COLUMBIA — On his way to basketball practice, 7-year-old Brad Wisdom caught a glimpse of several wrestlers, suited up in their gear, standing by the mat.
That was all it took.
“I looked at them and told my dad that that was what I wanted to do,” Wisdom said.
Eleven years later, Wisdom is the only freshman on the Missouri wrestling team who is not redshirting. His intense desire to compete and his addiction to the sport have driven Wisdom to where he is today, and he is working to overcome his age and succeed this season.
“Since I started it’s been my passion,” Wisdom said. “I haven’t really taken any seasons off since I was 7 years old.”
Coming into the season, Wisdom was unsure whether he would redshirt this season. Because most freshman sit out their first season, he knew it was a possibility.
“Me and my dad talked about it a lot, if I was going to redshirt or not,” Wisdom said. “But honestly, I think I wanted to start. I came here to get better, and they took my redshirt away.”
Missouri coach Brian Smith said Wisdom definitely had to prove himself to the coaches and the team, and he waited until after the Illinois dual meet on Nov. 12 to take away the freshman’s redshirt status. Smith was not without reservations about the decision, but he said he thinks Wisdom can handle the challenge.
“You come in as an 18-year-old wrestler, and you’re wrestling against 21- and 22-year-olds who have a lot of experience in the practice room, and who have a lot more experience,” he said. “It’s hard to make that adjustment.”
Wisdom said that since his redshirt has been lifted, he has been conscious that there’s a lot riding on him, and that he must devote a lot of energy to improving. He has no problem with the extra work, though.
“Even if I wasn’t redshirting, I would still put a lot more work ethic in than your average guy,” he said.
Much of Wisdom’s energy has been devoted toward making weight this season. As a larger wrestler in the 125 pound weight class, he’s been struggling to make weight at most of his matches.
“Just right out of high school, I don’t have the weight right under control,” he said.
He’s been improving, though. At the Nittany Lion Open on Dec. 6, he not only made weight, he also realized how to master some of the mental aspects of his game. He came in third in his weight class after losing to Brad Pataky, the sixth-ranked wrestler in the class.
“It was a good go,” Wisdom said. “I realized I was really content in the match compared to all my other ones.”
Looking back, Wisdom said it was not his physical strength, but rather his immaturity, that contributed to his loss.
“I don’t like to look at the rankings that much, because that kind of stuff really bothers me,” he said. “And I honestly think that if I hadn’t looked at the rankings, I would have wrestled better.”
Overcoming the added pressure of being a freshman and facing opponents who are as much as four years older than him has definitely weighed on Wisdom in the early days of the season. He’s not letting those pressures dampen his expectations, though. Because he is not redshirting, Wisdom will have fewer seasons in which to improve his wrestling skills, and he is determined to capitalize on his opportunity this year.
“It’s still early in the season,” he said. “I can improve and do well, and March is the only thing that matters. My goal that I have set is to place in NCAAs, and even though I’m a freshman, I can do it.”