Chad Red Jr. is tough to beat when he’s locked in
Story by Shane G. Gilster • Photos by NU Athletic Communications
One of the most overlooked aspects in sports is the mental game. It doesn’t always matter how talented one is physically. If the athlete is not focused and ready for action,a downfall is inevitable.
That is the case for Husker senior wrestler Chad Red Jr., who goes by C.J. The four-time All-American at 141 pounds has always had the tools to be the best. Coming to Nebraska, he was the No. 1 wrestler in the country at 132 pounds and was the No. 5 pound-for-pound wrestler.
He won four state titles under his father, Chad Red Sr., at New Palestine High School in Indiana and finished his prep career with a perfect 183-0 record.
“I only considered Nebraska and North Carolina State,” said Red of when he was deciding where to attend college. “I am a huge fan of Jordan Burroughs and liked the fact that all of the Nebraska coaches came to visit me at my home and at high school during practices. They took pictures with my teammates, something that the other college coach didn’t do.” NU coaches noticed the obvious from the beginning.
“I would describe C.J. as a super talented young man coming out of high school,” said NU head coach Mark Manning. “His dad wrestled in college and runs a wrestling academy outside of Indianapolis, so he is a student of the game and made C.J. a student of the game. He wrestled in a lot of national tournaments and was one of the top recruits in the country. C.J. has a unique ability being a gamer and you look for that in recruiting. What I mean by that is he knows when to turn it on.”
That is where the mental game comes into play for Red. When he’s at his best, he is one of the best in the nation. When he slacks, he can get beat by opponents he’s expected to beat.
An example of that happened in the dual against North Carolina on Nov. 17. Red entered the match ranked No. 5 at 141 pounds and faced No. 13 Kizhan Clarke. Red came out flat and allowed Clarke to dictate the match with his style. The result was a 3-1 decision in favor of Clarke.
“It is sometimes difficult to get motivated and feel refueled with energy and that happened when I lost to that guy from North Carolina. It was just the matter of me not being able to get to my offense,” Red said. “I went out there and followed his game plan to a tee. I could have and should have taken more shots; it was just a matter of not pulling the trigger. You are going to get tired but have to keep wrestling. We were both tired and when we were tied up, he had an underhook while I was standing up beside him and he just ran through me and got the points to get the decision.
“Within the first 10 to 15 seconds in the first period of a match there should always be an attack by you. The one thing that I mess up on is wrestling down to my opponent’s level and their style of match, where in reality I should do what I am good at. I perform better when I watch myself rather than watching my competition.”
Red’s less-than-stellar performance that night was criticized by his dad, whose voice could be heard throughout the match giving his son pointers on what he needed to do.
“My dad is usually the loudest person in the building and I can hear him over my coaches all the time,” said Red, who mentioned that after his wrestling career he would like to coach at the Division I level. “He coached me and knows when I am not wrestling like I should. I am used to him yelling but at the same time he is calling out everything that I’m not doing right. I usually hear my dad more than my coaches but as soon as I go out of bounds, I look over at my coaches to see what they have to say, which are things like keep my hands low, move my feet, staying tough on top or getting out quick on bottom.”
Red feels his strengths are best displayed in tournaments rather than duals. “It is a lot different at the national tournament where you are wrestling multiple matches in a day compared to just one match. I am usually not the best during dual season, anyone can tell you that, but come towards the end of the year, I pick up my game,” C.J. said. “Usually those who do well in duals don’t do as well in the tournament and vice versa. Some guys are tournament guys, some guys are dual guys. I am 110 percent a tournament guy but need to also be a dual guy because I don’t want to lose any more of those matches this season.”
Manning wants C.J. to work on his consistency going forward. “He is a competitor and has the ‘It’ factor,” Manning said. “When he’s in big matches he rises up but the issue for him now is all about being consistent in every match and making weight and having energy no matter who he wrestles. To be an elite wrestler you have to be consistent no matter who you are wrestling.”
Red has a chance to finish his career as a national champion – something that he’s come close to doing but never quite finished the job. Red faces tough competition with four wrestlers ranked ahead of him from the Big Ten. To be a national champion, he’ll eventually have to beat Penn State’s Nick Lee and Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman, who are ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively in the nation. “C.J. is one of five super seniors on our team,” Manning said. “He is a four-time All-American, so the next level is to be a national champion. But he has a super tough weight class nationally and in the Big Ten. The Iowa kid is the returning Big Ten champion and the Penn State kid was the national champion last year.
“As a team we need to lean on C.J. because of his experience and to guide the team. It’s about stepping up and being a pro and becoming a World or Olympic Champion someday. He has the potential, but I don’t like that word because it means you haven’t done it yet.”