In wrestling speak, Jacob Joyce is a mat warrior. The Ponaganset High senior is a two-time R.I. state champion in two different weight classes and was the last wrestler left standing at last winter’s 120-pound division of the New England Championship.
In the classroom, Joyce is equally determined and vigilant. He owns a 4.31-grade point average – proof that the planets can align in one’s favor providing there’s an unwavering willingness to put in the prerequisite work.
“With all the hard work that goes in, it’s definitely nice to see some success,” said Joyce, “but we’re still working hard. We’re never satisfied. You always want to keep grinding and pushing.”
That insatiable hunger helped serve as prime fuel for a commitment that Joyce sat on for close to a calendar year and finally became official last month when he signed his National Letter of Intent to attend Stanford University beginning in the fall of 2023.
“It was great to make everything official with that written piece and get it all done,” he said.
Joyce is part of what’s unofficially known as the First Family of Ponaganset High’s tight-knit wrestling community. His older brother Mike wrestles at Brown University, listed as a 125-pound freshman. His younger brother Joe is a freshman on this year’s PHS squad.
The father of all three boys is Mike Joyce, one of the individuals responsible for elevating the demanding sport to a higher plateau. Originally from Ohio, Mike was the head coach when the Chieftains broke through in 2018 with team titles at the state and New England levels. This season, Mike is serving as Ponaganset’s volunteer coach. He’ll continue to ensure the program remains on solid ground – grades remaining up to par or aiding in recruiting. More than anything, additional time is on Mike’s side when helping to get Jacob and Joe mentally and physically ready for what awaits them when stepping into the circle.
From Mike’s vantage point, the purpose and point of wrestling have been to reach a destination that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to.
“If you have the combination of good grades, volunteer work, being a person of character, along with wrestling, you’re going to be able to go to these types of schools. If you’re on board with it, we’re going to do everything we can to help you,” said Mike, referring to one son who’s currently at an Ivy League institution and another son who a year from now will be wrestling at a school that’s been dubbed the “Ivy of the West.”
For all the time that’s been invested in the pursuit of reaching the Holy Grail of athletic prowess and academic excellence, there exists a family foundation within the Joyce household that’s built on the importance of doing your personal best at anything you do. Mike and his wife Cindy are both teachers, as were both of Jacob’s grandparents. Getting good grades was important, yet the expectations weren’t raised to unhealthy levels based on endless hours of homework stemming from their sons taking on a rigorous load of mostly Advanced Placement classes.
“All we’ve ever asked of our kids is that in life, whatever it is they are doing, they try their best … get the best grades they are capable of, and be the best human beings they can be,” said Cindy Joyce.
In wrestling, remaining humble and grounded runs neck-and-neck with the prerequisites of clean eating – where every calorie is counted – and maintaining a vigilant approach to practicing. It also helps to be blessed with tunnel vision, a trait that has enabled Joyce – a youngster of few words – to maintain an edge where nothing but the best will suffice.
“We’ve always known the main goal. It wasn’t hard to be motivated to pursue it,” said Jacob Joyce.
The Joyce family is spending the weekend in Ohio, site of the Walsh Jesuit Ironman Tournament that will see Jacob wrestle at 126 pounds – he competed at 120 pounds last season as a junior. Nationally, he ranks 11th in the nation in his current weight class.
Jacob Joyce has been wrestling since he was five years old. There’s not much that he hasn’t seen, hence don’t expect him to be blinded or caught up in the moment that awaits him following a 10-hour car ride from Foster-Glocester to the Buckeye State.
“From wrestling so much, I don’t have too many nerves when I go out there,” said Jacob Joyce. “My focus has always been to go out there and wrestle hard.”
Added his proud mother Cindy, “He does not seem to get nervous when he steps on the mat, but I also know he never underestimates his opponent. He takes every match seriously. Once he shakes his opponent’s hand, he wrestles with the mentality that there will only be one hand raised at the end of the match, and he does everything to try and ensure that it’s his. He is competitive by nature.”
It’s one thing for parents to want the best for their children. At the end of the day, the children have to be the ones who want it for themselves even more. From setting goals, to constantly reflecting and adjusting, Jacob Joyce kept his foot firmly on the gas pedal. Because of that, the opportunity to attend and wrestle at a prestigious college awaits.
Brendan McGair is a sportswriter and columnist with the Pawtucket Times and the Woonsocket Call. A graduate of Providence College, McGair is a five-time recipient of the R.I. Sports Writer of the Year Award as voted by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA).
Follow McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03 and on Instagram @bwmcgair.