New London senior Jacob Molnar is enjoying his final seconds of sleep before starting a busy, busy day. His clothes are already laid out, school work done, book bag packed and he is ready to go. As 7 a.m. rolls around, his mom, Pam, steps in and wakes him up to get his day started. He gets ready for school, grabs some breakfast and heads out the door.
It is game day and the Wildcats are playing a baseball game at home. He tosses his bat bag in the back of his white 1965 c10 pickup that was passed down to him from his grandfather. Molnar is a ballplayer though and through, but he also tosses his track spikes in the front seat beside him. Molnar is also a member of the New London track team. He still has to practice after all.
After going through the fall playing football and the winter in hoops, Molnar joins rare company as a four-sport athlete.
In a day and age when high school athletes like to specialize in one sport while putting every other sport on the back burner, Molnar says if he didn’t play four sports, something would be seriously wrong with that picture.
“It's always been normal for me to be a four-sport athlete, so not playing all of them would be abnormal,” Molnar said. “The hardest part of being a four-sport athlete is definitely managing time. There's only 24 hours in a day and some days it feels like I'm non stop all day. I've gotten pretty good at getting the most out of everyday, but it has been a process all four years.”
This spring, Molnar suits up for the New London baseball and track teams, so the spring is especially difficult trying to juggle two sports, school work, scholarship applications, choosing a college and getting ready for graduation. What seems like a full-plate to most people is just a normal day for Molnar.
“I wish I could tell you what a normal week is like for me in the spring,” Molnar said. “It is pretty hectic, so I usually just take things a day at a time. A lot of what I do depends on two things, one is the weather and the other is location. Especially in the start of spring sports the weather determines when and where games and meets will be, which gives me one more thing I have to keep track of. Location has a part in it too, for example, we will occasionally have a home baseball game the same day as a track practice and I am able to get everything I need done at track, and still make it back in time for the home baseball game. Both these things are out of my control so I just go with the flow.”
So, before Molnar can suit up for the Wildcats on the diamond, he has to head to the track and be sure to get his reps in with enough time to make it back to the field. Before the spring started, Molnar had to declare which sport would be his primary and secondary. After three years of making baseball No. 1, he decided track would be the primary his senior year.
But above all else, school remains the ultimate primary.
“There were some conditions my parents made and all coaches agreed on for example, if my grades started to suffer due to me being too busy then I would have to start prioritizing and focus on school more,” Molnar said. “School work has always come first. This was never a problem but the real reason I've had the opportunity to play four sports is my parents, coaches and athletic director and I thank them all for that.”
After deciding to just run track to keep in shape for football, Molnar started to really excel in the sport. Before his senior season, Molnar focused more on baseball during the spring before switching everything to track and just playing baseball when he could. New London track coach Misty Ebinger saw Molnar and know he was just a natural track athlete. But it was one meet that really stuck out.
“In one meet in particular, a quad at St. Paul last spring, Jacob picked a random spot on the long jump runway, ran down, hit the board perfectly and jumped over 19 feet,” Ebinger said. “A few minutes later, he jumped into the slow heat of the 100 and won the whole event. Those kinds of things highlight what kind of natural athlete Jacob is. A few weeks later, with a little more practice, he was on the 4x100 meter relay that broke the school record at the Mehock Relays in Mansfield.”
From that moment on, she knew she had a special athlete to lead her team. So far this season, Molnar is the leading scorer on the track team with 46.75 points. He makes up for 11.5 percent of the team’s total points scored this season. He is the team leader in the long jump and 100-meter dash.
Described as a “jack-of-all-trades” by his track coaches, he runs the 100-meter dash, does the long jump, high jump, throws the discus and fills in on sprint relays when needed making him a “jake-of-all-trades” for New London. He picked up the discus jumping events in middle school, but had to drop the throws once he started high school and made baseball a primary sport. Picking it back up this season, Molnar has already recorded a throw of 109-feet. But his best events are the 100 and long jump. His life-time personal record in the long jump is 20-fee-4 and 11.2 seconds in the 100-meter dash. He will put his talents up against the best at the Mansfield Mehock Relays this weekend.
“Track and field isn't an easy sport,” Ebinger said. “We always say you get out of it what you put into it. Jacob's work ethic is evident of that this year. He is jumping and throwing farther, and running faster than he ever has. He is an encouragement as well as a calm presence to his teammates. And he also brings great music to the weight room.”
Molnar works with three different coaches on a daily basis at track practice.
“Jacob has always treated his coaches with respect,” Ebinger said. “In track and field, there is no hiding. Athletes have to be willing to go out there in front of a lot of people and perform as individuals. Jacob thrives in that kind of environment. He also is very coachable. After his long jumps, we review the tapes and critique his technique, talk about adjustments, and he always listens. I've never heard a complaint from Jacob and we can always count on him to do his best.”
On the baseball field, Molnar uses his natural ability to help the Wildcats in any way possible. During games he can make it, he is used primarily as a pinch runner, and with a 100 time of 11.2 seconds, it is easy to see why. New London baseball coach Tony Hamilton knows a difference in a game could be getting that stolen base or scoring from second on a single, and Molnar is his guy.
