was once a high priority for Andrews, who wanted to eventually continue his wrestling career out of state. But those goals began to shift, oddly enough, once his travel schedule started to pick up.
While his parents and grandfather were able to accompany him on all his recent out-of-state excursions, Andrews knew that likely wouldn't be an option if he went elsewhere to compete in college.
So after a discussion with friend and former Frontier teammate Jose Landin, a freshman wrestler at Cal State Bakersfield, he filled out an online recruiting questionnaire to gauge the school's interest.
This resulted in a call from Roadrunner head coach Luke Smith, and after staying in contact with the CSUB staff for weeks, he made an easy decision to continue wrestling in his home town.
“In the beginning I really wanted to leave California and go explore around the states and everything," said Andrews, who announced his commitment to CSUB on March 23. "But once I started getting closer to when I had to commit, I started thinking about it and being closer to home felt a lot better. I don’t want my parents to have to go through (the strains of travel) every time they want to watch me compete.”
With high school sports back in full swing in Kern County, Andrews is hoping his family will get to see him end his prep career on top.
Encouraged to qualify and win a pair of matches at the 2020 state tournament, he has even bigger plans this time around, as believes he's much more equipped to make a deep run this time around.
"Since the state tournament last year, I had it in my mind that I wanted to either finish top-five or take first," Andrews said. "That's what I've been training for this entire time. I feel it's very possible."