Updated January 27, 2012
By Ryan Reiswig
Taking one look at Oregon State’s top heavyweight wrestling behemoth, one might think he can wake up, roll out of bed and pin the best of collegiate wrestlers this nation has to offer.
And that may not be entirely untrue. However, senior Clayton Jack’s dominance this season extends far beyond his physical stature.
Like many elite athletes, Jack has talents that some others cannot muster up regardless of the amount of time they practice. But there’s another reason why he has 28 wins and just one defeat so far this season.
He lives wrestling. Not just since becoming a Beaver four years ago, and not since his freshman year at Vacaville (Calif.) High School. Jack has lived wrestling all of his life.
The Oregon State senior also excelled in football in high school, but it always played second fiddle to wrestling.
“I loved football, but I grew up wrestling,” says Jack, who won the state heavyweight title as a high school senior. “As far as playing a game, I loved football. But wrestling is such a lifestyle for me that I had to stick with wrestling.”
Jack not only mentions the amount of time he spends practicing, dieting and training, but also the physical characteristics that separate wrestlers from any other sport or walk of life. Unless one spends their afternoons rubbing their ears on a mat until deformation occurs, his point is well-taken.
“There’s just something about wrestlers. We are all pretty much the same, cut from the same cloth,” says Jack, who at 28-1 is among the favorites to win the NCAA heavyweight championship this year. “There’s a mentality, an attitude that comes with wrestling. It’s easier to recognize somebody in wrestling than something like football because of something really distinguishable, the ears. We have cauliflower ears. If I see someone with cauliflower ears I know right away they’re a wrestler. I know who they’ve probably wrestled before. It’s just a lifestyle. I made a lot of my best friends through wrestling. I love the sport.”
At six-feet-five-inches and around 285 pounds, Jack is a very large and intimidating force these days, looking quite different than he did upon arriving in 2008 as a freshman. Experience, and to a greater extent size, forced he and the coaches to redshirt his freshman year.
“I felt at the time that I wanted to redshirt, the coaches wanted me to redshirt,” says Jack. “I was undersized for a heavyweight at the time, I wasn’t really that strong. I was probably like 230, so the coaches wanted me to mature a little bit.”
The coaches got their wish as Jack got bigger and stronger and gained the experience to turn into a force as a redshirt freshman in 2009, posting a 23-12 record. Jack followed 2009 up with a very strong 35-11 sophomore record, and last year as a junior had a respectable 25-11 junior season.
After failing to place in the NCAA Championships last year, Jack felt he needed to refocus and realize what got him to Oregon State in the first place three years earlier. He did this through going to wrestling camps and training all summer long.
“I did twenty wrestling camps all throughout Oregon and got to meet other people,” says Jack, a human development and family science major. “It helped me re-amp on what I’m doing and why I’m at Oregon State. It re-motivated me.”
Among the talent Jack got to compete against were wrestlers preparing to compete in the Olympic Games. This was a true test of where Jack stands in the grand scope of all wrestlers.
“Our coaches sent us to the Olympic training center to train with the guys competing for Olympic titles and on the national team,” says Jack. “I got to work out with them and see how they and why they got successful. It really made me think I’m not too far from these guys training at a world level. I just had to believe it.”
Jack has had a personal and career awakening as only one of his opponents has managed to defeat him this year. Along with all the training and camps, Jack has found another way to take his game to another level; to just have fun.
“Before, when I was a freshman and sophomore in college I was really nervous,” says Jack, born in Reno, Nev. “I was wrestling not to lose rather than to win. I was just really scared, I put way too much pressure on myself. When you just go out, compete, have the most confidence in the world, have fun, and know no matter what there’s always going to be tomorrow.”
For Jack, tomorrow looks to be very promising. As tough as it was last year for the heavyweight grappler to miss out on the NCAA Championships, that fueled his already hot-burning fire for redemption this year.
“That hurt because I had a lot of family members come,” Jack says. “The coaches devote so much time into you and when you come to a tournament and don’t compete the way you’re supposed to, it hurts. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time, so it definitely bothered me a lot. It definitely made me hungrier to come back and prove myself.”
Judging from the season so far, Jack is more than proving himself, and may just bring that national championship to Corvallis.