By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY
Northwestern’s Jake Herbert, named Tuesday as the 2009 winner of the Hodge Trophy as the nation’s top college wrestler, didn’t celebrate with a day of rest.
Instead, he was training for the U.S. freestyle wrestling championships, a step toward his goal of becoming a 2012 Olympian.
Herbert plans to compete April 11 in Las Vegas at freestyle nationals, a qualifier for the world team trials May 30-31 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The freestyle world championships will be held in September in Denmark.
“My immediate goal is to go win nationals and win the world team trials. If you’re not training to win a tournament, why even enter it? “Herbert said after a workout in Naperville, Ill., at the Overtime School of Wrestling, where he is now a staff member.
As a Northwestern junior, Herbert won the 2007 NCAA championship at 184 pounds, going 32-0. He took a year off from college wrestling in 2008 in an unsuccessful try to make the Olympics.
In his return to college wrestling, Herbert recently completed a 34-0 season and won another NCAA title at 184. He did not allow a takedown all season.
Now he is making the fulltime transition to international freestyle wrestling with rules and scoring different from collegiate style.
Herbert hopes to make that transition just as Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson did after winning his third Hodge Trophy in 2002.
“He did it all, “said Herbert. “He was a four-time, undefeated national champion and then won Olympic gold (in 2004).”
Sanderson went 159-0 at Iowa State. Herbert wasn’t perfect, but he finished his college career with a 149-4 record, winning his final 66 matches in a row.
These days, top collegians have the option of trying the mixed martial arts with the potential for big pay days.
“I got a coupe of offers. People are calling and taking about that, but I want to focus on the Olympics, “said Herbert.
He has done some mixed martial arts training.
“It’s a great workout, they get you doing that ju-jitsu and stuff like that. I’ve been picking up things here and there for possibly down the road. You never know what you’re going to do, “he said.
“But if somebody comes up to me and they’re hey like fight this other guy for like 50 grand, I’m not going to fight somebody for 10 minutes for 50 grand. I’m a wrestler. “Heaven forbid if I were to dislocate an arm or leg or do something like that and I couldn’t wrestle in the Olympics or the world team trials.”
The Hodge Trophy is sometimes described as the Heisman Trophy of college wrestling, but there is a distinction.
“Right now, if I was a football player, and I just won the Heisman, I’d know I’d be getting a multi-million dollar contract for doing what I do, “said Herbert.
“Wrestling is not like that. It’s a lot more of a lifestyle and hard work than any other sport can possibly dream of, and that’s what makes it great. “¦ I’ve just got to make the hard work pay off, and it will be even more worth it.”