West Orange senior Matt Dunovant's high school athletic career likely ended last Saturday afternoon at the Region IV Wrestling Tournament, fittingly at West Orange High.
But knowing Dunovant, his tireless dedication and passion for finding new and rigorous challenges, he could wind up on the Mountaineers track team in the spring, throwing the javelin and discus. He played linebacker for the Mountaineer's football team in the fall.
Any test is an invitation for Dunovant, it's a trait that has been part of him since he was in elementary school.
A quest to become a Midshipmen became reality Jan. 26 when he received a letter from the U.S. Naval Academy, informing him of his acceptance. He had also applied to Harvard, Brown and Georgetown.
"I've been asked so many times about it, that I've memorized the answer,'' he said. "Nowhere else in any other country but America do you have the opportunities that we have here. I feel that it's my duty to serve my country and protect freedoms. If it wasn't the Naval Academy it would be serving somewhere."
One of his role models is former Mountaineer wrestler Eric Washkewicz, a 2009 West Orange High grad, now a Naval Academy midshipmen. West Orange wrestling coach Steve Zichella said that Dunovant looked up to Washkewicz, who wrestled at 160 pounds — the weight Dunovant competed in this season.
"He was gung-ho," said Dunovant. "I wrestled with Eric my freshman and sophomore year. The enthusiasm Eric had was like nobody I'd ever seen. He's top of the class right now. It's a great testament to his hard work and dedication."
Starting June 30, Dunovant will get the chance to experience what Washkewicz had the last few years.
"It's one of the more grueling atmospheres' anywhere, it's what I want," said Dunovant, whose mother Lita Kesiro has raised Matt and brother Josh, a junior at West Orange High and wrestler. "The adversity it put you through, that's what I want. I want that experience, it's grueling, and it's tough. The first year as a plebe is memorable for all of those reasons."
Dunovant said he is impressed with the idea of knowing he'll leave the Academy with a degree in math and science and a lieutenant's rank. He has an objective of becoming a pilot.
"I'd like to fly one of those F-18s off one of those huge aircraft carriers," he said.
Don't doubt he'll make it.
He volunteered last summer along with youth group members of Life Christian Church in West Orange in Haiti last summer. He and 22 other students met up to help with orphanages, a widow's home. There was a bible study for 300.
"Being able to help in that form of poverty, it's raw, it's definitely mind blowing," he said.
In June he attended a week-long Naval Academy summer seminar. He went to Boys State at Rider University for a week and then came home for football camp before leaving for Haiti along with Mountaineers' quarterback Christian Smith. Another week of football practice followed before he went to Washington, D.C., with American Legion Boys Nation. He visited the White House where he and nearly 100 other youngsters met with President Barack Obama.
"It was almost like an informal press conference, it was incredible," said Dunovant, adding that he also had the chance to speak to the chief clerk of the Supreme Court. "We were there at like 5 p.m. and he was late coming from Detroit. We had an hour to hang out in the blue room, red room and green room."
Dunovant credits the community in part for his drive. He is a former president of the Youth Council of the NAACP in Montclair. He is currently treasurer of the New Jersey NAACP Youth and College Division. He has tried to volunteer as much as possible in the community. It's a way of giving back.
"I don't do one thing with sole credit to myself," said Dunovant. "I credit many people who have helped me through, giving me a push."
His teammates also gave him a push. They are amazed at how busy Dunovant is. They remember him wrestling a bout in the North 1 IV quarterfinal against Randolph, changing into his school clothes, then participating in a concert. He returned before the meet was over.
"He has really worked hard," said Zichella. "He was able to crack the lineup here after having a 1-4 record last year. He placed at the counties, at the districts and was top eight in the region. He's had a great senior year. He's a great personality to have in the room. He knows how to push our buttons and joke with us, at the same time he does the right thing. It's been great having him in the program."