CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jake Smith takes on a new role this season for the George Washington High School wrestling team.
Smith, who earned a scholarship to wrestle at Division I Cleveland State University, captured the individual state title at 145 pounds last season to become the school's first state champion since Mark Samples in 1994.
With that championship, Patriots Coach Richard Harper said the senior brings leadership.
"He understands his role," said Harper, who is in his ninth season with the Patriots. "His role has changed from last year. He's a senior now, a leader. He's got to be.
"Now that he's got that scholarship, everything he's done, these kids look up to him and it needs to be positive. He has to work harder than everybody else to show what can happen."
A benefit of having Smith around for one more season is to show the rest of the team how a future Division I athlete acts and carries himself.
"That's a big deal to these kids and shows them what can happen," Harper said. "They can think 'He got (a state title and a scholarship), maybe I can get one.' "
Smith has amassed a 131-21 record at George Washington, including a runner-up finish at 135 pounds in 2011 and a third-place finish at 112 pounds in 2010. Harper isn't sure what weight class Smith will settle into this season, but expects it to be between 152-170 pounds.
"Everybody is going to give him his best shot," Harper said. "If someone can pull a win against him that will make their season. He will have to prepare harder this year than last year.
"Expectations are high for him. Everything is going in the right direction."
Other key wrestlers returning for the Patriots are Jensen Lorea and David Pancake.
Lorea, a junior, finished fifth at 126 pounds last year, while Pancake, a sophomore, was a State Tournament qualifier at 106 pounds. Lorea is unsettled at a certain weight class and Pancake will compete at 113-120 pounds.
Harper said Lorea has improved his strength, maturity and confidence, while Pancake has made strides since the State Tournament.
"He has busted his butt off in the offseason," Harper said of Pancake. "He's going to be tough to handle. His goal is to get on that podium. He was short last year and doesn't want that to happen again this year."