Jake Peavey didn’t want to talk to anyone. It was two seasons ago, and Peavey had just lost in the Class B regional tournament with only nine seconds to go in his final match, depriving him of a chance to place in the tournament as a freshman and receive the bid to the state tournament that goes with it.

He was angry, hurt and frustrated, and the emotions continued as he tried to escape to the locker room.

“I made a stupid move, and I was devastated,” he said. “I was very upset with myself.”

Moments later, the Erskine Academy wrestler had company. Coach Patrick Vigue followed Peavey in, prepared with words for his youngster.

“I was pretty worked up, I was a mess, and Coach came in and reminded me that I was just a freshman, had just started the sport and had a lot of potential,” Peavey said. “That was definitely a huge moment in (our) relationship. I knew that he trusted me and he had my back.”

That Vigue knew just what to say, when to say it, shouldn’t come as a surprise. The coach and his pupil are kindred spirits, having both emerged from origins as wrestling novices — Peavey a beginner as a wrestler, Vigue one as a coach.

Those days seem long ago now, with Peavey chasing the school wins record as the newly-crowned KVAC heavyweight champion and a state title hopeful with a 47-1 record this year, and Vigue in his 23rd season guiding an Eagles program he both started and turned into a consistent winner in Class B.

“We get along well,” Vigue said of his relationship with his top wrestler. “Sometimes we’re like father and son, but other times it’s coach and I just try to push him as hard as I can.”

There was a time when Vigue wasn’t confident he could push, teach or motivate anyone. The former Winslow wrestler heard that Erskine was looking to start a program in 1994 and expressed interest in the job, but when he got it — and saw the tough, eager but inexperienced athletes showing up to practices — it dawned on him just how daunting an undertaking he had signed up for.

“I had never coached wrestling. I thought it would just be something fun to do,” he said. “We were just a club, and we were bad. It was all first-year wrestlers. None of those kids had even seen a wrestling mat when we started the program.”

Seeking a model, Vigue talked to Wally LaFountain, his former coach at Winslow, who gave him his wrestling practice schedule down to the day and minute. The rubric showed Vigue how to structure a practice, but as far as conveying topics to his wrestlers in those hours, he was on his own.

“If I said ‘All right, let’s work a cradle,’ everyone’s looking at me like ‘What’s a cradle?’ Or a single leg (takedown), ‘What’s a single leg?’ ” Vigue said, laughing. “That’s your first year.

“I didn’t know how to coach and these kids didn’t know how to wrestle.”

They learned, coach and wrestlers alike. After spending a year as a club team, Erskine became varsity in 1995. Soon the newcomers as freshmen and sophomores became mentors as juniors and seniors. In the second or third year, Rick Hussey and Dave Rodrigue came onboard as assistants, allowing Vigue to bounce ideas around and convey them to more of his team. In 2002-03, Erskine went 11-9. The Eagles haven’t had a losing season since.

“Stuff starts slowly happening,” said Vigue, himself a former wrestling rookie who went from 1-9 his first year to being a state runner-up. “You take that stuff you learned the first season, and then it starts working out. Finally, the kids start believing.”

He’s produced a list of state finalists and one champion, Jeff Parks at 135 pounds in 2000.

“My whole goal was to get the first-year freshmen to get in a place at regionals so they go to state,” he said. “If they could do that, then pretty much I consider it a success.”

That includes the freshman heavyweight who showed up to the team in 2014. A former linebacker and fullback in football, Peavey was undersized at 230 pounds but strong and quick, and Vigue saw an athletic combination that could flourish with time.

“I think a lot of that is natural God-given abilities,” Vigue said. “He’s always been kind of quick, even as a freshman, he was kind of quick.

“He just didn’t know what he was doing.”

As Vigue did, Peavey learned. He beat the heavyweight incumbent to join varsity midway through his freshman year, then improved from a 15-16 record to go 32-13 as a sophomore, win a regional championship and finish as the Class B runner-up.

“The confidence is definitely the biggest thing,” said Peavey, who gained 40 pounds from his freshman to sophomore seasons. “That was a tremendous help. I wasn’t getting moved around as easily, I just felt more confident at that weight.”

The weight helped, but Peavey also took steps to build the wrestling acumen that he lacked as a freshman. He went to wrestling tournaments in New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, learning moves and getting a sense for higher competition. He monitored his diet to ensure the weight he was putting on was muscle, and now can bench press 300 pounds.

“You don’t see a lot of heavyweights that look like him,” Vigue said. “They’re usually kind of roundish. You take my 170-pounder, who’s pretty jacked and looks like a real wrestler, and put another 100 pounds on him and that’s what you’ve got with Peavey.”

The improvement was apparent, but Vigue knew the next area for his budding star to target.

“This year, Coach talked to me, he said ‘Jake, why don’t you try some faster stuff? You have the speed for it,’ ” Peavey said. “Last year I did a lot of upper body stuff, focused a lot on throws, and I almost never went to the legs. I was almost scared to get down there under all that weight.”

Showing the work ethic that had carried him through his career, Peavey took what had always been an advantage and made it a weapon.

“In practice I started drilling it, and it started working,” he said. “My ankle picks and shooting, stuff like that. It started to fall together and I realized I could do it.”

With the revamped approach, Peavey has been more aggressive and harder to beat. Forty-five of his 47 wins have come by pin, and he secured the KVAC championship that eluded him in previous years. It’s off to the regionals and states again for Peavey, who now has 94 career wins and is closing in on the Erskine record of 116.

And as he pursues those individual titles, he’ll know the voice in his corner.

“It’s almost like you have insurance,” Peavey said. “If I get into a bad position, I know that Coach will find a way to help get me out of it.”

Vigue doesn’t think he’ll have to say too much.

“This season, he has been the most dominant wrestler that I’ve had, ever,” he said.

He would know. He’s seen them all.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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