By Steve Dulas
UNION CITY -- Jacob Donato has always been at the top of his class. The senior is an honors student at James Logan High School. He has earned a black belt in martial arts. Earlier this month he cemented his place as one of the best high school wrestlers in California and as a shining part of James Logan's incredible legacy.
When his photo goes on the wall in the Logan wrestling room for taking fourth in the California Interscholastic Federation championships, one more line can be added to his dedication: Bay Area News Group East Bay Wrestler of the Year for 2013-14.
"I've been going into that wrestling room since I was 5," Donato said. "I've looked at the pictures on the wall and knew that someday my picture would be up there."
James Logan now has 27 wrestlers who have won state medals, after Donato, Jacob Macalolooy and Clayton Hartwell accomplished that at the state tournament in Bakersfield earlier this month.
"Being on that medal stand has always been a goal of mine ever since I started wrestling," Donato said. "I've been wrestling for 13 years and this was my last high school tournament, and I knew I had to leave it all on the mat. That's what I did. It was just a great accomplishment for me."
Donato went 0-2 in each of his first two trips to state. They were fruitful only in that he finally learned a lesson, he said.
"The last two years I went oh-and-two, I think I was probably always looking ahead, thinking of who I was going to wrestle next," he said. "That was a mistake to me, looking past people. This year I was not worried about who I'd be wrestling later. I just knew that I had the ability to win this tournament."
He beat Simi Valley's Jacob Cano 4-2 for his first victory at state, then pinned Anthony Wesley of Jesuit-Sacramento in 59 seconds to move into the quarterfinals. There, he edged San Marino's Evan Wick -- at the time No. 3 in the California Wrestler state rankings -- for a semifinal berth against second-ranked Gionn Peralta of Vacaville. Donato went into the tournament ranked eighth.
"That locked me in to a medal, but I wasn't going to just settle for a medal," said Donato, who was pinned in overtime by Peralta. "I went in prepared; I just got caught and ended up losing the match. After that I knew I still had two more matches to wrestle."
He eventually lost 5-4 to Yoshio Funakoshi of West Torrance in the bronze medal match. The bout was a rematch from the Battle for the Belt Tournament at Temecula Valley, which had become the transcendent tournament of the year for Donato.
"Donato really came on at Temecula and went on from there," James Logan coach Eli Bagaosian said.
After wrestling at 120 pounds the last two seasons, Donato wanted to move up to 126. At that weight, he placed third at the Zinkin Classic at Buchanan in Clovis and missed out on a medal at the Doc Buchanan Invitational at Clovis.
"The last two years it was a pretty hard (weight) cut to get to 120," Donato said. "After Doc Buchanan I didn't do so well at 126, so I thought I should drop down to 120. Temecula was the first tournament for me at that weight. It was a pretty hard cut but all the hard work allowed me to do it."
He lost 3-1 to Funakoshi on the first day, but faced him again in the fifth-place match, this time scoring a 4-3 victory.
After that, Donato won the Pound Tournament at San Rafael, the Mission San Jose Invitational and the Mission Valley Athletic League title before he captured the North Coast Section championship.
"After I won (Mission San Jose), I gained a lot of confidence," he said. "That got the ball rolling into the postseason."
Moving forward to Bakersfield, Macalolooy placed seventh at 138 and Hartwell was fourth at 195, giving Logan three medalists for the first time since 1996.
The state tournament won't be the end of Donato's wrestling career. He has committed to wrestle for New York University, where he plans to study medicine.
"I'm pretty excited about it," said Donato, who carries a 4.1 GPA. "It was the school I wanted to go to. I've visited New York City twice and I really like the big-city lifestyle."
It may mean a parting of the ways for Macalolooy and Donato, best friends since they were 5 who first became teammates at the Dragon's Den, a martial arts studio in Union City. They have each achieved their black belts in Kajukenbo there.
"I played lots of sports growing up; football, basketball, soccer," Donato said. "But I've always been on the mat somewhere. The training in martial arts definitely helped with my wrestling."
They were introduced to the wrestling room at James Logan in 2003 when Macalolooy's uncle, Jonathan, wrestled for the Colts. The two Jacobs would often go to practice there and work out with some of the high school wrestlers. That was when Donato first noticed all the photos on the wall.
Now he shall remain a part of it.