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Wrestler Herbert’s comedic nature helps team to relax

August 7th, 2012 by Tom

Welcome to the press conference for the U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestling team " also known as Jake Herbert's Open Mic Night.

He fumbles with his smart phone in an over-exaggerated way to take pictures of the placard in front of him as the moderator speaks.

When the media is asked if there are any more questions for American coach Zeke Jones, Herbert raises his hand as a wry, knowing grin dents his face.

As U.S. assistant coach John Smith is introduced before speaking, Herbert uncorks a subdued clap.

Teammates shake heads and laugh at the gregarious Herbert, the 185-pound, pressure-relief valve for the U.S. freestyle team.

"The collective spirit of the team is really fun," Jones said when asked about Herbert, who wrestled at Northwestern and trains in Ann Arbor, Mich. "If we just had seven guys who acted the same, all stoic or all comedy "¦ the nice thing is, we have a blend of everything.

"And that's what makes the group fun. We're really lucky that way."

Herbert walks up after the formal press conference ends to shake Jones' hand as he transforms into a mock member of the media: "Jake Herbert, Northwestern Press, nice to meet you. Who's your favorite 84-kilogram wrestler at the Olympics?"

Jones surrenders, joining the newest comedic sketch: "That would be Jake Herbert."

Herbert injects himself into your life, your world, your airspace at nearly every turn " whether you're ready or not.

That aggressiveness always has existed on the mat, where Herbert won two NCAA championships at Northwestern with a 149-4 record " the fifth best win percentage in the history of the sport. He collected a silver medal at the 2009 world championships before moving to train in Michigan.

Fighting off his comedic DNA proves almost impossible, though.

When reminded that he collected bonus money for winning the 2009 silver medal, Herbert returned to character.

"That's great. That's like a full-time job being a manager of a Subway, or something like that," he said.

Is a post-athletic career in a comedy club next?

"No, he's not a great comedian " he just thinks he is," Jones said. "But he's a great guy."

To assume Herbert lacks seriousness on the mat, however, is a big mistake, the U.S. coach said.

"When we're on that day of competition, it's usually laughing, joking and fun," Jones said. "Then, about five minutes before the match, he'll get this really drawn-in look on his face, very series, his eyes slanted in, and steam starts to come out of his ears. He starts to pace real hard.

"You know that switch is flipped and he's ready to battle."

A glimpse into the transformation occurred when Herbert was asked how he moves himself from jokes to medal-level seriousness.

"You start to think about ... what you've given up and then you start to look at that guy across the mat, you start to think of what he's trying to take away from you," he said.

"You think, 'He doesn't work as hard as me. I know for a fact he wasn't up at 6 a.m., he wasn't hitting the bike till he puked. He wasn't as dedicated as I am. He doesn't want it as much as I do.'

"It starts to excite me. It gets my blood pressure up. That gets the hair up on the back of my neck. It gets me ready to go out there for war.

"This guy is trying to take what's mine. That gold medal's not his, that's my gold medal."

Jake Herbert – Looking into his opponents eyes at the olympics.

August 6th, 2012 by Tom

... gets me ready to go out there for war. Because this guy's trying to take what's mine. That gold, medal's not his, that's my gold medal. I have to go out there and take it.

Jake Herbert Wins 2009 Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year

June 30th, 2009 by Tom

Jake Herbert immediately after defeating defending champ Mike
Pucillo of Ohio State 6-3 for the 184-pound title at the 2009
NCAAs. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

Jake Herbert, two-time NCAA Division I 184-pound wrestling champ for Northwestern University, has been named the 2009 recipient of the Jesse Owens Athlete of the Year Award as the top male athlete across all sports in the Big Ten Conference.

Herbert becomes the third consecutive college wrestler to win this award, named for the African-American track star from Ohio State who made history at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In 2007, University of Minnesota heavyweight Cole Konrad earned the award; last year, Brent Metcalf of the University of Iowa was named conference male athlete of the year.

