THOMAS — Destin Summers isn’t the kind of wrestler who dwells on accomplishments.
Instead, he charges ahead to what’s next — what’s bigger.
It’s that mindset that helped Summers go undefeated this past season as a Snake River High senior. It helped him win three high school state titles and land a wrestling scholarship at Fresno State. He hopes it propels him to championships on national, NCAA, world and Olympic stages.
Summers is the Journal’s 2019 All-Area Wrestler of the Year.
“I always wanted to be an Olympic or world champ. I’ve wanted to since I was really little,” Summers said. “A smaller goal is that I want to be a national champ and an NCAA champ. I’m trying to work up to that.”
From the first match of his senior season, Summers had the big picture in mind.
He didn’t overlook his opponents, of course. But he sensed a special year was attainable.
His momentum had been building since the summer before, when he finished as the national runner-up at the National High School Coaches Association High School Nationals in Virginia Beach, Virginia. So, Summers said he entered his senior year at the top of his game.
He also felt he had something to prove after the way his junior season ended — with a loss in the 3A state title match. Finishing second at nationals helped affirm that Summers’ state title loss was likely a fluke.
“I knew from the first match that I was going to have a good season,” Summers said. “Just had the mindset that I lost at state, no one’s going to beat me this year.”
Summers’ match results from the season only yield one narrow victory — a 5-4 decision over Blackfoot’s Esai Castaneda on Dec. 14. Summers won the rest of his bouts either by pin, technical fall, major decision or by a margin of four points or more.
He won every tournament he entered: the Buhl Invitational, Madison Invitational, Tiger-Grizz Invitational and Red Halverson Invitational. Summers beat Castaneda 15-6 to win the Madison Invite, and got him again a week later, 12-3, in the Tiger-Grizz semifinals.
And in the Tiger-Grizz finals, Summers drew Sugar-Salem’s Caleb Norman, who beat Summers to win the 2018 3A state title. Summers beat him 11-5 in the rematch to keep his perfect record intact and claim his second Tiger-Grizz championship.
“He really, this year more than any other, would show up for the big match,” Snake River wrestling coach Jeff Gardner said. “He was best when it counted.”
After winning his fourth 3A District 5 championship, Summers walked through the state tournament. He pinned his first three opponents in a combined 2 minutes, 35 seconds, and beat Timberlake’s Isaiah Evans 12-3 in the 126-pound finals to finish 46-0.
Summers doesn’t dwell on wins for long. But he remembers his losses.
“It doesn’t feel as good as four (state titles),” Summers said after the state title bout. “But I’ll be happy with three.”
Summers’ three state championships still put him in elite company, both at Snake River and among Idaho’s 3A state champs. He’s one of seven Snake River wrestlers to win at least three state championships, and one of four to win exactly three for the Panthers.
Gardner said Summers is the most self-motivated wrestler he’s coached in his nearly two decades at Snake River. Summers said he wrestles 11 1/2 months out of the year, using his half-month off to “just relax, regroup.”
Summers is Gardner’s first undefeated state champion.
“He’s probably he only kid coming up through the program that’s that dedicated to the sport of wrestling,” Gardner said. “You don’t get a kid like that very often.”
Wrestling has been Summers’ life from the time he was little. His father and older brother both wrestled, prompting Summers to start the sport when he was 4 years old. He began traveling for national tournaments at around 6.
In seventh grade, Summers quit other sports to dedicate himself fully to wrestling. He took online classes in high school to free up time to travel to tournaments.
When it’s not his high school season, Summers said he lifts weights and runs every day and trains at a wrestling academy in Rigby.
“It’s long and grueling,” Summers said. “But I love the sport, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Summers grew up wrestling with Snake River teammate Sway Cook, a two-time state champion. The two would compete at the same tournaments and end up in the finals of their respective weight classes, Cook said.
The friends and teammates pushed each other and held each other accountable. One wrestler’s success was just as much the other’s.
Gardner said that because Summers usually wrestled in a lighter weight class than Cook, Summers would wrestle first at tournaments. Summers usually won. Cook then had to match it.
“That put a little pressure on Sway,” Gardner said. “But he would answer.”
Cook’s wrestling future isn’t as dream-filled as Summers’. Later this summer, Cook heads off on his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Summers heads to the U.S. Marine Corps Junior Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota, to vie for a national championship. Then it’s off to Fresno State, where he’ll start working toward an NCAA championship.
“My dad told me after I lost (at state junior year), now it’s time to be a four-time NCAA champ since you can’t be a four-time state champ,” Summers said.
“That’s one thing about Destin. I’ve heard that line from kids, really good kids. When push comes to shove, when they graduate, they do other things,” Gardner said. “Destin’s been different that way. He’s never wavered. He’s never changed from the time I first met him to the time that he left. He’s really stuck to the plan.
“It will not surprise me at all if we see some pretty big things from him in the future.”