JERSEY SHORE – Jake Caputo walked down the hall of Jersey Shore High School, back toward the gymnasium where his teammates had just finished up wrestling practice. His head snapped to the left, a look of insult came across his face. Here came the brief but powerful lecture. “A grunt’s the army,” the Bulldogs’ senior 195-pounder said. “I’m going to be a jarhead.” Probably would have been better off telling a ‘Yo momma’ joke than calling an infantryman of the Marines by the wrong name. Caputo is already living the Marines lifestyle, even some nine months before he reports to basic training. The navy blue shirt the senior wore Wednesday evening while sitting in an empty classroom had the Marines logo on the left side of his chest. The military is a path that just feels right for Caputo. It’s one he’s thought about since he was a kid. Sure, he considered college, looking into attending Penn College and other surrounding universities. But he wanted to do something different. The Marines, yeah, that’s different. When he realized it was time for him to make up his mind about his future, Caputo and his brother Nate took a trip to see a recruiter. The path to the future for the 17-year-old and his younger brother has been laid out ever since. Jake reports to basic training in September. His brother Nate will report after finishing his senior year next year. “I always wanted to fight for my God and my country,” Caputo said. “I always wanted to do my part. I know a lot of men and women have died for our freedom. We take it for granted and it can be taken away like that. I want to do my part. I want to matter.” Caputo is closing in on the end of his high school career, and starting tonight he’ll take the next step in that process as he wrestles in the PIAA Class AAA Northeast Regional wrestling tournament at Bethlehem Freedom High School. In the past, Caputo has looked forward to this weekend, it’s the light at the end of the tunnel to a season that can be a grind both mentally and physically. But this season has been different. Caputo is having the best season of his career having won his first district championship last week. He’s 11-3 since returning from an injury that cost him the first month of the season. The finality of the season hasn’t been lost on him. He understands there’s no more next year he can look forward to in his wrestling career. This is it. And with his intention to join the Marines, it’s probably the last time he’ll wrestle competitively. So he’s soaking it all in. He wants the season to last as long as possible. That means doing whatever he can to place in the top three this weekend to earn a trip to the state tournament next weekend. “It hits you like a freight train that this is it,” Caputo said. “You get a season like this where you’re excited for every match and you don’t want it to be over. It’s important that you realize that and try to make your mark.” It’s been a bit of a frustrating season for Caputo. He missed that first month of the season – including the Top Hat tournament – nursing an injury which he said wasn’t serious but needed time to heal. He missed days for obligations pertaining to his enlistment with the Marines. That’s why he enters the regional tournament this weekend tied for the sixth fewest wins of the 168 wrestlers. Jersey Shore head coach Shawn Weaver wanted to get Caputo into the lineup as soon as he could, but he knew he couldn’t push the envelope with Caputo’s injury. It ate away at Caputo on nights like the one when the Bulldogs lost to Williamsport by three points despite forfeiting four weight classes. Caputo has been a stalwart in Jersey Shore’s lineup the better part of his high school career. It was in 2010 when Weaver realized he had the type of wrestler he could throw out there every night. The Bulldogs were wrestling Lewistown in the midst of the Jersey Shore Duals when Caputo took the mat as the final bout of the match with Jersey Shore trailing by one point. Caputo got down early in the bout, but in the second period flipped Lewistown’s Zach Peachey on his back and secured the fall to give the Bulldogs a 37-32 win. “It’s one of those