Nebraska junior James Green focused on reaching top of NCAA podium
Nebraska junior James Green is 22-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country at 157 pounds. USA Wrestling file photos.
It was one of those challenges that every college wrestler faces during a long, grueling season.
It happened to Nebraska junior James Green when he was competing in the rugged Cliff Keen Invitational this past December in Las Vegas.
Instead of stepping onto the mat, the talented Green probably should’ve been home in bed.
“James showed a lot of toughness when he won that tournament,” Nebraska coach Mark Manning said. “He ended up getting sick and he didn’t feel good at all, but he stepped up and responded. You’re obviously not always going to feel well every time you wrestle.
“Two years ago, James wouldn’t have won that tournament. He’s really evolved and matured. Mentally, he’s a lot stronger now and that’s why he got the job done in Vegas.”
The strides Green has made have earned him a No. 1 national ranking this week at 157 pounds. Green, seventh at the 2012 and 2013 NCAA Championships, is 22-0 this season.
Green is coming off a 9-7 win over returning NCAA champion and then-No. 1 Derek St. John of Iowa. Green scored four takedowns in defeating St. John, who had won 27 straight matches since a loss to Green in the 2013 Big Ten semifinals.
“That was a good win for me, although I shouldn’t have given up that takedown at the end,” he said. “That match lets me know I am on the right track and right on pace to reach my goals. It’s good to get those results, but I still have to keep working and keep improving.”
Green’s development was enhanced when he qualified for the U.S. team for the 2013 World University Games in freestyle.
“James had a real good summer and really committed himself,” Manning said. “He was really dedicated and disciplined in getting down to 145 pounds for freestyle. He learned a lot from that experience of making the University World Team. I think that allowed him to see himself on a bigger stage.”
Green also has trained extensively with Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, a two-time NCAA champion for Nebraska who continues to train in Lincoln.
“James has drilled a lot with Jordan,” Manning said. “He’s picked up a lot of good things that Jordan does and he’s implemented that into his wrestling.”
Green was heavily recruited by Nebraska after he finished second at the New Jersey state high school tournament as a junior. Green went on to win state as a senior.
“Nebraska’s been a perfect fit for me,” Green said. “I’ve felt real comfortable here and it’s felt like home since I came here on my recruiting trip. It’s a great environment to wrestle in. There is great competition in the room and I love our coaching staff.”
Like Burroughs, Green is a New Jersey native. Burroughs said he likes the progression Green is making in his career.
“James Green is a stud,” Burroughs said. “He wrestles hard. When you have a talented guy like him that works extremely hard, he’s going to be tough to beat. James had a great match against St. John. It’s crazy to think that he’s a junior and is now ranked No. 1 in the country. The first time I became No. 1 was my junior year at Nebraska. James has a bright future ahead in college and internationally. He’s a tough wrestler who has improved a lot.”
Green, who earned a starting spot as a true freshman at Nebraska during the 2011-12 season, said Burroughs has had a big impact on him. Burroughs won his second World title this past September.
“With Jordan Burroughs, the attitude he brings is the biggest factor I attribute to helping me,” Green said. “I see how hard he works and how hard he competes. That inspires me to do the same thing. I have an opportunity to see what the best guy in the World does, and I try to follow suit.”
The explosive Green, who has a lethal double-leg attack, is a top international prospect in freestyle wrestling.
“I’m so much more confident this year and I attribute a lot of that to my experience being on the University World Team,” he said. “It was a great experience. It opened my eyes to let me know I can compete with some of the best guys in the World. I think I matured a lot over the summer. My goal is to wrestle in the Olympics and the Worlds, and I’m looking forward to having that opportunity.”
Green placed second behind NCAA runner-up Jason Welch of Northwestern at the 2013 Big Ten Championships. He entered the 2013 NCAA Championships in Des Moines as the No. 4 seed, but was upset by Missouri’s Kyle Bradley in double-overtime in the first round.
Green then rattled off four straight wins en route to winning five of his next six matches. He placed seventh in the country for the second straight year.
“It was disappointing,” he said. “I know where I could’ve been and I know where I should’ve been. I need to learn from that experience. I need to treat every match like I am going against the best guy in the weight class.”
So where does Green make that jump this year at the NCAA tournament?
“James has gotten a lot stronger – physically and mentally,” Manning said. “Technically, he’s really improved. He’s improved in all three positions. Obviously, he’s an explosive wrestler. We are trying to get him to maximize his athletic ability and his skills, and he’s taken that to heart. He’s also expanded his wrestling IQ. The biggest key for him is to stay consistent, and he’s done a great job with that this season.”
Green is part of a strong Husker team that is ranked sixth nationally. Fellow junior Robert Kokesh placed third nationally at 174 last year and is ranked No. 4 this season. NU junior Jake Sueflohn is ranked third at 149.
“We’ve got a real good team,” Green said. “We can definitely score some points at nationals – we just need to peak and finish strong at the right time. Kokesh and Sueflohn are going to make some noise at nationals, and we have a number of other guys who can score a lot of points.”
Green’s focus is squarely on the big prize at the 2014 NCAA Championships, set for March 20-22 in Oklahoma City.
“I want to win the national title,” he said. “I know I can do it. It’s a matter of going out and performing. I’m more confident this year. I need to treat every match like it’s the national finals and treat every opponent like he’s ranked No. 1. I’m training real hard to be on top of the podium.”