“Jake was hurt last year for most of the season so we used him a lot as a pinch runner,” Hamilton said. “When he came to me, I told him his best sport would probably be track for the spring. I welcomed him to come play whenever he can and he helps us a lot on the bases. Every game he gets in, steals a base and scores runs.
“He is a very unselfish person. He is more than willing to accept his role. He doesn’t have to do that. He doesn’t have to show up to every game and only get in to run for us. But he does, and that says a lot about the kid. And he is a great luxury to have.”
Molnar was the starting running back for the Wildcats’ football team this season that went 3-7 on the season. He was the team’s leading rusher and filled in at quarterback at various points of the season.
New London football coach Brad Pickens, who coached Molnar since his sophomore season, saw a special individual when he saw No. 2 suit up. He has credited him and a few other players with the change in culture in the New London football program and notices the entire community showing a great deal of respect to the youngster.
“Jacob is a behind-the-scenes leader,” Pickens said. “A servant leader. There was no job too small nor a task beneath him, he was willing to do whatever his team needed. I often found him filling the water bottles before practice, getting equipment packed up for a game and made sure the field was clean up before he would leave. I never before have had to tell a player to focus on himself a little more until Jacob. He was someone that our team would rally behind. If Jacob showed belief, so did our team. If Jacob demanded more, the team demanded more. If he spoke, everyone listened.”
All of Molnar’s success didn’t surprise Pickens.
“Jacob's success comes from a variety of skills and characteristics,” Pickens said. “He is a mature young man that keeps his composure in all situations. He is a responsible student, athlete, brother and son. I am looking forward to seeing what Jacob will be able to accomplish in his future.”
Molnar is expecting to continue his football career at Ashland University.
“Football is my favorite sport,” Molnar said. “It has always been since I started playing in fourth grade. It's something that I've always had fun doing and a lot of it came very naturally for me. I actually started running track simply because I knew it would get me in better shape for the upcoming football season.”
FC hoops champ
During the winter season, between working on his ‘65 pickup with his grandfather and father, Jason, Molnar collected some hardware as a Firelands Conference championship member of the boys’ basketball team. He was a starter for the Wildcats who went 17-6 and took home the FC championship outright for the first time since 2011-12.
Molnar was a role player who stepped up and played big games when he needed to.
“Jacob's work ethic and just wanting to compete drives him to be successful,” NL basketball coach Tom Howell said. “He accepted his role on the basketball team. He did what we needed him to do to help our team have the season we had this year. He did all the little things that don't show up in the stat sheets. We don't have the season we had if he doesn't do all of these little things.”
For a coach who spent years coaching exceptional basketball players, Howell saw Molnar as one of the easiest players to coach. Described as a player who doesn’t complain about anything and a kid who is easy to have a conversation with, Molnar was often spotted by Howell helping underclassmen outside of the field of play.
But, there was one major memory that stuck out to Howell about Molnar from this season.
On February 3, the Wildcats paid a visit to South Central, an important game in the FC race. The game came down to the wire and as teammate Ryan Lane’s shot was off, Molnar jumped up for the tip-in rebound at the buzzer sending the Wildcats into a frenzy and home with a win. But it was his quote told to Norwalk Reflector sportswriter Logan Greszler that will remain as a quote that will go down in history.
“His quote to the Norwalk Reflector after the South Central game about making the winning basket: "The basketball just looked like a great big pumpkin and I thought to myself, oh yeah,” Howell said. “That has to be the best quote ever.”
Molnar was just happy to be able to lead his class number on a banner with the FC title.
“Winning a Firelands Conference championship is like the cherry on top of a season in any sport,” Molnar said. “It kind of wraps up the season and all the hard work you do with the group of guys you are with. No one can do it alone.”
It takes a village
Being a four-sport athlete is a lot of pressure on a high school kid and without the proper support system, he or she could easily fail. That is one thing Molnar has, an incredible support system. Whether it be his mom waking him up for school in the morning, his grandpa’s old ‘65 pickup, his dad for fixing it so he can get where he needs to be or his coaches giving him any and all opportunities to play the sport he loves, Molnar has it.
“Jacob is able juggle two sports in the spring and never taking any extended time in his high school career but he does have a great support system,” Ebinger said. “Jacob's parents, siblings, and extended family have always encouraged him to do what makes him happy. The Molnar family has been a constant presence at New London athletic events for years, encouraging not only Jacob, but all NL athletes.”
Not only is it taking a village to support Molnar but Pickens believed Molnar is inspiring a village.
“At the small school level it has been a challenge to get our school's athletes out for multiple sports due to the belief that sport specification is best,” Pickens said. “As a coach you can only play who you have and the more students that specify their sport, the smaller our rosters and we see a decrease in the caliber of athletes. Jacob is a student athlete that does well in the classroom and works hard on the field of practice or competition. I hope the example that he has set will show the other student athletes in our schools that it is a benefits to participate in other sports and activities.”
As Molnar finishes up a day full of throw, jump and sprint practices, stealing bases, scoring runs and picking up a win for the Wildcats, he knocks out his homework and has just enough energy left to clean up and crawl into bed. He drifts off and waits for his mom to come in at 7 a.m. to wake him up.
At 5:30 a.m. his phone goes off with that annoying constellation ringtone on the iPhone. It is Thursday, time to go lift.