matches where you understand what the kid has inside of him,” Weaver said. “From that point on we knew Jake could do some things for us. Anytime we can put him in the lineup, we’re going to put him in.” Caputo nearly gave up wrestling in the midst of his freshman season when his dad, Jeff, a former regional champion and state qualifier at South Williamsport, was diagnosed with, and eventually died from a rare form of cancer. Jeff was just 16 days past his 49th birthday when cancer took his life. It’s a form of cancer Jake said was uncommon, but had been documented. Jake remembers his dad changing almost overnight when the cancer set in. “It’s like he turned into an old man all of a sudden,” Caputo said. “He wasn’t young, but he was healthy and strong. He was the strongest man I knew.” Jake said his dad first noticed something different while out in the woods hunting during bear season in 2008. He just didn’t feel right as they went through some thick brush. Jake said his dad took the mentality he always had and that he would just tough it out. Karen Caputo, Jeff’s wife, finally convinced Jeff to go to the doctor where they discovered the rare form of cancer that had spread throughout his entire body. Doctors gave him a month to live, at most. “It was a battle and he was a fighter. He was a wrestler and a regional champ, he knew how to battle,” Jake said. “He definitely had a strong heart and he stuck around for us. All the doctors were saying it was impossible that he was still with us. He exceeded the time he was given by far. “It was a valiant battle.” The Caputos have always been a close family. Jake said there were always the typical family battles that brewed up between him, his brother and their younger sister Rebecca who is a freshman at Jersey Shore. But it was nothing out of the ordinary. Since his father’s passing, Jake said all three kids have done their part to help around the house. Karen has been the rock through the whole ordeal. “Mom’s definitely a strong woman and a tough one. She’s shouldered a lot of responsibility,” Jake said. “We learned to get along and to get through this together.” “The first year was tough and he didn’t really want to talk about it a whole lot,” Weaver said. “We really didn’t push and prod a whole lot. When he mentioned things we would talk, but we really didn’t talk a whole lot.” Jeff had a strong hand in the Jersey Shore elementary wrestling program. He’s the reason that both his sons started in the sport. And to this day, Jake’s friends will come up to him and say they never would have learned a certain aspect of the sport if it wasn’t for Jeff. It’s the little things like that which make Jake smile. Weaver wasn’t sure if Jake would come back to the team following his freshman season. Neither boy stopped wrestling while their father was sick. It was part of the routine to go to school, go to practice and come home to spend a few hours with his dad. “It never really occurred to us to say maybe we should take this wrestling season off to spend a whole day with him,” Jake said. “But I’m not sure he would have wanted us to stop. He’d want us to keep wrestling which I’m sure he was proud of us for.” Caputo has already reached a number of his goals this year. Now, with the end of his career looming and a future that could include a trip to the Middle East, he’s prepared to let it all go this weekend in Bethlehem. His goal isn’t just to get to Hershey, but to win the regional tournament. A cringe came across his face when it was mentioned he was on the same side of the 195-pound bracket at two state-ranked wrestlers. And weighing in at just about 175 pounds all year, he’s already going to be at a disadvantage in trying to be one of the three wrestlers to qualify for the state tournament. But Caputo can leave Bethlehem this weekend without one of those three qualifying spots and be satisfied with his season and his career. “I want to get first. I want to push the envelope here,” Caputo said. “But if I’m overmatched and I’m giving it all I can, and at the end I’m not giving up, I’ll be happy and I’ll know I couldn’t have done anything else.” Besides, after