Jackson's Clay Rouse is one of eight Indians wrestlers to qualify for the state meet this season.
Rouse traveled to the meet with the Jackson team last year so his practice partner, qualifier Levi Rayburn, would have someone to work out with during the three-day event.
Rouse also made four trips from 2002 through 2005 to watch his older brother, Cody Rouse, who was a three-time state medalist and the 152-pound champion in 2005, when he posted a remarkable 52-0 record.
Winning has not come as easily for Clay as it did for Cody. It took a great deal of hard work for Clay to qualify for the state meet.
"[Clay] is kind of like the little train that could," Clay's mother, Lisa Rouse, said. "He kind of keeps plugging along and doing his own thing, and we've been just as proud of him [as we were for Cody] because we know how hard it is for him to work harder to get the muscle strength and technique that seemed to come a little bit more naturally to Cody. For him to make it to state this year was really an accomplishment."
Jackson's Clay Rouse, bottom, works against Seckman's Denny Kleinschrodt during their 119-pound championship match at the Class 4 District 1 meet Saturday.
Clay's hard work has paid off. He, along with seven other Jackson wrestlers and four Central wrestlers, will compete at the wrestling state meet today, Friday and Saturday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Clay (35-7) will wrestle Waynesville's Jake Cyr (32-11) in the first round of the 119-pound bracket in Class 4.
"I don't try to live up to what my brother was," said Clay, who has great confidence he will wrestle well. "I'm going to try my hardest to place. It'll be tough, but I'm going to set a goal to place because realistically, yeah, I can place."
Tough act to follow
Clay admitted he felt some pressure when he entered high school after everything his brother had accomplished.
Cody posted a career record of 179-19. He is second all-time in career wins among Missouri wrestlers behind only Tyler Hubbard, who compiled 183 victories for Blue Springs High School between 1997 and 2000, according to the 2008-09 Missouri State High School Activities Association record book.
Cody's senior season record of 52-0 ties him for the third-best undefeated season of all time in Missouri, and he holds the record for the most matches wrestled in a single career with 198. He earned third place at 140 as a sophomore and a silver medal at 145 as a junior before earning gold at 152 as a senior.
"I went to every meet he had," Clay said. "It's mainly what made me want to be successful was watching my brother be as successful as he was. ... I felt pressure coming into high school, but coach [Steve] Wachter told me that he will never compare me to my brother ... because even though we're brothers, we're really nothing alike in how we wrestle."
Clay, who started wrestling at age 4, said that because Wachter never wanted to compare him to his brother, he knew others would not either. Clay's family, including Cody, also stressed to Clay that it was not expected that he match his brother's success.
"[Clay] was third in the nation when he was like 5 in an AAU tournament," said Clay and Cody's father, Mike Rouse, who launched the AAU/USA wrestling program in Jackson. "He was really good when he was younger, but he just started to drop off when other kids got better than him. It's been hard for us because it hasn't come as easy for him as it has Cody. Clay really has to work at it. He puts a lot of time in. We're really proud of him for making that dedication to put that amount of time in to get to the level he's at."
Getting to work
Clay worked especially hard this past offseason after just missing the state meet last year when he wrestled at 112. An overtime loss at districts against an opponent he had beaten during the regular season kept him from placing in the top four in his weight class, which is required to qualify for state.
"That was definitely a motivation for him," Lisa said. "He's usually not a man of many words and he's usually real level-headed. And he came up to me at the districts last year before the matches started and he said, 'Mom, I'm nervous.' And he never expresses that type of emotion to anyone. ... He really didn't eat and his nutrition wasn't as good as it should have been throughout that whole day."
During the offseason, Clay spent early mornings lifting weights, running and climbing rope at the gym. He also worked with Jackson assistant Jerry Golden, who instructed him in freestyle wrestling, which Clay said has helped him improve his regular folkstyle wrestling and earn more points during meets.
"Every morning I had to be to work at 6 o'clock, so I was up by about 5 or 5:30 and [Clay] was always up with me at the same time going to the gym," said Cody, who likes to compare his younger brother to former Jackson wrestler Brock Howard, who Cody remembers was one of the top workers on his Jackson team back when he was in high school.
"[Clay[']s] work ethic over this past year has just been amazing," Cody added. "He works harder than I ever did for sure. It's more of a drive thing. You can just tell with the way that he wrestles and his attitude about it. It's something he wants to do."
Cody also has helped out Clay, especially recently. Cody, who wrestled for a couple of years in college at both Missouri Baptist University and Lindenwood University before moving back to the area with plans to attend Southeast Missouri State to finish his education degree, said he eventually wants to be a wrestling coach. So he enjoys attending Jackson practices to help Clay and the other wrestlers. Cody has stayed after practice to help his brother and Rayburn.
"During practices, [Cody] would come in after work and help me work on a lot of things," Clay said. "He came in every day last week to help me [with] coming up off the mat, like standing up, and he helped me with my takedowns on my feet. ... I think he gets a lot of enjoyment watching me."
Cody said that other commitments prevented him from attending practice regularly this season, but he recently has tried to attend as many workouts as possible. He's looking forward to helping his brother as much as possible during the upcoming offseason. He said there's still room for improvement in Clay's wrestling.
"I'm not trying to show them any moves that are going to win matches," Cody said about attending Jackson practices. "I'm just trying to critique what they're doing and make everything smooth and technical as possible."
A wrestling family
The Rouses are a typical wrestling family with wrestling moves always fair game around the house.
"It's not uncommon for them to surprise each other with a wrestling move every now and then in the house and all in good fun," Lisa said. "If they're walking by one another for some reason, then they might grab one another and just start wrestling around. ... They like to try to pick on their dad occasionally and see if he's still got it. Every now and then he'll surprise them with a move or two."
With wrestling being such a big part of the family, Clay is happy that he qualified for this week's big tournament not only for himself, but also for his parents, who he likes to see excited whenever he wrestles well.
Everyone in the family is excited to return to the state meet, where they have great memories of Cody's success.
But the family will be celebrating Clay's success this week -- win or lose -- as Clay has put together a nice resume of his own.
The junior is nearing 100 career wins and is ranked seventh in his weight class for Class 4 in one poll.
"It's pretty exciting, definitely," Cody said about Clay and the family's trip to state. "It brings back some memories, but it's all about him and seeing how well he can do. I think he has a good shot to get in there and be all-state. We'll just have to see how he does. ... It's not about [winning]. If it doesn't happen, then it doesn't happen. I don't want there to be any pressure. I just want him to relax and do the best he can and have fun doing it because it's definitely a good experience."