Jacob Sacra was ready for a new challenge after two years as a dominant performer on the wrestling mat and football field at Madison County High School in Virginia.
Sacra found what he was looking for at national prep football powerhouse St. Francis Academy in Baltimore, where he transferred prior to his junior year. The move increased the competition and exposure for the 6-foot-5, 298-pound offensive lineman and ultimately led to more than a half-dozen scholarship offers from Football Bowl Subdivision programs, including teams from the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Southeastern conferences.
But an official recruiting visit to East Carolina in June led to Sacra becoming part of the Pirates’ football recruiting Class of 2022 on July 6. He made his verbal commitment to ECU over offers from Boston College, Liberty, Maryland, Old Dominion, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Virginia.
The decision adds to ECU’s recruiting class the son of a legendary Virginia high school wrestling coach. Michael Sacra produced more than 400 career team wins at Madison County before announcing his retirement in 2020. It was appropriate that his final coaching assignment of a 28-year career occurred in February 2020 as Jacob won the state Class 2 heavyweight championship as a sophomore.
The achievement capped a two-year run at Madison County for Jacob Sacra that also included being named all-district twice in football.
But with his father’s retirement, and realizing he’d already achieved at a high level in his home area in football, Sacra sought out an opportunity to play at St. Francis Academy, which over the last decade has become a D.C. area and national power.
“He wanted to get himself into an environment where not only was the day-to-day tough as far as our practices, but he wanted to get an opportunity to play on a national level — to push himself and measure up, to gauge what he could do,” said St. Francis coach Messay Hailemariam. “At his school (Madison County), in that county and area he was the most dominant lineman. With us, he might be the third- or fourth-best lineman on the team. So that intrigued him. He wanted to compete against the best and prove he is the best.”
St. Francis Academy does indeed feature some impressive talent. The Panthers senior class includes 12 players with Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers and seven who have already made verbal commits. Defensive lineman Derrick Moore has made his pledge to Oklahoma, cornerback Cam Johnson to Virginia Tech, cornerback Jamal Hood to Boston College, receiver Ike White to Minnesota, cornerback Tyrin Woodby to West Virginia, offensive tackle Jude Bowry to Boston College and Sacra to ECU.
Sacra transitioned to center at St. Francis, but saw limited action as a junior due to the COVID-19 pandemic which led to the team’s regular fall season being postponed. The Panthers, who began the 2021 season ranked No. 19 in USA Today’s Super 25 national poll, kicked off against No. 4 St. Thomas Aquinas from Fort Lauderdale, FL.
St. Thomas Aquinas prevailed, 38-23, but Hailemariam said Sacra more than held his own in the national limelight of the game.
“He was tremendous,” Hailemariam said. “I knew he was going to do well and he did. He played with us in the spring a bit, but we really didn’t have a season. So for somebody who just switched over to center and never snapped in a game, he did great. The first snap was a little tough. It could have gone either way. The quarterback could have made the play. But other than that, he was tremendous. He was dominant. We ran the ball well. We had two backs over 100 yards. I feel like he’s just getting started.”
Hailemariam has been part of the St. Francis Academy program as head coach and as an assistant. He’s seen dozens of quality athletes come through the program and rates Sacra among the best when it comes to offensive linemen.
“Darrien Dalcourt is a guy who played for us and is now the starting center at Alabama,” Hailemariam said. “He was a tackle for us in the beginning and we switched him over to the inside. He (Sacra) is similar to that. He just does everything great. He’s a great leader. He’s not a rah-rah, scream in your face type kid. But he has that lunch box, blue collar, I’m going to destroy you on every play and not say a whole lot. So I compare him a lot to Dalcourt.”
Versatility is also one of Sacra’s strengths, and one reason the Pirates have recruited him to play tackle. Hailemariam believes that will be an easy transition for Sacra.
“He’s a mauler in terms of run blocking, but he probably needs to get better at being able to pass block,” Hailemariam said. “I don’t even call it a weakness, but it’s something he could work on and get better. But that’s everybody when they get to that level. It’s a whole different gamut.”
Sacra is expected to graduate from St. Francis in December and could enroll at ECU in January.