what he’s been through in dealing with his dad’s illness and what could await him beginning in September in Parris Island, S.C., facing two state-ranked wrestlers just doesn’t seem quite as daunting. But for their sake, let’s hope they don’t call him a grunt. NE AAA Regional When: Friday-Saturday. Action begins at 5 p.m. Friday and 9:30 a.m. Saturday, with finals to start at 6:30 p.m. Where: Bethlehem Freedom High School? At stake:?The top 3 in each weight class advance to next week’s PIAA?championships. Also: Central Mountain will be at the Class AAA Northwest regional in Altoona. REGIONAL PREDICTIONS: CLASS AA NORTHEAST 106: 1, Tyrus Hamblin, Williamson; 2, Noah Kuba, Mifflinburg; 3, Dominick Degraba, Dallas; 4, Cameron Newman, Line Mountain. 113: 1, David Sheesley, Mifflinburg; 2, Vito Pasone, Meyers; 3, Caleb Pearson, Montoursville; 4, Matt Welliver, Benton. 120: 1, Logan Everett, Williamson; 2, Cole Walter, Mifflinburg; 3, Kent Lane, Southern Columbia; 4, Zach Edwards, Blue Ridge. 126: 1, Jared Watson, Warrior Run; 2, Austin Harry, Lake-Lehman; 3, Billy Barnes, Williamson; 4, Mason Zimmerman, Line Mountain. 132: 1, Colt Cotten, Benton; 2, Andrew Schutz, Wyoming Area; 3, Seth Lansberry, Line Mountain; 4, Demetri Probst, Bucktail. 138: 1, David Batkowski, Montoursville; 2, Zack Green, Northeast Bradford; 3, Heath Strickland, Muncy; 4, Sean Heggs, East Juniata. 145: 1, Kyle Barnes, Hughesville; 2, Adam Kritzer, Line Mountain; 3, Isaiah Bobotas, Muncy; 4, Joe Champulvier, Wyalusing. 152: 1, Ryan Preisch, Milton; 2, Zack Ripic, Towanda; 3, Jeric Kasunic, Benton; 4, Bryan Carter, Lake-Lehman. 160: 1, Kurt Meske, Central Columbia; 2, Ty Walter, Mifflinburg; 3, Nick Shelley, Lake-Lehman; 4, Meyrick Lamb, Mount Carmel. 170: 1, Troy Hembury, Muncy; 2, Brett Przekop, Mount Carmel; 3, Donald English, Milton; 4, Marvess Rosiak, Lackawanna Trail. 182: 1, Jake Mankey, Benton; 2, Patrick Ostrowsky, Lewisburg; 3, Anthony Clark, Wyalusing; 4, Garrett Wesneski, Canton. 195: 1, Ryan Solomon, Milton; 2, Conner Rosensweet, Western Wayne; 3, Brandon Smith, Lewisburg; 4, Ryan Longenberger, Bloomsburg. 220: 1, Eric Laytos, Lackawanna Trail; 2, Eric McCracken, Central Columbia; 3, Nathan Stettler, North Penn; 4, Dylan Otis, Wyalusing. 285: 1, Nazar Mironenko, Mifflinburg; 2, Mike Galantini, Valley View; 3, Derek Earnest, Hughesville; 4, Alex Shiber, Central Columbia. CLASS AAA NORTHEAST 106: 1, Ethan Lizak, Parkland; 2, Tyrone Klump, Nazareth; 3, Kenny Yanovich, Pleasant Valley; 4, Roshaun Cooley, Williamsport. 113: Sean Bianco, Pleasant Valley; 2, T.J. Tressler, Williamsport; 3, Zach Valley, Northampton; 4, Larry Romanchick, Hazleton. 120: 1, Grimaldi Gonzalez, Liberty; 2, Peter Stanley, Easton; 3, Chase Zemenak, nazareth; 4, Tom Hendry, West Scranton. 126: 1, C.J. Palmer, Delaware Valley; 2, Corey Keener, Blue Mountain; 3, Jose Roche, Easton; 4, Michael Dalhstrom, Pleasant Valley. 132: 1, Devon Lotito, Liberty; 2, Leroy Harman, Williamsport; 3, Robert Rizzolino, Easton; 4, DeMarquis Holley, Dieruff. 138: 1, Jason Stephen, Northampton; 2, Matt Neff, Shikellamy; 3, Alex Yanovich, Pleasant Valley; 4, Aaron Kennedy, Honesdale. 145: 1, Mitchell Minotti, Easton; 2, Raymond Nicosia, Pocono Mountain East; 3, Kyle Hankinson, Crestwood; 4, Michael Marano, Parkland. 152: 1, Cole Sheptock, Northampton; 2, Matt Hammerstone, Crestwood; 3, Dylan Shields, Jersey Shore; 4, Bryson Berard, Parkland. 160: 1, Matthew Bonshak, Whitehall; 2, Joseph Fogle, Pocono Mountain East; 3, Mark Granahan, Scranton; 4, Aaron Transue, Stroudsburg. 170: 1, Marc Wagner, Delaware Valley; 2, Nezar Haddad, Parkland; 3, Mitch Myers, Blue Mountain; 4, Shawn Cicero, Pottsville. 182: 1, Tyler Greene, Easton; 2, Travis Moyer, Blue Mountain; 3, Martin Strenk, Delaware Valley; 4, Marcus Newsom, Northampton. 195: 1, Chad Hoffman, Hazleton; 2, Troy Newhard, Emmaus; 3, Jovono Reyes, Dieruff; 4, David Wilke, Nazareth. 220: 1, Aaron Bradley, Nazareth; 2, Evan Kauffman, Freedom; 3, Shaun Heist, Parkland; 4, Victor Steffen, Wallenpaupack. 285: 1, Brad Emerick, Coughlin; 2, Daulton Romano, Southern Lehigh; 3, Tyler Peerson, Freedom; 4, Brandon Lance, Nazareth.