Oklahoma State senior Chris Perry captured the 2013 NCAA title at 174 pounds. Tony Rotundo photo.
Oklahoma State's Chris Perry has been making the annual trek to the NCAA Championships every March since he was three years old.
And he set a very lofty goal early on. He wanted to reach the pinnacle of college wrestling and earn an NCAA title.
That’s what happens when you grow up in a family that is wrestling royalty.
That dream became a reality when Perry outlasted Penn State’s Matt Brown in double-overtime in the finals of the 2013 NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
“It was very emotional for me,” Perry said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid. I watched my brother win two NCAA titles and that was emotional for me. I wanted to follow him and accomplish the same thing. It was a big relief for me as well. I am very excited to have the opportunity to do it again. Winning the second one is going to be a lot harder, but I am totally focused on that and I understand it. I’m not going to settle for one title. That’s not how it works in our family.”
Perry starts his senior season ranked No. 1 nationally at 174 pounds for a powerful Oklahoma State team that finished second in the country this past season.
Perry's triumph this past March added to his family’s large collection of NCAA championships.
Perry’s uncle, Oklahoma State head coach John Smith, won two NCAA titles. He is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time World champion. Smith has coached the Cowboys to five NCAA team titles.
“It’s been awesome to wrestle for John – I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Perry said. “He understands how to coach me and he understands me personally outside the room. He’s been through it all and accomplished it all. He knows what it takes to get there. Having an uncle coach you, who is one of the greatest of all-time, is something special. He has great insight on what I need and that has been a huge advantage for me.”
Coach Smith said he sees a difference in Perry already this season.
“I see a lot more maturity from Chris after he won that national championship,” Smith said. “I think it can open the doors for him to be a better wrestler. No question, he was feeling the pressure last year. But that may have helped him as well because he still got the job done. He’s come into this season with a level of confidence I haven’t seen. Knocking down one of his dreams can make this a lot smoother season for him and he needs to embrace that.”
Another of Perry’s uncles, Pat Smith, was the first wrestler to win four NCAA titles.
His brother, Mark Perry Jr., was a two-time NCAA champion for Iowa. Mark Perry Jr. is now the associate head coach at Illinois.
“My brother’s been extremely supportive,” Chris said. “He’s always given me really good advice. We talked about this season and he just told me to relax, have fun and let it go. He told me to go out and wrestle and enjoy every minute of it. It goes by quick, and he’s exactly right.”
Perry is a gifted and athletic wrestler who can put points on the board.
“Chris has a very good offense and that’s where I hope he continues to develop the tenacity he needs to execute with,” Smith said. “He needs to make sure he can pick up two or three takedowns a match because he’s definitely capable of doing that.”
Chris Perry arrived at Oklahoma State with sparkling credentials. 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 is a top freestyle prospect who won a bronze medal at the 2010 Junior World Championships after placing fifth the year before.
“Chris is a very good prospect in freestyle,” Smith said. “No question, that’s one of his dreams to be an Olympic champion. Chris has wrestled well against some of the best guys in the World. He’s had success on the Senior level and that will certainly build his confidence.”
Perry placed in two Senior-level international tournaments this past summer at 84 kg/185 lbs. He was third at the Ziolkowski International in Poland and third at the Sargsyan International in Armenia.
“It was awesome having an opportunity to wrestle internationally this summer,” Perry said. “I was a little banged up after the college season, so I didn’t wrestle at the World Team Trials. (U.S. National Coach) Zeke Jones asked me if I would like to compete overseas later in the summer and I took advantage of that situation. I loved it. I got an opportunity to train and compete against some of the best guys in the World. I’m getting close. I will start focusing on freestyle full-time after the college season. I’m excited to see what I can do.”
Perry faces a challenging early test when Oklahoma State travels to Oklahoma for the team’s first Bedlam dual on Dec. 1. Perry is scheduled to face second-ranked Andrew Howe, a past NCAA champion for Wisconsin who transferred to Oklahoma for his senior season.
“I like Andrew – we had the opportunity to be on a Junior World Team together,” Perry said. “He was a weight class below me and we worked out together. It’s just another match for me and just another match for him. We both realize nobody can win an NCAA title in December. I will be ready and he will be ready. We’ve both seen the highest level of competition. It’s obviously important to win that match, especially for our teams, but the one that matters obviously is in March. It’s a motivator to have a chance to face him and I’m excited to have him in the weight class. It’s the kind of match the fans want to see. I’m a competitor and I want to face the best guys. It’s a challenge I’m willing to accept and I’m sure it’s a challenge he’s willing to accept.”
The Cowboys face another challenge in trying to dethrone a top-ranked Penn State team seeking its fourth straight NCAA team title. Penn State edged Oklahoma State by four points to win the 2013 NCAAs.
Like his brother, Chris Perry has all the makings of being an excellent coach while displaying an abundance of maturity for his age.
“Chris definitely has those instincts to be a coach,” Coach Smith said. “That’s something he sees himself doing, and he’ll be a good one. He is motivated and he has a lot of energy.”
Coaching will wait for now with Perry pursuing a second NCAA title.
“There was a lot of pressure on me last year to win it,” Perry said. “There is always pressure coming from our family with all the success we’ve had. But I was excited going into that tournament. I was the No. 1 seed and I was confident, but I hadn’t accomplished it yet. I found a way and I willed myself to win. I took on the pressure and I attacked it. That’s what I have to do again this year."