"This is such an honor and one that I never really imagined I could win, "Herbert said. "It's just great to be able to represent Northwestern wrestling and the entire athletic department so that everybody in the Big Ten and the rest of the country knows the amazing things that go on at this school."

This is just the latest honor for Herbert since winning his second NCAA title in March. The Northwestern senior was awarded the 2009 Dan Hodge Trophy, presented by WIN (Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine) to the best collegiate wrestler of the year. He also was named the 2009 Big Ten Wrestler of the Year, and Wrestler of the Year by the amateur wrestling website InterMat.

Herbert is the most decorated wrestler in Northwestern history, becoming only the second two-time NCAA champ for the Evanston, Illinois-based school (the other being Jack Riley, who won NCAA heavyweight titles for the Wildcats in 1931 and 1932). He is also the second Northwestern wrestler to be a four-time NCAA All-American, never having placed lower than third in his weight class at the national collegiate championships. In addition, Herbert won three Big Ten and Midlands titles. With a four-year record of 135-4 (including a 66-match win streak his last two years of college competition), Herbert leaves Northwestern with the fifth-best career winning percentage (.971) among all Division I college wrestlers since the 1974-75 season.

Since the conclusion of his college career, Herbert has also found considerable success in freestyle competition, winning his weight class at the U.S. Nationals in April, then, in May, earned a spot on the U.S. World Team that will compete at the World Championships in Denmark this September.

In addition to his stellar on-the-mat performance, Jake Herbert has been a star in the classroom as well. Earlier this month, the Wexford, Pennsylvania native was named to the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) All-Academic squad -- one of five out of ten 2009 NCAA champs, and one of 17 All-Americans out of a possible 80 to earn that recognition--for the second time in his career. He is also a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. This spring, Herbert graduated from Northwestern with a degree in communication studies.

Since the inception of the Jesse Owens Award in 1982, a total of seven wrestlers have earned this honor: Iowa's Ed Banach in 1983, Barry Davis in 1985, and Brent Metcalf in 2008; Matt Lackey of the University of Illinois "Champaign-Urbana in 2003; Minnesota's Damion Hahn in 2004 and Cole Konrad in 2007; and Herbert in 2009. In fact, the sport of wrestling can claim more Jesse Owens Award recipients than any other single sport.

via The Examiner

NY Times: Jake Herbert Sees a World of Possibility

May 13th, 2009 by Tom

A U.S. College Wrestler Sees a World of Possibility


Look out, world, Jake Herbert is on quite a roll.

In a three-week span, Herbert finished an undefeated season with his second N.C.A.A. title, won the Hodge Award as the nation's top college wrestler and claimed his first title at the United States championships.

Later this month, he will go to the world team trials in Iowa, where he will need to win only one match in his 185-pound class to qualify for his first world championships, set for September in Denmark.

"Why not go out there and establish dominance and let everyone know I'm the guy, I'm the top dog?" Herbert said. "I want to establish myself as the guy to beat."

Herbert was 135-4 at Northwestern, finishing with a 66-match winning streak. His .971 winning percentage is fifth best among all college wrestlers since 1975.

But there are differences in the scoring and technique between the folkstyle wrestling in college, and the freestyle at the Olympics and the world championships. That Herbert won a national title without much freestyle training is an indication of his talent.

And how much better he can become.

"I think Jake could be exceptional," said Sean Bormet, one of Herbert's coaches. "If you look through all his matches at nationals, he demonstrated a very successful balanced attack on his feet. He scored from a lot of different positions on his feet. If he continues to build off that and develops a few turns off the top position, he can be very dangerous.

"He can be a great international wrestler because he does have good scoring power."

Herbert also could be the first American wrestler to have commercial appeal since Rulon Gardner.

Personable and engaging, Herbert treats people as if they are longtime friends the minute he meets them. He is always smiling and loves to talk, no matter where he is. He has no problem poking fun at himself, either. He turned one interview with Flowrestling.org, a wrestling Web site, into a personal ad, proclaiming his newly single status.

"I'm always having fun," Herbert said. "The American people need to see us as people, not just see us as the monsters we are on the mat. Off the mat we're a little goofy, a little crazy."

