Two time All American Jimmy Kennedy of Illinois poised to finish career with titleIllinois senior Jimmy Kennedy starts this season ranked No. 1 at 141 pounds. University of Illinois photo.
Jimmy Kennedy walked into the wrestling room the other day and looked around at his teammates.
"It's strange" said Kennedy, "realizing that you're the oldest guy on the team."
A two-time All-American for the University of Illinois, the 22-year-old Kennedy also realizes he is down to his last shot to win an NCAA title.
Fourth as a sophomore and fifth as a junior at the NCAA Championships, Kennedy redshirted last season before bumping up a weight class this season from 133 to 141 pounds.
Kennedy starts his senior season ranked No. 1 at 141 by Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine.
"This is my year" he said. "I feel great. I have a lot of experience from nationals, and I'm looking to finish on a good note."
Kennedy spent much of his redshirt season competing in freestyle events at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. He placed fourth in the University Nationals this past April before finishing second in the University World Team Trials a month later.
"Redshirting really helped me a lot" he said. "I wrestled at 145 in freestyle, and that is helping me make the transition to 141 for the college season. I got used to wrestling bigger opponents and I gained a lot of good experience wrestling some tough competition."
Kennedy is one of the veterans on an Illinois team that opened the season with a big dual win over Missouri.
"I try to be a leader and help the young guys on our team" he said. "It's a role I'm getting used to. I'm being more outspoken and talking to the guys. I try to help them when they are struggling."
Illinois coach Jim Heffernan loves what Kennedy brings to his team.
"Jimmy lives right, he trains right, and he's accountable. He's very serious about school" Heffernan said. "He always does whatever we ask him to do. You can always count on him. He does everything the right way, and sets a great example for our team."
The win over Missouri provided an early springboard for a young Illinois team.
"It was awesome to win that dual" Kennedy said. "It was good to start the season with a win like that."
Kennedy's next competition will be following Thanksgiving at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
"Jimmy's a talented kid who is very competitive" Heffernan said. "He prepares to win every time out. We're looking for a great season from him."
Kennedy said he is considering wrestling freestyle full-time after college. He won a Cadet Nationals title in freestyle and was an All-American at the Junior level.
"Jimmy's had a lot of success in freestyle in the younger age groups" Heffernan said. "He can do very well in freestyle if he pursues it."
Kennedy qualified for the 2007 NCAA tournament in Auburn Hills, Mich. He went 2-2 as a true freshman and fell short of placing.
Kennedy entered the 2008 NCAA tournament in St. Louis seeded second. He advanced to the semifinals before falling to third-seeded Coleman Scott of Oklahoma State. Scott went on to win the national title. Kennedy finished fourth.
He was seeded third at the 2009 NCAAs in St. Louis, but was upset in the first round. He came back to win six straight matches before eventually placing fifth.
Kennedy, from Ingleside, Ill., is hoping his fourth trip to the NCAA tournament provides the result he's been looking for. The 2011 NCAAs are set for March 17-19 in Philadelphia.
"All-around, I feel like I've improved" Kennedy said. "I can't settle for one- or two-point wins. I need to build on my lead. I can't look past anyone. That's when you get in trouble."
Kennedy is looking to become the first NCAA champion for Illinois since 2003.
"I've always had the skills to be a national champion" Kennedy said. "It's just a matter of putting together a good tournament. I know I can do it."