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Oklahoma State's Chris Perry takes aim at capturing first NCAA title

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Chris Perry looks back at it now and shakes his head in disbelief.

Like a lot of redshirt freshmen, Perry still had plenty of growing and developing to do as a wrestler despite entering college with sparkling credentials.

He just wishes he would’ve figured it out earlier.

“You think you know more than you really know,” Perry said. “There is a lot to learn at this level. The biggest thing I struggled with was the understanding that everybody’s good in college. You have to be ready every week.”

Perry definitely understands now. His maturation at Oklahoma State has been evident with the significant gains he’s made in his career.

Perry reached the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA tournament as a freshman at 184 pounds before falling one win short of placing. He stormed back to place third at the 2012 NCAA tournament at 174.

Now a junior, Perry is ranked No. 1 nationally at 174 pounds this season for the second-ranked Cowboys.

“It’s been a process for me where I have just continued to learn and continued to get better,” he said. “Mentally, I’ve gotten a lot stronger. That’s the biggest aspect for me. I’m a lot more focused and I understand what I need to do now.”

Perry, as many wrestling observers know, comes from a family that is wrestling royalty.

His uncle is Oklahoma State head coach John Smith, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time World champion. Smith has coached the Cowboys to five NCAA team titles.

“John has been there for me through everything,” Chris said. “He’s been like another dad for me. He’s been phenomenal. He understands the sport so well and he’s helped me so much technically. I couldn’t have picked a better place to wrestle or a better situation to be in. He’s the greatest wrestler ever and one of the greatest coaches. He’s helped me in every way, with the support he’s given me in wrestling and the support he’s given me personally. He’s been great.”

Chris Perry’s father, Mark, was an All-American at Oklahoma State. His brother, Mark Perry Jr., was a two-time NCAA champion for Iowa.

Mark Perry Jr. is now the associate head coach at Illinois.

“We’re really close – my brother has always been there for me,” Chris said. “He’s always the first person to congratulate me and text me or call me after matches. I’m thankful for everything he’s done for me.”

Chris Perry said he doesn’t think there are any added expectations placed on him because of his family’s rich wrestling history.

“I have never really thought about that stuff – I just do my own thing,” he said. “I never really felt that I had pressure to live up to anything. I just haven’t looked at it that way.”

Chris Perry also was a top football prospect in high school who gained plenty of attention from college coaches, but he was ranked No. 1 in the country in his weight class in wrestling.

He won the Junior Hodge Trophy as the nation’s top high school wrestler and was a four-time state champion for Stillwater High School. He also won USA Wrestling’s Junior Nationals in freestyle.

Perry said he recalls the exact moment that he decided he was going to pursue wrestling in college.

“When my brother won his first NCAA title,” he said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do. There was no other feeling like it when I saw him win it. Every night, I dream about doing the same thing. It’s in my blood, and it’s something I want more than anything.”

Perry is a top freestyle prospect who spent time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center this past summer during an Olympic Team Training Camp. Among the wrestlers he trained with was Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs and World silver medalist Jake Herbert.

“Wrestling those guys was a great experience,” he said. “It was a great opportunity and I tried to take full advantage of that. I did pretty well. It was good to train with the U.S. guys and some of the Olympians from India. It lets me know where I need to be to compete with them.”

Perry won a bronze medal at the 2010 Junior World Championships after placing fifth the year before. He was fourth in the 2010 U.S. Senior Open in freestyle.

“I’m caught between weights a little bit in freestyle, but I will probably go up to 84 kilograms (185 pounds),” he said. “I hope to wrestle in the World Team Trials this summer here in Stillwater. It will be a good chance to compete with some of the best guys in the World.”

Dropping down to 174 for his sophomore season in college made a big difference for Perry.

“I was too small for 184,” he said. “I should’ve been down at 174 as a freshman. I was undersized. I had to eat four or five times a day to make 184 and keep my weight up there. I obviously was small for the weight. I had never cut weight before and I thought I didn’t need to in college.

“Now that I’m at 174, it’s a real good fit for me. I’m pretty disciplined with my weight. Making the weight is not an issue at all for me.”

Smith said Perry made huge gains from his freshman to sophomore seasons at Oklahoma State.

“Chris Perry is kind of like night and day from where he’s been to where he is now,” Smith said. “His whole style and mentality has changed from even when he was a young kid. He has bought into the mentality of putting pressure on people. He’s not sitting and waiting and letting things materialize. He’s done a great job in his transitional wrestling where he’s gotten to a leg and finished, and before he knew it, he was looking for a turn. He’s had one of the biggest turnarounds in style that I’ve ever coached in a single year.”

The improvements Perry has made have him on track to win his first NCAA title.

“I’m going to have to go out to dominate – I need to have that mentality,” he said. “I’m not going out to win by one or two points. I need to prove that I’m here to dominate and I’m the guy to beat. I haven’t proved that yet. I have to earn it and I know it’s not given to you. I want to make sure I’m wrestling my best and I’m setting the tone starting in the first round. It’s all about momentum and getting on a roll from the very first match.”

Perry is part of a strong Oklahoma State team that is ranked second behind No. 1 Penn State, which has won the last two NCAA team titles.

“I like our chances a lot,” he said. “We are right there with Penn State. They beat us at the Southern Scuffle and they are a good team. We have work to do. They are obviously the team to beat, but if there is a team who can beat them we are the ones who can do it. We’ve made a lot of progression and everybody is getting better. We’re heading in the right direction. It was good to see them at the Scuffle and that gives us an idea of what to expect from them.”

With two NCAA tournaments under his belt, Perry knows what to expect now when he steps onto the mat in late March for the 2013 NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

“The experience I have is huge for me,” he said. “I see a lot of things now that I didn’t see as a freshman. I listen to my coaches more now and I’m not afraid to make changes or adjustments with my style of wrestling. I wasn’t used to losing when I came here and I didn’t react right when I struggled as a freshman. I thought I was getting worse.

“Now I understand the grind of a college season. I feel more focused than I ever have. I’m determined to win and I think I’m the top guy. People are chasing me, which drives me to train even harder to be the best.”
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