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Royal Comets Sports

A blog about high school wrestlers

Posted Wednesday, March 04, 2009 by Mickey Marlowe
 
Handling a 15-Year-Old Phenom

One thing that makes wrestling different that mainstream sports is how closely it is followed at the high school level by a majority of its fans. Because there is no professional wrestling, high school is followed much like college basketball and football is followed by NBA and NFL fans. It’s incredible to watch the following created by programs like Blair Academy and St. Edward’s. Most wrestling fans across America can tell you who the studs are in these lineups year in and year out, even if they’re not fans of the specific programs. The top high school kids every year are treated like established stars. I guarantee you almost every true wrestling fan this year knows about Jordan Oliver, Mario Mason, Mike Mangrum, Alex Meade Jason Welch, Scott Winston, etc. They’re superstars before they even set foot on a college mat. High school legends are almost more famous than college ones. A prime example is Cary Kolat, who is definitely better known for his exploits at Jefferson-Morgan than his two NCAA titles and his spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. Another example is the “rivalry†between Brent Metcalf and Dustin Schlatter. They’ve actually wrestled two times, neither of which has occurred at Iowa and Minnesota. I doubt any other sport’s premier rivalry exists because of what two individuals did as seniors in high school against each other. But because of the premium put on high school wrestling, this is the chic rivalry in the wrestling world today. 

Part of the reason high school wrestling carries so much weight is that more than any other high school sport, it appeases its followers by pitting national caliber teams and kids together as much as possible. It started with the Reno Tournament of Champions, the original “super tournament†in the mid-1990s. Easton, Walsh Jesuit, Blair, St. Ed’s, Wasatch (UT), and Choctaw (OK) were all under one roof. Kids that DIDN’T win titles that first year include Bryan Snyder, Adam Tirapelle, Joe Heskett, and Cael Sanderson. Now it seems every weekend there is a tournament with half the teams in the national top 25 attending. Super 32, Ironman, Beast of the East, Reno, Super 8, the NHSCA Final Four, The Clash, and that’s only in the season. After the high school season is over there still are NHSCA Nationals as well as the holy-grail that is Fargo. With all of these venues to showcase yourself, it’s easy to see how the hype machine gets behind a high school kid and takes him to mythic proportions. 

I say all this because it looks like the next legend in high school wrestling was born on Saturday afternoon in Cleveland, Ohio. It comes as no surprise that a freshman won the Ironman tournament. It also comes as no surprise that a freshman beat a highly regarded upper classman. These things happen all the time. However, these things do not happen at 171 pounds. At 103 or 112, sure, but freshman do not step in and beat up the big boys. Especially kids like Brian Roddy. Roddy, from St. Edward’s, might be the best senior in the state of Ohio. He’s a two-time Division I finalist, a defending state champion, and one of the most physical wrestlers out there. Not surprisingly, he’s ranked either first or second at 171 by every major publication out there. RevWrestling has him ranked as the 11th best recruit in the country, regardless of weight class. He has already committed to wrestle for the Northwestern Wildcats, one of the top programs in the country. And he was dismantled on Saturday by freshman Chris Phillips of Monroeville, Ohio. 

Make no mistake, Phillips took it to Roddy. Although the final was “only†7-3, Phillips dominated for six minutes. For anybody who has no seen the match, please stop reading this column and take a look at it on the Ironman portion of this site. What you’ll see is incredible. Phillips can do it all. After funking out of some really good offensive opportunities by Roddy in the first, Phillips shows off one of the slickest fireman’s carries I have ever seen. I have no idea about his repertoire, but if he can hit that all the time, oh my. His second takedown came off of a great counter and even better mat awareness to drag both feet as he doubled Roddy out of bounds. He spins out of an ankle pick early in the second to prevent Roddy from getting back in the match. He doesn’t get flustered after Roddy rolls back and out of his near perfect double that would have blown the match wide open later in the second. And most impressively, he keeps his cool when Roddy tries to bully him in the 3rd with some shoving and head butts. He was slicker than Roddy, he was stronger than Roddy, he was better than Roddy. And being better than Roddy means he’s pretty much better than everybody. 

Phillips clearly has all the tools. He looked plenty big and strong, even compared to Brian Roddy, who is a very big and physical 171. Phillips is built like a man already. He’s quick as a cat on his feet. He looks like he has Ben Askren level flexibility. His mat awareness is unreal. Because of these features he is incredibly difficult to score on. He has a variety of offensive moves from his feet. His double looks unstoppable. He’s creative too, as illustrated by some of the unorthodox spins and sprawls to stay out of harm’s way as well as the filthy fireman’s carry (I’m not kidding about this move, you really need to see it). Although he said in his post match interview that he needs to get in shape, his gas tank looked great. And most importantly he’s mentally tough, as illustrated by how well he handled himself when Roddy tried to turn the wrestling match into a slugfest. Clearly the kid has all the tools. He certainly will be fun to watch wrestle over the next four years. But I’ve said all of that to say this, please let’s not put the pressure of the world on this kid right away. 

I’m just as impressed as everybody else is by Phillips. The fact that he did it at 171 makes him probably the most impressive freshman I have ever seen. But he is only a freshman. And so far he has exactly one weekend of varsity competition under his belt. How about he wins his first state title before he becomes the first undefeated four-timer in Ohio history? And the people I’ve seen who claim he’ll win four NCAA titles need to tone it down just a little bit. Personally, I’d like to wait at least until the kid has a driver’s license before we anoint him the next Cael Sanderson. Like I said earlier, clearly he has all the tools. But what can we really expect from a 15 year old? 

A lot has to happen before Phillips joins Hodge, Gable, Smith, and Sanderson. It is important to keep this in mind. Because now, what happens if he loses? Suddenly does his whole career become a failure because he drops a match in high school? What if he gets beat in a state or NCAA final? Does that make him the biggest disappointment we’ve ever seen? I have a little brother who is the same age as Phillips and I can see how tough it is to be 15. You really start to carve your identity. That’s not the easiest task in the world. Throw on that the expectations of the wrestling world to be one of the greatest ever and suddenly Phillips has a lot to deal with. Some kids can take these expectations and run with them. They like the challenge. They can thrive on the pressure and the adrenaline that comes with being the best. They like chasing history. Others feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. They’re no longer wrestling for themselves; they’re wrestling for everybody else. Then it’s not fun anymore. I’m sure we’ve all seen what happens when an overbearing dad takes the joy out of wrestling, I hope the wrestling community as a whole doesn’t become Chris Phillips’s overbearing dad. 

If I had to make a prediction, I’d say Phillips is the first kind of kid I described. He looks like a gamer. He certainly looked like he was having fun. After listening to his post match interview, he seems like a class act. More likely than not, he’ll have a fabulous career. I have no reason to believe otherwise. But still, it makes me cringe when I see some of the bold things people are predicting for Phillips on the strength of this weekend and some legends surrounding him. Naming all of the greats he is going to follow and surpass is simply not fair. Let’s let him blaze his own trail. He’s going to accomplish a lot of things, but let’s not spend his whole career telling him what those things will be. He’s good enough, he’ll figure them out. He doesn’t need to be Dustin Schlatter, he doesn’t need to be Cael Sanderson, he doesn’t need to be Dan Gable. He needs to be Chris Phillips.

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