Ben Askren’sjovial attitude makes him lethal on the mat.
Askren, a redshirt freshman ranked fifth in the nation at 174 pounds, is known as the clown of the Missouri wrestling team. Askren said his lightheartedness helps him relax before matches.
“I know a lot of people that worry themselves out of matches,’’ Askren said. “It really cuts down on their competitiveness.
“When they get on the mat, some people worry about getting tired so they don’t go hard and some people worry about the other opponent doing stuff so they don’t try anything. They just stand defensive.”
Askren, who leads his weight class with 16 falls, smiled all the way to a Big 12 Conference Championship title, which earned him a spot at the NCAA Tournament at Savvis Center in St. Louis starting Thursday and finishing Saturday.
Four other Tigers also are competing in the NCAA Tournament. Senior Kenny Burleson (157), along with senior Jeremy Spates (149), sophomore Jeff Foust (197) and redshirt freshman Matt Pell (184) will compete in St. Louis.
Missouri coach Brian Smith said it is uncharacteristic for Askren to be serious before a match.
“For the first time all year before the semis at the Big 12s, I had to grab him and tell him to smile because he looked too serious and I was worried about him,” Smith said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to smile right before you walk on the mat’ and of course he gave me a big grin and I knew he was fine and he pinned the guy in a minute and a half.”
Askren went on to upset No. 1 Chris Pendelton from Oklahoma State 9-7 in the finals.
Burleson (31-4) said Askren’s humor helps the team.
“It helps with the long season,’’ Burleson said. “That’s probably the hardest thing about college wrestling. When you can goof around on and off the mat like Ben does, it makes the season go by quicker and gets you to your goals a little faster.”
Smith said Askren (29-4) has a little too much fun at times.
“He keeps things lighthearted, let’s put it that way,” Smith said. “There’s many a time, though, I have to grab him and tell him, ‘Stop.’”
Smith was smiling with Askren after the Big 12 Championships. In addition to a trip to St. Louis, Askren also earned Big 12 Championship Most Outstanding Wrestler honors.
“I was really excited ’cause I wasn’t really expecting it,’’ Askren said. “I was expecting (Oklahoma State’s) Tyrone Lewis or Johnny Thompson to get it.”
Askren said his wrestling style could be a reason he received the honors.
“My style is I go out there and try to score a lot of points, and I don’t hold anything back,” Askren said. “I guess a lot of fans and coaches like watching that.”