Tuesday featured wrestling media day for the 2009 Iowa State University Cyclone grapplers. After a dramatic off-season, Kevin Jackson is now the head man in charge of the Cyclone program.
Jackson sat down to talk with reporters during media day. Here’s the Q&A.
KJ: We’re excited about our upcoming season starting next Thursday against South Dakota State. Our athletes and our coaches are very, very excited to get started with actual competition. We’ve been training a long time through the summer, preseason training and now with our beginning of the year training, working on skills and drills and tactics and techniques that are going to help us be at our best. This competition coming up is just going to give us more insight on our athletes making the proper connections to the techniques and the tactics and the skills we are trying to embed in them so that they are enable to do them instinctively by habit. This dual meet is going to give us a chance to see it first hand. And then everything else after that is a process, continuing to build towards our next event which will be the Harold Nichols Open which will continue to give us information and continue to evaluate our athletes and make sure that they are doing the things that they need to do correctly.
We just had our inter-squad match. We had four starters out of that match. Andrew Long, Nick Fanthorpe, Nick Gallick and David Zabriskie. Everyone else who competed in that event, we were able to gain some valuable information from and kind of identify their areas of concentration. Not only will we continue to train them from a team aspect but we’re going to start looking at their videos and training them from an individual standpoint in the areas that they are strong at and improving the areas that they are weak at. We are eagerly anticipating the start of the season with South Dakota State.
How are the tactics and techniques that you are teaching different from what these guys are used to?
KJ: I think that we are trying to teach complete wrestling so that we can wrestling in every situation and every position. I think that from a tactical standpoint, we want to be aggressive. We want to score points. We want to score points in that first period. That first period in a three-minute period, we believe as a staff that it is unacceptable to go 0-0 in that three-minute period. I think you saw me emphasize that in our inter-squad match. I’m trying to force these guys to get their offense off, to get their attacks off, to give themselves an opportunity to score and to take commanding leads in the second period instead of a 2-1 lead or worst-case scenario, a 0-0 lead. Specifically, that is one tactical approach that we are going to have. Is to try to be aggressive. Try to score points in that first period and try to build on our lead after that. Then, everything is else is just complete wrestling. To be able to wrestle in every position. To be able to be aggressive from every position and try to dominate the match as opposed to just trying to win the match. That’s really what we’re pushing for I think. If you have watched our athletes over the past couple of years, I think that we could be a little more dominant over opponents that we are beating or should beat.
Who are some of the newcomers that you are looking to make some of the biggest impressions?
KJ: I’m excited about Andrew Long. I think that he has gotten his weight down to striking distance for 125-pounds. He’s not a small 125-pounder. I like the way he competes. I like the way he trains. I like his focus. He is a young man who we are looking forward to not only this year performing at a high level but for the next four years, performing at a high level. As you know, we have a pretty much upperclassmen group that we are dealing with. I am impressed with their attitude as far as buying into the plan. They could very easily say that what they have done in the past, they have had somewhat success from and not totally buy into it, believing that what they have done in the past is going to allow them to have that same success and maybe win the national championship from what they were doing. Obviously, we have convinced them that what you’ve done in the past has not gotten you a title with the exception of Jake Varner. We have to change some things. We have to change quite a few things. We can do more. I am excited about all of our athletes buying into our plan and with the effort and work that they are putting in.
You mentioned the starters from the inter-squad match. Does that mean that the rest of the spots are open?
KJ: No. We are going to continue to evaluate and wrestle guys off and base our decision on who is going to wrestle at the NCAA Tournament based off of how they train. Based on how they perform in competition and based on the wrestleoffs. We’re going to continue to evaluate and put the best guys on the mat. What you are going to see in the South Dakota match is the athletes that have connected to the positions and the areas that we are trying to present to them as well as the wrestler that is dominating and the wrestler that has had previous success here. I don’t think that Jake Varner necessarily has to be worried about his spot on the team. I think we are good there.
You guys recently broke a school-record for ticket sales. How does that make you feel? Does that make you feel like people really support your program?
KJ: I hope that is the case. We don’t want to have to put the curtain back up. I’m hoping that we get even more people to buy season tickets. We are very, very happy with where we are at right now. I’ve been tremendously blessed to be in this position right now and to get the support from all of the Cyclone Nation, from everyone in Ames. From our administration, to our clubs, to our alumni. Everyone…it seems like is in full support of Iowa State wrestling at this time. We are excited that we have more season tickets purchased than ever. We are hoping that continues to climb because we definitely want to fill Hilton especially at the right times.
All of your former All-Americans…are they good enough to improve on that?
KJ: For sure. I don’t think that anyone in our room has reached his full potential. I think that the majority of them have only scratched the surface. Being with them every day, putting them through the drills and skills and must-win positions. There are a few must-win positions in a match that are going to determine matches. I think that is one of the areas we are going to improve the most in are in those must-win positions, situations of when we have to perform that certain skill, when it is called upon. I think there is more depth to our athletes as far as reaching their potential and like I said, it’s a process. We’ll continue to train them. We’ll continue to have them compete. We’ll continue to bring them back in the room and evaluate them and move forward in making those connections that they need to make to have success. I am excited because these guys have had success. They’ve won a bunch of matches. They’ve become All-Americans. When I come into a room and see some flaws that should be corrected, and are going to be correct, it makes me excited to what their potential could be.
What kind of adjustment has it been for you to go from the freestyle coaching to this?
KJ: It has been an adjustment, without a doubt. It has been more of the little things that surround a program then major things. Obviously, we believe that my staff has done a great job from a recruiting standpoint. From getting a kid on campus and displaying what Iowa State has to offer not only academically and athletically but from training an athlete. The big things are well taken care of and well under control. It’s the little things that are major adjustments for me. I hadn’t been in a college room for 10 years. It’s been an adjustment but it’s just everything that surrounds a program as opposed to dealing with the day-to-day operations of a program.
Do you feel any extra pressure by being here?
KJ: No. I don’t feel any pressure. I feel zero pressure. The bottom line is that I’ve been in wrestling for a long time. Ever since I have been in wrestling, I’ve tried to be the best that I can be whether it’s a city champion or an Olympic champion. My goal has been what I have shot for my whole life. When I come into a program like Iowa State, regardless of the expectations of what this team is capable of, they by no means exceed what my expectations are. What I feel is that if I do everything in my power to train these guys the right way and to give them the right mentality and the technical and tactical skills that they need, it all falls into the process. It all falls into what we do in the room because the national championship is not going to be won in March. It’s going to be won everyday in this Iowa State room. I don’t feel pressure at all. Now when December 6 shows up and we’ve got 15 thousand in the stands and you’re expecting to win and you’re expecting to perform, I’ll feel some butterflies. But as far as pressure to win, I can’t go out and wrestle for these guys. All I can do is train them. They have to go out there and perform and wrestle the way they can wrestle for us to have success.
The race for the national championship…how do you size that up?
KJ: I really don’t size it up. You know the teams that are major players and have an opportunity to be the best. Obviously, that thing can shake out any kind of way. If you look at last year, I’m sure it was unexpected in how Iowa ended up winning that championship or how Ohio State took second or us taking third. For me to try to figure out what that looks like or how that’s going to fall out, I can’t really do that without taking away from the process and what we have to do as a team.