DeKALB – A stiff backache lingered as Matt Macarus squinted the morning into focus.
The backache wasn’t from an opponents’ rough takedown or nasty front headlock. The DeKalb wrestler was at a two-day offseason tournament last summer at Antioch and he’d spent the night on a mat in the back of his family’s van.
Temperatures had dropped overnight, the mat hardened up and, suddenly, Macarus had a new foe to face: his back.
“My dad and I took the back row of seats out of our van and slept there overnight,” Macarus said. “The mat got real stiff overnight, though. It was cold and not too comfortable. My back wasn’t great when I woke up but I still went out and finished second.”
The impromptu campout in the van typifies the rugged route Macarus, now a junior at DeKalb, has carved out in his prep career.
He wasn’t a middle school champion. He wasn’t a Barbs starter in his sophomore year. After being pushed around in the mat room for roughly two years, Macarus humbly entered the Barbs’ lineup late last winter.
Given the opportunity, Macarus finished third at the Northern Illinois Big 12 Tournament and qualified for the IHSA Class 2A Sterling Sectional.
Last year he was 9-8. This year he’s 17-5 and entrenched as a starter at 152 pounds.
“At the beginning of last year I just couldn’t crack the lineup,” Macaras said. “But I matured as the season went on. I grew a lot. The seniors weren’t able to over power me anymore and my confidence grew.
“I was 0-2 at sectionals. The matches were tough but I didn’t get destroyed in them. It showed me that I can do it. I can go out and beat good guys. I feel like I am right there with them.”
Because of his dedication – to not only sleep in a van for a tournament – but to participate in every training session the DeKalb wrestling staff hosts, Macaras has become an indispensable part of the Barbs’ lineup that has a 14-2 team record this winter.
“Matt didn’t come in with a lot of junior high credentials,” DeKalb coach Mike Pater said. “But he worked hard in the offseason. He didn’t miss a practice or weight lifting session. He’s very coachable and has come a long way in a short period of time.”
While Macaras learned he’s closed the talent gap that ended his season last year, he’s set on being a state qualifier this winter. He is a pressure wrestler that likes to wear down opponents and force them into action with quick shots. Pater praised his work ethic and wrestling I.Q.
“I am completely dedicated,” Macaras said. “I am willing to do whatever it takes to get better at wrestling.”
Even if it means waking up with a stiff back in a van.