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Northwestern's Jake Herbert driven to realize Olympic dream

Jake Herbert is one of the best young freestyle prospects in the country.

He won a bronze medal at the 2006 World University Championships at 84 kg/185 pounds.

And he's a wrestler many expect to make a strong run at landing a spot on the 2012 United States Olympic Team.

But Herbert already has turned his attention toward a more immediate goal. He wants to represent the U.S. at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.

If you know the confident, driven and highly-motivated Herbert, it's easy to see why the Northwestern University junior plans to take an Olympic redshirt next year so he can focus all his energy squarely on earning a trip to Beijing.

"I don't think there is a dominating wrestler in the United States at that weight class right now," Herbert said of the 185-pound class. "I'm going to try to make the World Team this year and set the pace for next year. It's going to take a lot of hard work and training to get there. I want to win an Olympic gold medal."

For now, Herbert's hard work and training has enabled him to decimate the competition at the collegiate level. Third and second in his first two NCAA tournaments at 174 pounds, the top-ranked Herbert is the favorite to capture the 184-pound NCAA title this year.

Herbert is undefeated and already owns a 10-2 win over No. 2 Roger Kish of Minnesota in November's All-Star meet. Kish placed second nationally at 184 last year.

Herbert was named the Outstanding Wrestler at the National Duals on Jan. 14 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Wexford, Pa., native rolled to a 5-0 record while recording three major decisions, a technical fall and a pin.

"Jake is just very, very confident in what he does - he always has a game plan," Northwestern coach Tim Cysewski said. "You can't stop him from consistently scoring on you. He's in great shape and he's one of the toughest-willed guys I've ever been around. He will wrestle you seven minutes hard. If you're not ready to wrestle seven minutes hard, he will find a way to beat you."

Herbert rolled to the NCAA finals last season at 174 before he ran into Ben Askren of Missouri in the finals. Askren came out on top in a couple of early scrambles and posted a 14-2 win over Herbert. Askren went on to win the Hodge Trophy as the nation's best collegiate wrestler.

Herbert was 36-0 entering that match.

"The score of that match was definitely misleading," Cysewski said. "Jake's an aggressive kid and got caught in a couple of those scrambles where he was staying after it. He got behind and it kind of snowballed. He doesn't dwell on it. He turned it into a positive and learned from it and got better."

Askren, a senior, is ranked No. 1 again at 174 while the bigger Herbert has bumped up a class to 184 this season. Herbert says he uses the loss to Askren as extra motivation for this season.

"I want to get my national title this year and I don't think anybody can step in my way," Herbert said. "If I had to go back and do it again it would have benefited me to have faced Askren at least once before that match. You just can't get in scrambles with him - that's where he is at his best. You need to pick and choose your shots and finish hard."

Herbert and Askren both are outgoing, personable, likable and immensely popular on their respective campuses.

"Ben and I actually talk a lot and get along real well," Herbert said. "I plan on training with him next year when I take my Olympic redshirt. I will be one weight class above him and there is no reason why we shouldn't wrestle with each other. His brother (Max) is out there as well along with Matt Pell. Ben is a real good guy and we have similar personalities. We joke around with each other and both like to have fun."

When he's not training at Northwestern, Herbert often drives two hours round trip to work out at Sean Bormet's Overtime School of Wrestling in Naperville, Ill., a Chicago suburb. Herbert has trained there with 2006 World Bronze Medalist Donny Pritzlaff, 2006 World Team member Andy Hrovat and 2006 World Team Trials runner-up Clint Wattenberg.

"Sean's a real student of the sport and he is really, really intelligent about wrestling," Herbert said. "He knows what it takes to excel at that level from when he was a top wrestler. And he can still get on the mat and mix it up with us. Wrestling with guys like Pritzlaff, Hrovat and Wattenberg, you can't beat that. I drive out there and train and watch film. They have ridiculous facilities, it's really nice out there."

Herbert is part of a strong Northwestern team that finished eighth at the National Duals. The Wildcats were without top-ranked 141-pounder Ryan Lang, who sat out with an injury. Northwestern could score a bunch of points at the NCAAs when you also add second-ranked Mike Tamillow (197) and fourth-ranked Dustin Fox (heavyweight) into the equation.

"I remember when I got here we hadn't won a Big Ten match in two or three years," Herbert said. "Seeing the attitude turn around and seeing us make some noise now on the national level is great. It's awesome to be on a good team now and it's great to be in the national hunt. We have an amazing team. We could put four guys in the finals. That could get us some hardware for sure at nationals."

So how did a Pennsylvania star like Herbert end up at Northwestern?

"The Big Ten wrestling is what drew me here," Herbert said. "Plus it's one of the best academic institutions in the country and then you have the city life of Chicago. Now it's one of the best wrestling institutions. I love it here."

The 21-year-old Herbert is an Academic All-American. He is majoring in communications with a business institution minor. He had a 3.8 GPA last quarter to make the Dean's List. His overall GPA is 3.1.

Cysewski said Herbert, who is now 100-4 in his college career entering Sunday's dual meet against Iowa, is a joy to coach.

"Jake came to us with a winning attitude - that's why we recruited him," Cysewski said. "He has a great personality and is real upbeat. He's just a great kid. Jake's one of the most popular guys on our campus, a lot of people know who he is. He's very outgoing and friendly, and pleasing to talk to."

Cysewski said he can envision Herbert excelling on the international level.

"Jake definitely wants to be an Olympian and win a gold medal," the NU coach said. "I think that's a very realistic goal."
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