Brett Hunter, a two-time NCAA Division II champion as a competitor, is entering his 11th season as Chadron's State's head wrestling coach and 19th year at the school as a coach or competitor.
MatBoss recently caught up with Hunter and talked to him about preseason training, returning NCAA qualifier Ethan Leake, what's it like getting a pin in the NCAA finals, his battles with Kamaru Usman and more.
How has the preseason gone so far? How's the team looking?
Hunter: Preseason went really well. We kind of changed some things in terms of how we attacked our preseason this year. The guys have done a really good job in terms of what we've done in the weight room, cardio and wrestling. It looks like we're going to get through the preseason with no injuries. That was kind of our big thing this year. Not to run them through the ground so we're healthy. It was a good preseason.
Ethan Leake was a national qualifier for you last season. He was a three-time California state placewinner who started his career in Division I at Northern Colorado. I know you have referred to him as an unorthodox scrambler. What's it like coaching him?
Hunter: I remember last year at the regional tournament he would be in that 50/50 position in terms of maybe we'll get to takedown or not. He's just that guy in terms of you don't know which way he's going to go. But he's extremely coachable. I love being around the kid. Just a great kid. He's just a very, very fun wrestler to watch, action-packed guy and exciting guy to have on our team.
You had three other placewinners at the regional last season that were freshmen or sophomores. Is it a good feeling knowing you have solid contributors who will be around for a few more years?
Hunter: Absolutely. We also have a guy that placed two years ago at the regional tournament. We are extremely excited that we have five guys back that have placed at the regional tournament. We feel like we're ready to have a good season this year. We finally have kind of more of a veteran group this year, which we're really excited about. But having those guys who have been to the regional and have placed is definitely something that we can move forward with and build upon.
You have 18 wrestlers from nine different states joining your program as part of the 2022 recruiting class. Do you expect any of your newcomers to compete for spots in the lineup this season? If so, who?
Hunter: Yeah, I think we have a couple guys that will for sure be in the mix. I'm thinking 149, Brandon Paredes. He's further along than I anticipated. He was a state champ two years ago. Took a year off and didn't compete. He's looking really good up to this point. We have potentially a transfer, Quentrevion Campbell. He looks really good. He's exciting to watch. He's placed at the JUCO level. We're excited about those guys and the group that we have in for sure.
You added a couple new assistant coaches to your program, Emmanuel Scott and Taygen Smith. What went into the decision to bring them on? And what do they bring to the table?
Hunter: Both of them bring a lot to the to the program. Both are standup guys that are respectful. They want to see this program succeed. That was that was huge for me. With Emanuel being a little older and been kind of through JUCO, he understands the coaching side of things. Taygen is just fresh out of college and competing. He's real motivated in the room and eager to learn. So we really work well together as a staff.
Chadron State added a women's wrestling program last year. Do the men's and women's programs work together in some ways? Or are they completely separate?
Hunter: Last year we worked together more just because they only had seven kids on the roster. It was easier to manage and kind of work through. This year I think there are like 25 women, so it's a little harder to kind of get everyone together at the same place at the same time. But it's really important to us to continue to have that relationship with the women's program and with their staff. We will continue to support each other and be there for each other but we're still looking for ways to continue to have that close relationship and work together.
You have been at Chadron State as a competitor and then a coach for nearly 20 years. What makes it a special place?
Hunter: The biggest thing is the people. Just an incredible community and support that we get. The community is just always there for you, always looking to help and support you. So that's kind of what you get with Chadron, just blue-collar people that will shake your hand and look you in the eye. That's what Chadron is all about.
You became a head wrestling coach at a young age in 2012. You have now been a head coach for 10 years, what's something you know now as a coach that you wish you would have known during your early years as a head coach?
Hunter: Two things. Put my ego aside. I think that was something I learned early on. But I would say the biggest difference that I've noticed into my 11th year and my first year, are the relationships and how important that they are. Eleven years ago it wasn't necessarily as important to have team retreats, team bonding experiences or individual meetings. Now it's really important. So I would say that's the biggest thing, learning to build those relationships.
You won a couple national championships as a competitor. What's it like getting a pin in the national finals in your home state?
Hunter: It's a pretty cool feeling. Obviously, anytime you pin someone, it's exciting. Maybe I wasn't expecting that. It was great to just be in Nebraska. We had a lot of support there. We had a good team. I think we finished sixth in the country that year, so it ended up being a great end of the year for us. And it was a lot of fun.
Where are your national championship awards?
Hunter: They're actually in my office. I get a lot of questions about my senior year wrestling
Kamaru Usman in the NCAA finals. A lot of kids are into the UFC, so they ask a lot of questions about that. So it's kind of funny.
Have you followed his career in the UFC?
Hunter: I haven't but my guys keep me in the loop. Every time he fights my phone just blows up by my guys, by whoever that knew we wrestled.
What was he like as a competitor in college?
Hunter: He was tough. I don't think I've ever seen someone that good on top. He had a grip. Huge hands. He would get your wrist and you know he would try to tilt you. He was a very poised wrestle. Didn't show a lot of emotion. We had some fun battles for sure.
You have a very challenging schedule. You compete in the Cowboy Open and Midwest Classic. Have dual meets against Division II powers Nebraska Kearney and St. Cloud State. What's your philosophy on creating a schedule?
Hunter: It depends on the type of team we have. We have a veteran group. We have some guys who have done some really good things. I want to find them losses. We want to find them as many losses as we possibly can throughout the year. That's why we're going to the Midwest Classic and wrestling Nebraska Kearney, St. Cloud and those top teams. We're looking for the best competition that we can possibly find, so our guys have been challenged, taken losses, failed and learned from those losses. So that's kind of my philosophy. I would say it varies depending on the type of team you have.
Last season you competed against Division I power Nebraska. You opened the meet with a pin. What was the takeaway from that dual meet against Nebraska?
Hunter: There was a couple of takeaways. The biggest one was just what an incredible opportunity our guys had to wrestle Nebraska. Maybe they didn't have their full lineup, but it was just a great opportunity for our guys. A lot of Nebraska kids that we recruit have always dreamed of being a Husker. I think that's everyone's dream when you're in the state of Nebraska. So to wrestle in at the Devaney was an incredible opportunity. I think more than anything our guys really understood the importance of just the day-to-day consistency Nebraska has that maybe they're not doing in terms of just going into practice and working hard and doing the right things on and off the mat. I think anytime that you can wrestle a Division I program like Nebraska, you can definitely see some of the things they're doing and recognize that and implement that in your program.