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Column by Bryan Van Kley
I don’t know about you, but the March NCAAs in Philadelphia can’t get here soon enough for me. Fans may be in for one of the most interesting tourneys in years. Why? Two reasons.
The team race brings some relative newcomers into the picture who looked poised to snatch the title from the traditional powerhouses, teams like Cornell, Boise State and Wisconsin. And individually, brace yourselves for two of the most anticipated individual match-ups in quite some time.
Former champs could square off in two weights, Kyle Dake and Darrion Caldwell at 149 and Andrew Howe and Jordan Burroughs at 165. All four are considered front-runners for the 2011 Dan Hodge Trophy, as well as sophomore-sensation Matt McDonough at 125. WIN will publish features on each of the five in issues between now and the NCAAs.
Howe and Badger assistant Donny Pritzlaff confirmed what I suspected about the returning champ who’s looking to be in his third straight NCAA finals in as many years. The thing that has always impressed me so much about Howe is the guy looks as cool and confident as could be, even when he made the finals as a true freshman. Pritzlaff called him “freakishly relaxed.” Donny…you couldn’t have said it any better, there’s just something different about this Badger that makes him a phenom which college fans rarely see.
Pritzlaff said it’s because of his work ethic and the family situation he grew up in, as well as the training situations he’s sought out throughout his career.
“He’s different than most kids. It’s different because of the way he’s worked and it’s been that way since fifth or sixth grade. When he steps into an arena, he knows he’s worked harder than anybody he’s going to go against. He knows there’s not a man on the planet who works as hard as he does,” Pritzlaff said, himself known for his intense approach towards training.
“You need your parents and everyone that you’ve surrounded yourself with to be hard working and not let you off the hook. He’s been lucky to have a family like that. He’s made the most out of every opportunity that he’s ever had,” the Badger assistant added when asked about Howe’s personality.
The perfect example of Howe taking advantages of opportunities is his training at the Overtime School of Wrestling in Naperville, Ill., run by former World Team member Sean Bormet.
Starting in eighth grade, Howe and his parents either made the drive or car-pooled for the individualized training. It’s one thing to put in the effort for that type of intense club training and to pay the money for it, it’s another when you factor in the distance Howe and his family had to drive. It’s an hour and a half to an hour and forty-five minutes one direction from their home in northwest Indiana (Cedar Lake) to the suburb on the west side of Chicago.
Keep in mind this is through the Windy-City traffic. Howe said by the time he was an upper-classman his parents would let him make the drive by himself. Now picture this happening three to four times per week, and seven to eight months a year.
This puts commitment to a level most people in this tough sport can’t even comprehend. Combine that kind of commitment with the work ethic Pritzlaff talked about, and you can understand why Howe appears to be pretty relaxed when big matches come his way.
“I know going in that I’m fully prepared and am ready for anything. Knowing I’ve done the work helps you relax,” the soft-spoken Howe said.
Pritzlaff said he’s also extremely coachable, not one of these elite athletes who thinks they have it all figured out after some high-end success. Pritzlaff said Howe is the type of wrestler who will “do anything you say” as a coach once he trusts you. He thinks that’s why Howe flourished so much under Bormet’s guidance.
As for the future, the sky truly is the limit for the Badger team leader who Pritzlaff said is like a “magnet” in their wrestling room because of how he goes about his business.
Coming off a 2010 U.S. Open title against the best senior-level guys in the U.S., Howe said an Olympic redshirt year to prepare for the 2012 Games is a possibility after this year. When I asked him of his goals, Howe intends to focus on college folkstyle, which he enjoys the most because he can wear people down, and then “to chase World and Olympic medals and championships.”
I asked Howe about his youthful confidence after some down years in U.S. freestyle on the World level.
“I think anything is possible, someone’s got to win it, why can’t I be the guy. I’m going to put the work in, I’m confident in my abilities,” he said.
Howe agreed with Pritzlaff’s assessment of his consistent approach towards matches, which allows him to stay calm.
“I try to approach every match the same. At the same time, it’s just a wrestling match. Either way, I’m going to wrestle hard the whole time. At the end of it, win or lose, as long as I’ve put in a good effort on the mat, my coaches and family are going to be proud of me and that’s important to me.”