BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — “You can bank on it, every single time, you know what you get when Clay Carlson steps on that mat,” SDSU head wrestling coach Damion Hahn said of the junior.
A model of consistency that’s been years in the making.
“I was a really sore loser growing up. I was the kid who would cry in a board game or a card game. But I went out in my first tournament and I pinned both the kids I wrestled and after that it’s just been like an addiction ever since basically,” said SDSU junior wrestler Clay Carlson.
After finishing second at the Minnesota State Wrestling Tournament as a junior, Carlson would go a perfect 48-0 during his senior season at Willmar high school, capping it off with a state championship.
“When I did it, the picture of me, there’s just a huge smile on my face. I’m looking up at my dad and my mom and it was just super exciting,” Carlson said of the moment.
It was now time for Carlson to make his college decision. In May of 2018, a month after hiring Damion Hahn as their new head coach, the Jacks were hosting their senior banquet. Clay’s older brother Colten was a red shirt freshman on the team.
“He said coach listen, my family is coming to town, could you meet with Clay? And I go yea, absolutely,” Hahn said.
“We sat down in the conference room upstairs,” Carlson added.
“I’m sitting in my office and Colten pops his head in and he’s like are you ready to meet with them coach?” Hahn stated.
“Like it was just unscheduled,” Carlson continued.
“And he looks at my office and was like ‘uh… this isn’t big enough,” Hahn quoted.
“Colten was in there; my dad, my mom, my step mom, my younger siblings were all in there,” Carlson said of his family.
“We sat down and we talked for what I’m going to say was every bit of three hours,” told Hahn.
“Basically I walked out of that room and was like that’s the guy I want to wrestle for,” Claimed Carlson.
Carlson would come to Brookings, bringing an industrious type attitude along with him.
“You talk about a work ethic that is non stop and there’s a good and a bad with that because you have a kid that will do everything and anything you ask but he will also work himself to death,” Hahn said of Carlson.
“I’m probably not the most talented guy in my weight class and if I want to achieve my goals I’m going to have to be focused on everything single thing, every single day and I’m going to have to work harder than everybody else,” Carlson said.
That grind would pay off with an 8th place finish at last year’s NCAA wrestling championships earning himself the title of All-American.
“Pure joy, that’s the best way to describe it because that moment, in the round of 12, where he became an All-American and just seeing his face… how could you not just be ecstatic for him,” Hahn said.
With that achievement in his back pocket, and a current record of 18-1, the journey to the top of the sport marches on.
“That’s something that no one can ever take away from him and now the stakes are higher, Said Hahn. “And now we climb, climb that podium until he reaches that top, that ultimate spot.