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|Cadet, Junior stars train with the best in Big Brother Greco-Roman/Future Freestyle program|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
Andrew Long could be hanging out with his buddies right now.
He could be basking in the sun on a beach somewhere or he could be back home in southwest Iowa resting, relaxing and goofing off during spring break.
While many of his Creston High School classmates are taking it easy this week, Long is doing exactly the opposite.
He's spending a week at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, dripping with sweat as he cranks out 150 pushups at the end of a grueling 1-hour, 45-minute late afternoon practice session in freestyle. He's back on the mat early the next morning for a Greco-Roman session.
Long and a number of other elite Cadet and Junior wrestlers are taking advantage of a USA Wrestling program called Big Brother Greco-Roman/Future Freestyle. The week-long program allows talented young competitors a chance to come to Colorado Springs, train like a resident athlete and rub elbows with some of the nation's top international wrestlers.
"This is an invaluable experience for these kids," said Dave Bennett, National Developmental Freestyle Coach for USA Wrestling. "They receive an opportunity to train in an environment that's ideal. They have access to some of the top coaches, they learn how to train like an elite wrestler, they learn new techniques and they get to train with some of the top kids in the country at a top facility."
Long is one of 34 high-school wrestlers who have been in Colorado Springs the past two weeks. The wrestlers are participating in two-a-day practices while trying to develop skills in freestyle and Greco-Roman.
The top four finishers in Cadet Nationals and FILA Cadet Nationals along with the top six finishers in Junior Nationals and FILA Junior Nationals - elite USA Wrestling events - are eligible to take part in the program. This is the eighth year for the program.
Bennett said USA Wrestling provides the young athletes with funded access where their housing and food are taken care of during their week-long visit. They stay in the dorms at the Olympic Training Center. The athletes are only responsible for paying for their own transportation to and from Colorado Springs.
This is a reward for athletes who attend USA Wrestling's National age-group events and excel there. It's an amazing privilege for these developing stars and a benefit they earn for becoming involved with USA Wrestling on the national level.
Long, a double Cadet National champion last year, said he took a couple weeks off after he won the Class 2-A state title at 103 pounds in Iowa. The sophomore said he's paying for that now. He's experienced what a grueling workout is like with Freestyle Resident Coach Terry Brands cracking the whip in the wrestling room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
"You really should train before you come out here because these practices are very hard," said a smiling Long, whose big brother Dylan was an NCAA runner-up for Northern Iowa. "You win a state title and start to think you know a little about wrestling, but then you come out here and it opens your eyes to how much you still need to work on. There is always tons of stuff to learn in this sport and I'm always looking for an edge."
Andrew Long said he has noticed the strides he has made this week.
"I'm out here because I want to get better," he said. "I know all this work will definitely pay off in the long run."
Among the wrestlers Long battled in practice was Tyler Cox of Wyoming, a Cadet National champion in Greco-Roman.
"The competition in here is tough," Long said. "We go at it pretty hard."
Ryan Fields, a prep sophomore from Cincinnati, Ohio, is a two-time state runner-up who is in Colorado because he wants to win state next year. He was third last year at Cadet Nationals in Greco-Roman at 112 pounds.
"I've learned to wrestle a more hard-nosed style and to be more aggressive," Fields said. "Terry Brands has pushed us really hard and I've learned a lot about how to train. It's been an awesome experience out here."
Among the wrestlers who have taken part in the Future Freestyle program are NCAA champions Ben Askren of Missouri and Dustin Schlatter of Minnesota along with All-American Eric Tannenbaum of Michigan and NCAA qualifier Brandon Mason of Oklahoma State.
"These kids are making a pretty big sacrifice and commitment by coming out here," Bennett said. "But I think it will really benefit them in the long run."
Ike Anderson, USA Wrestling's National Development Coach for Greco-Roman, also has worked closely with the promising young wrestlers during early-morning sessions this week.
"This is just a phenomenal experience for these kids," Anderson said. "These kids are looking to get better and take advantage of this opportunity. They're very eager to learn. You can see them make progress as their technique improves, plus they're learning how to drill and how to train. You can see their confidence really grow."
The young wrestlers have taken part in practices and Senior level freestyle workouts with guys like World Team members Mo Lawal and Michael Lightner, former World Team member Bill Zadick and top prospects like Tommy Rowlands. They also have had a chance to be around guys like Greco-Roman Olympian Brad Vering and World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz.
"All those guys are really cool and they give us pointers and help us out," said Shawn Jones, a four-time state champion from Snake River, Idaho. "They obviously know what it takes to get the job done. Seeing how they train and how hard they work helps us see what we need to do."
Jones, who won Junior Nationals last year in Greco-Roman and placed second in freestyle at 125 pounds, signed with Arizona State.
"Coming out here, I've improved so much," Jones said. "You have great workout partners who really push you, plus the coaches out here are the best. What more could you ask for?"
Eli Hutchison, who is from Soldotna, Alaska, said the long journey to Colorado definitely has been worth it. Hutchison placed second at Junior Nationals last year in Greco-Roman at 130 pounds. The four-time state champion signed with Boise State and will compete at 141 pounds in college.
"This experience here has been really beneficial," Hutchison said. "Some of the practices are very intense. I don't like doing some of the stuff, but I know it will help me in the long run. We've been working unbelievably hard."
There also is plenty of camaraderie and mutual respect among the kids who take part in the program.
"We all hang out together and make some new friends," Jones said. "It's fun getting to know kids from different parts of the country. It's a really good experience."