Asked what he does that qualifies, Herbert, deadpan, said: "Everything I do is normal. It's everybody else that's goofy and crazy."

USA Today: Herbert Weighs in on MMA, Olympics

April 6th, 2009 by Tom

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."

Northwestern’s Jake Herbert: All The Right Moves

January 4th, 2009 by Tom

By Philip Hersh | Tribune reporter

Jake Herbert continues to take nothing for granted in his prolonged career as a Northwestern student-athlete.

Herbert may not have lost a college wrestling match since 2006 " and just one of 81 matches since his freshman season " but he refuses to consider himself the favorite for what would be his second straight NCAA title at 184 pounds.

And he may need just one more class to graduate in March, but that does not mean Herbert will refuse the opportunity for more.

"I will be fully enrolled, "Herbert said. "I have been lucky enough to get a free Northwestern degree, so why would I miss out on some classes?"

As he prepares for his final appearance as a collegian at the annual Midlands Wrestling Championships on Monday and Tuesday at Northwestern, it is clear Herbert, 23, has availed himself of every opportunity during a six-year stay in Evanston.

After taking a redshirt first year to adapt to college, Herbert's first major tournament was the Midlands in 2004, when he became the first NU wrestler to win an individual Midlands title in 30 years.

The next season he was named Midlands Champion of Champions and finished with a 33-1 record, his only loss in the NCAA title bout. Herbert wiped that lone blot from his record in 2006-07, when he was 32-0 and Northwestern's first NCAA champion since 1990.

Herbert left school last year to train for an Olympic bid, losing in the second round of the U.S. trials challenge tournament. The NCAA gave him an extra year of eligibility, and Herbert has opened it with 12 straight victories, seven by pin, including one that allowed the No. 20 Wildcats to beat then-No. 24 Pittsburgh by two points.

Given his experience, talent and the vacuum at 184 created when two of his leading rivals, Jake Varner of Iowa State and Tyrel Todd of Michigan, moved up in weight, it would seem the top-ranked Herbert would have little trouble becoming Northwestern's first two-time national champion since 1932.

That's not the way he sees it.

"In the NCAA tournament, you have guys who are undefeated losing in the first round, "Herbert said. "Besides, since I didn't compete in college last year, I have to deal with styles changing and new kids coming up through the ranks.

"I'm not defending a title, I'm trying to regain it."

Given Herbert's personality, that should make things more challenging for everyone he wrestles.

"Jake is very driven, "said his father, Jim. "I have to tell him more to slow down than to push him."

Jim Herbert, a contract builder, was a Pennsylvania high school state champion who went on to wrestle for Clarion University and then coach in high school for three years.

He coached Jake as a boy and remains an integral part of his son's coaching support system, even if father has not dared get on a mat with his son since his sophomore year at Northwestern.

"No one knows me better than he does, "Jake Herbert said.

Jim Herbert has missed only two matches in his son's college career, a remarkable record given winter weather conditions in Chicago and western Pennsylvania.

"It takes good planning "¦ and we haven't had any family vacations in that time, "Jim Herbert said.

The family caught a break this month when Northwestern traveled first to Pitt and then, a day later, to Herbert's old high school, North Allegheny, for a match against Clarion in which he won by tech fall as the Wildcats romped 29-3.

It was the first time Herbert had wrestled a collegiate match in his native western Pennsylvania.

Herbert hopes to stay in the Chicago area after graduation. He is looking for a job as a graduate assistant coach to support himself while training for the 2012 Olympics.

On the international scene, Herbert is still far from the top " No. 9 in the U.S. at 184. But nearly all those above him are older, and it takes most wrestlers some time to make the switch from collegiate "folk-style "wrestling to international freestyle wrestling.

For now, though, Herbert's focus is close to home " the mats at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where 350 of the country's top wrestlers will be competing in Midlands and he will be after a third title.

"Midlands is like a mini-NCAAs, "Herbert said. "It lets you know where you stand at almost the middle of the season."