Chad Hanke had a choice when he decided to take an Olympic redshirt as a member of the Oregon State wrestling team last season.
Hanke could make the trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., and hone his skills at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Or he could stay in Corvallis and work out with his teammates.
A no-brainer? Not in this case.
“I decided to stay here,” Hanke said. “I felt my chances of getting better was going to be here in Corvallis with my coaches and wrestling Clayton (Jack).”
Jack was a senior heavyweight for the Beavers who had already made three trips to the NCAA championships and was the defending Pac-12 champion.
Hanke knew he would improve by working out with Jack.
Jack improved as well. He finished with a 39-3 record, took his second conference title and placed fourth in the NCAAs.
“So he kind of appreciated me making that decision,” Hanke said.
That led to a promise: Jack would stick around this season to help Hanke.
Jack stayed until January to keep Hanke wrestling at a high level.
Jack left to pursue a professional wrestling career after signing a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment. He started training Thursday in Tampa, Fla.
Hanke is ranked fourth at heavyweight with a 24-3 record and is on a nine-match win streak.
“He’s such a good wrestler and so tough that I’ve got to bring my ‘A’ game just to go to practice,” Hanke said, “I don’t get easy days and Clayton’s been a big part of the reason why I’ve gotten to the success that I have. I owe it a lot to that guy because he’s so good and he’s so big and he’s been to the top before, so he really pushes me.
“It’s nice because I know that nothing’s going to be as hard as a match as I go through in practice.”
Both wrestlers have strong skill sets, but there’s a big size difference.
Hanke said he measures about 6-foot-2 and weighs in at 245 to 250 pounds.
Jack? 6-5, 300 or thereabouts.
“He’s a giant. He looks like a football player,” Hanke said. “He’s really good at using his size. That’s why he’s such a successful heavyweight. He can really move and you don’t see that a lot at heavyweight. It keeps me on my toes.”
Sometimes flat on the mat.
Hanke made the move up from 197 last year. His weight would shoot up to 230 in the offseason, so it was a big drop to make weight.
The constant battle to make 197 left Hanke with little energy and he wasn’t improving on the mat.
“I was so concerned with my weight all the time that it took up all my time,” he said.
The answer was to get bigger, stronger and move up.
Transitioning to heavyweight meant a few beat downs at the hands of Jack.
“It took a long time for me to get adjusted to the weight class and I kind of had to check my pride at the door because he beat me up a couple times at practice,” Hanke said.
“Toward the end of last year we started getting on par with each other.”
The wrestlers met every now and then while Hanke was at 197, so they had several years to become familiar with each other’s styles.
Hanke often knows when Jack is going to shoot or how he will react to a takedown try.
The result has been some close battles in the wrestling room.
“I never know what I’m going to get in practice,” Hanke said. “Some days I think I’m a national champion and I’ll beat the heck out of Clayton and the next day he’ll come in and put me back in my place a little bit.”
Going up against Jack allowed Hanke to get used to wrestling much bigger opponents.
Which means pretty much every wrestler he meets.
“I’m a small heavyweight and some of the top guys that are ranked above me, they’re the full 285, big guys like Clayton,” Hanke said.
“So getting used to wrestling Clayton helps me to get ready for those guys. I won’t see someone bigger or stronger than Clayton and it helps me mentally and physically knowing that, OK, I’ve experienced that, there’s nothing to be worried about.”