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Dominant Whitehall wrestler Darnell Mack will beat you with a smile

Senior 150-pounder is unbeaten this season and keeps things loose for second-ranked Vikings team.

WHITEHALL – If Darnell Mack feels pressure in keeping his unbeaten wrestling season going, then the Whitehall senior isn’t showing it.

When teammates were asked during a recent CatchMark SportsNet Podcast featuring Whitehall’s wrestling team who is the biggest jokester on the team, Mack’s name was the first mentioned.

When asked about it during the video component of this Whitehall Athlete Profile, Mack smiled, of course.

“I don’t know, I guess I never look at the day as bad …,” said the 17-year-old son of Rachel and Darnell Mack. “Well, I never think that anything can go wrong in the day. I always think positive. And I find everything funny.”

Mack’s season and his career are no joke. The Vikings’ wiry and loose 150-pounder is 47-0 this season. In his career, he is 121-19 with 71 pins.

His Whitehall squad is ranked No. 2 in Division 3 and heads to the team state finals at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo this weekend. It’s the eighth time in nine years that the Vikings program has made it to the “big show” as a team.

Individually, Mack has punched his ticket again to the March 1-2 state finals at Ford Field in Detroit.

Whitehall’s wrestling team will be in the spotlight to wrap up the season as is the Vikings’ custom, but having a carefree spirit like Mack, who is also a top competitor, certainly helps ease some tension.

Photos by Scott DeCamp and Evelyn Darke for CatchMark

“I think it’s great. I try to embrace that. It’s good to have guys on the team that keep everybody loose – having everybody not put too much pressure on themselves and enjoy the season,” said Whitehall head coach Justin Zeerip, who maintains a serious exterior. “I think it really helps our team culture having those types of kids on our team.”

Zeerip met Mack when Mack was thriving on the MYWAY wrestling circuit in middle school. Zeerip said that even then, Mack always had a smile on his face and was a “happy-go-lucky kid.”

Opponents can’t be too happy to face Mack, however, and it’s because he’s so tough to beat. Of course, after he beats you, he’ll smile and maybe give you a hug.

Last season, Mack placed fourth in the 150-pound weight class of the Division 3 individual state finals and finished with a 50-9 record. That came a week after Whitehall finished as Division 3 state runner-up as a team.

Last month, Mack earned his 100th career victory en route to capturing the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament title.

Whitehall senior Darnell Mack displays a banner commemorating his 100th career win as he poses for photos with Vikings head coach Justin Zeerip during the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Muskegon, Mich.

In six matches during his ongoing run to the individual state finals, Mack has recorded three tech falls, two pinfalls, and one decision.

“He has really good leg attacks. He has really good hips, so he’s really hard to get taken down,” Zeerip said. “He wrestles really hard. He’s wrestled a long, long time, so he has really good mat awareness, too. He’s really quick, he’s really athletic, so he’s able to get himself into positions to score quickly. He has a lot of grit, too.”

Mack has plenty of reasons to be proud of his wrestling achievements, but from his perspective, the proudest moment is yet to come.

As for the biggest overall accomplishment during his time at Whitehall, it’s most certainly the work he’s done academically and the strides he’s made in the classroom.

“My favorite class was Mrs. Henderson’s seventh-grade math class. She was tough and never let me slack, even though I tried hard to,” Mack said. “She was always willing to talk to me, and she never gave up on me.”

Mack carries a 2.5 grade-point average, but he’s quick to acknowledge his struggles as a freshman pulled it down and he points out that his GPA has been over 3.3 the last two years.

“I’m really proud of him when it comes to school,” Zeerip said. “He had to work really hard to get his grades where they need to be. I couldn’t be prouder of him how he’s matured and grown up, and now he’s getting really good grades and he does all the right things in school.”

Whitehall senior Darnell Mack (4) is shown praying with teammates prior to the Vikings’ footgball game against Oakridge Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Whitehall, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Whether it’s in class, on the wrestling mat, or on the football field as a primary running back for Whitehall’s dominant football team, Mack has learned, “no matter how many times I get pushed down, I have to find a way to get back up.”

Mack recalls being chin-whipped at the team wrestling state finals as his most embarrassing moment during his time with Whitehall. But guess what: He got back up and kept battling.

He appreciates the Whitehall community and always feels supported, no matter what happens.

Upon graduation from Whitehall, Mack plans to attend Muskegon Community College, then a four-year university. He has intentions of wrestling. As for a career, he’s eyeing education or perhaps becoming a lineman because “they make a lot of money.”

Believe it or not, Mack does have a couple of fears. He’s afraid of water, particularly big bodies of it like the ocean. He also admitted being afraid of losing, although that seldom happens or shows.

“No matter how hard you work, there are other people out there trying to go harder, trying to knock you off. I feel like I can never rest,” Mack said.

“I want to be remembered as someone who never gave up. I was kind of a mess when I was a freshman, but I never gave up on myself. I want to be remembered as a leader and a role model to others.”

Photo by Courtney Jimison | CatchMark

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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