It wasn’t too long ago when chants of “Rudy, Rudy” came spilling out of the French Field bleachers during Kentwood High football games.
Fans wanted to see the diminutive kid, who was given the nickname for his likeness in stature and drive to Daniel “Rudy” Ruetigger, a Notre Dame football player made famous by the 1993 movie of the same name.
They wanted to see Jarrett Tomalin.
It has been nearly six years since Tomalin, a 2005 graduate, has heard those chants. His drive to succeed and his passion for athletics, however, have not changed. And though locally Tomalin is often referred to by his nickname, he also has picked up another label in the past year — Band-Aid.
The alias has little to do with Tomalin’s multiple-sport success at Kentwood, and everything to do with his ability to juggle multiple tasks and responsibilities at a single time. From 6 to 10 a.m. in the morning on 106.1 KISS FM, Tomalin was an on-air personality and assistant producer for the Jackie & Bender show. Tomalin’s job involved camera work, gathering stories, marketing and filling in wherever there is a need.
The nickname “Band-Aid” stemmed from Tomalin’s willingness to fill in anywhere needed.
“When I stepped in, somebody had left and I told Bender that I’d do anything, just give me a chance,” recalled Tomalin, who has also done on-air work and promotions for KUBE and KJR AM among other radio outlets. “He told me it was nothing permanent and that I was just healing a wound until they hired someone.”
Few wrestlers during the past decade of the state tournament have delivered a more improbable run on the year’s biggest stage. For those who love underdogs, Tomalin’s three-week burst that ended in a second-place finish at state proved unforgettable.
“It was unbelievable,” Kentwood coach Ken Sroka said of Tomalin, who was competing at 125 pounds. “I remember talking to Jarrett before the postseason about figuring out his style. He was full of energy, strong, and compact. He was a brawler.”
A brawler who never had qualified for state tournament before. A kid who, for all his talent, desire and drive, was the third-best wrestler that year in his weight class — and that was just in the South Puget Sound League North Division.
The kid known as “Rudy” believed.
“I remember in the fifth grade seeing the walk at the Tacoma Dome,” remembered Tomalin, noting the march of champions that is an annual event before the title round at the Mat Classic. “I remember seeing (Luke) Hetherington, (Stephen) Folden, Chris Smith. I was like, ‘I have to make this.’ “
ODDS WERE AGAINST HIM
Tomalin was a long shot at best in 2005 — the undersized 125-pound kid whose motor never stopped. From football to wrestling to baseball and rugby, Tomalin made room for all of it during high school. Yet, Mat Classic traditionally is a place where the year-round wrestlers thrive, and the seasonal competitors are weeded out on the first day.
The Kentwood kid, however, wouldn’t be weeded out.
After winning his opening match at regionals, Tomalin fell to a star from Cascade High of Everett’s, Jonny Gilbertson, 14-8. Gilbertson, who improved to 36-0, was by all accounts a favorite to win the state title.
“I realized at the time that he was just another guy,” said Tomalin, who barely escaped the regional tournament, earning the fourth and final seed to state. “At that point, win or lose, I wanted to make sure nobody ever wanted to wrestle me again.”
Sroka hasn’t forgotten that turning point.
“I vividly remember the look on Jonny’s face after that match,” Sroka said. “He didn’t want anything to do with Jarrett at the end of that match.”
The chances of the two meeting up again, however, remained slim. To do so, Tomalin would have to pull consecutive upsets in the first two rounds of the state tournament against higher-seeded opponents. All Gilbertson had to do was what was expected of the weight class’ top-ranked wrestler: win.
Gilbertson held up his end of the bargain, cruising into the state semis to improve to 40-0 for the season.
Tomalin, on the other hand, scrapped and fought his way to a 9-8 decision in the opener to improve to 27-12. He then had to come back from a six-point deficit in the quarterfinals to upend Ferris High’s Taylor Yonago, the weight class’ fourth-ranked wrestler in the state.
A year after watching the state tournament from the sidelines, Tomalin found himself in the semifinals.
THEY MEET AGAIN
The rematch with Gilbertson proved to be the pinnacle of Tomalin’s wrestling career, an indelible moment that Sroka also considers among his coaching highlights. Tied 4-4 with a minute remaining in the final round, Tomalin recorded a takedown, then hung on for an improbable 7-5 win.
It was Gilbertson’s first loss of the year.
“It hurts bad,” Gilbertson told the Everett Herald that day. “I didn’t wrestle that good of a match. (Tomalin) came at me with nothing to lose, and I had everything to lose.”
As the match wore on, Sroka could feel the momentum shift.
“(Jarrett) just kept going and going and going,” Sroka said. “(Gilbertson) couldn’t handle the pace or the physicalness of the match. It was like (Gilbertson) was in a war and he didn’t like it. It was great, little Jarrett Tomalin with a heart as big as the Dome goes out there and beats him. I was floored. All three of the guys he beat at the state tournament had more experience, wrestled better during the year.
“He put it all together at the right time.”
Tomalin’s rise ended with a 3-0 loss to Central Valley’s Lucas Chesher in the championship match.
But that hardly took away from Tomalin’s state run.
“I had been a stress ball all year, so it was such an accomplishment for me,” he said. “It was about waking up before school and going running. About not having the food I wanted just so I could make sure I was ready to go.
“I was not the most skilled wrestler,” Tomalin said. “I didn’t have the most technique and, really, I wasn’t supposed to be in the state finals.”
“But conditioning- and strength-wise, I could not be beat.”