By Betsy Veysman
From being Redman to being in the nation’s Top 15.
It’s certainly been an interesting month and a half for Cornell freshman 125-pounder Nahshon Garrett.
When it was time for the All-Star Dual on the opening weekend of the 2012-13 season in November, the Big Red wanted famous mascot Redman to attend the festivities in Washington D.C..
“We’d been struggling with a consistent Redman,” said head coach Rob Koll. “Kids graduate and surprisingly don’t want being Redman to be their career.”
In stepped Garrett, who was a good candidate for a number of reasons.
“Nahshon is all about doing what’s best for the team,” Koll said. “But he’s also a dancer and pretty outgoing when it comes to those kinds of things. He and his twin brother used to perform dances at rallies in high school.”
So the California native suited up and cheered on Kyle Dake in his dramatic 2-1 victory over David Taylor in the most anticipated match of the night.
The experience was an eye opener for Garrett.
“It was a great time,” he said. “First of all going there and supporting Kyle — I think people take him for granted sometimes. But seeing all those accomplished wrestlers; it was inspiring. It pointed me to where I want to be and what I want to achieve in this sport.”
In fact, when it was over, Garrett vowed to return to the All-Star Dual in 2013 — but not in a costume.
“When it was over, Nahshon told me he wanted to be wrestling in the event next year,” Koll said. “I have no doubt he can do it. He’s the real deal. He’s taken people who didn’t know about him by surprise.”
That’s the truth.
Garrett earned the starting nod for the Big Red and immediately made an impact, going 5-0 at the Binghamton Open to capture the title in the opening action of his Cornell career.
The following weekend brought on more dominant performances as he cruised to a 14-1 victory in his first dual meet against Binghamton and the next day captured the New York State crown with a 13-9 win over returning All-American Steve Bonanno of Hofstra in the final.
For his efforts, especially in the title bout, he was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. But that match also demonstrated the strides Garrett has made. A year ago, Bonanno defeated Garrett 11-5 at the Binghamton Open.
“I remembered wrestling him before, and I knew I had gotten a lot better,” Garrett said. “I didn’t worry about the fact that I had lost to him before, or that he was an All-American. I knew there were a lot of things I had to work on after we wrestled before and I know there are still a lot of things I need to work on now.”
Garrett is still relatively new to wrestling. He officially began as an eighth grader, but had some (secret) experience prior to that.
“My mom wouldn’t let me wrestle for a while,” he said. “She was afraid about things she’d heard about germs and disease on the mats. She thought I would get something. But I went to some practices as a seventh grader without her knowing and I loved it. Finally, in eighth grade I talked to her about it and she saw how passionate I was and let me wrestle.”
He was pretty successful right off the bat, but he marked that success with a bit of an asterisk.
“I was wrestling at 70 pounds,” he said. “I was a lot stronger than the people I was wrestling but I was also older. I mean, at that weight I was wrestling some fourth graders.”
While he enjoyed the sport, he was still heavily involved with a number of other activities.
“I was doing a lot of dancing and music (piano) and a lot of other things,” he said. “Wrestling wasn’t necessarily first on my list. But my sophomore year, [at 103 pounds], I made it to the state tournament. I went 1-2 and didn’t place after I lost to the fourth and fifth place guys. I was really bummed out about that and I decided I wanted to focus on wrestling to see what I could accomplish.”
He accomplished quite a bit. He won California state championships in his junior and senior years for Chico High at 103 and 112 pounds, respectively. He credited Chico head coach Keith Rollins, who he called “pretty much my best friend” and assistant Jordan Mathews for his achievements.
And after he completed his high school career, he captured the NHSCA Senior Nationals crown as well, despite wrestling with a torn chest muscle. Shortly afterwards, he made his college selection and readied for a transition from Northern California to upstate New York.
When he arrived in Ithaca, Garrett said he weighed around 120 pounds. He spent a year with the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club (FLWC), putting on size and strength and training while taking some classes at a nearby school. As he looked back on the year on the mat, Garrett said there weren’t any matches or wins that stood out to him, although he did place in multiple open tournaments (fifth at Buffalo, third at Edinboro). He said the focus was on getting bigger and better and he thanked former Big Red wrestler Corey Manson, one of his FLWC coaches, for helping his development.
“There was a transition for me, getting accustomed to everything,” he said. “It was a little bit of a struggle, especially financially. But there’s a big difference now. It’s amazing. I’m so happy just to be a part of everything here at Cornell. Being here has helped me raise my level and my standards for myself. I have a lot of good friends here now, like in California. Being in this environment has changed what I want and what I think I can achieve.”
He certainly has set his sights high.
“We have to write down goals before the season and I said I wanted to be an All-American, National Champion and win every tournament or at least place at every one,” he said. “I’ve always believed in myself but I wasn’t sure at the beginning of the year whether those things could be a reality. Now I think they can be.”
Koll does as well.
“He gets better every single practice,” the coach said. “His learning curve is so much higher than everyone else’s, especially because he’s pretty new to the sport. A number of people have said he wrestles like Jordan Burroughs, especially with that double leg of his and I think he does.”
The mention of the name “Jordan Burroughs” during the interview yielded a laugh from Garrett.
“I reacted that way because I get made fun of a lot because I’m so starstruck about Jordan Burroughs,” Garrett said. “I met him in Vegas and it was awesome. I was really excited about that. Getting compared to him is humbling.”
Humbling is a word Garrett used quite a few times. He said he’s humbled by all the praise he has received from the coaches. He’s humbled by being part of the academic and wrestling communities at Cornell. And as someone who deeply values his religion, he said he’s “humbled by all that God has given me.”
That includes his wrestling talent. So far on the mat, he’s compiled a 17-1 record with 11 bonus point wins. His one loss was in the title bout at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas when he dropped a 6-4 decision to #4 Alan Waters of Missouri, an opponent he will face again in New York City on Sunday.
“I think I’ve wrestled pretty well so far this year,” he said. “[Waters] wrestled a very smart match in the finals and is obviously very good on top. I need to keep getting better in every position because I believe I can do more. There were a few matches where I was frustrated that I didn’t get the pin or the tech. I want to get those results. I’m trying to push myself to the level of complete dominance like Kyle Dake. I watch how Kyle does things, how he’s preparing in the room, how he dominates all the time, even in practice. I ask him a lot of questions and I’m trying to do the same things he does.”
Things like wrestling in the All-Star Dual, which Garrett hopes to do next year.
Someone else will have to be Redman.