Wrestling: The making of a champion

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Clayton Whiting’s state title is a product of lifelong pursuit

Oconto Falls’ Clayton Whiting, left, prepares to make his next move against Barron’s Tristan Massie during a Division 2 152-pound weight class semifinal match at the 76th annual WIAA Individual Wrestling Championship Tournament at the Kohl Center on Feb. 22. (Times Herald photo by Morgan Rode)

Oconto Falls’ Clayton Whiting, right, tries to break free of the hold of Ellsworth’s Sawyer Hamilton during a Division 2 152-pound weight class quarterfinal match at the 76th annual WIAA Individual Wrestling Championship Tournament at the Kohl Center on Feb. 22. (Times Herald photo by Morgan Rode)

The 76th annual WIAA Individual Wrestling Championship Tournament crowned 42 individual champions Feb. 23. Of those champions, just four were freshmen.

Oconto Falls freshman Clayton Whiting was one of those four and the only freshman in Division 2 to win a title. What makes Whiting’s title even more impressive is that he won a 152-pound weight class full of upperclassmen. Whiting was the only freshman in the 12-wrestler bracket.

Despite what looked like long odds, a title was never out of the conversation with Whiting.

“I did come into high school expecting to win state,” said Whiting, who ended his freshman season with a 48-3 record. “I knew I was practicing harder and more often than any of my competition. I had faith in all my training.

“If I had any free time, I lifted or practiced my stance and motion,” Whiting added. “I kept telling myself, there is no way the other guys are working this hard. I also keep a detailed journal. Every day, I would write down goals. From the beginning of the season, I never said, ‘I want to go to state.’ I always said, ‘I will win state.’”

Whiting’s journey to the top of the state podium is truly a lifelong achievement.

Whiting noted that he was big for his age growing up, and that his dad, Shane, got him started in the Abrams Youth Wrestling Club as a 4-year-old.

The Oconto Falls freshman fell in love with the sport and now dedicates himself to it full-time.

“I love wrestling so much; it’s all I want to do,” Whiting said. “I want to be the best wrestler possible, so I spend all my time focused on wrestling. I’ve been to so many camps over the years, I’ve lost count.”

Despite not being able to tell you the number, Whiting said he tries to pick up something new at each camp he attends.

Over the past five years, Whiting has been a participant in Jeff Jordan’s State Champ Wrestling Camp in Ohio.

“It’s the toughest camp I’ve been to,” he said. “They taught me how to be mentally and physically tough. The best kids in the country come to Jordan’s camp. Every time I leave, I know I got better.”

Whiting also mentioned his time at the PINnacle Camp in Minnesota, which is run by Brandon Paulson, an Olympic silver medalist. The Oconto Falls standout has also picked up great techniques at the Askren Wrestling Academy — which has three Wisconsin academy locations — under the guidance of Josh Wagner and Max and Ben Askren.

Attending so many camps and staying so busy takes a level of dedication, too, from Whiting’s family. He attributes much of his success to the backing of his parents.

“I have the best family. They dedicate so much of their time to support me, I could never thank them enough,” Whiting said. “My mom (Sarah) and dad are always telling me how proud they are. It makes me feel good and want to work harder.”

Going to camps and being supported is part of the equation. But Whiting keeps a disciplined diet, sleep and workout regiment as well.

“It starts with a minimum of nine hours of sleep,” Whiting said. “I cut down on my carb intake and increase my protein intake. Every day for breakfast, I eat three eggs, two venison sausages, two pieces of toast or two pancakes, a cup of yogurt and a glass of milk. Every day.

“Lunch is a turkey sandwich, apples and chips,” the freshman continued. “Before practice, I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple. Dinner is usually chicken or red meat with vegetables. I cut out most Gatorade and switch to water and Pedialyte.”

After practices, the work continues. Whiting spends many Tuesdays training with Wagner, Wednesday nights with former Oconto Falls standout Cullen Morrissey and Sundays with Max Askren.

If Whiting isn’t working individually with anyone, he can usually be found in the weight room.

“I lift six to seven days a week, even after dual meets and tournaments,” he said. “I concentrate on Olympic-style lifts to work my entire body. I feel like my strength helped me compete with older kids this year.”

With one state title under his belt, the stage is set for Whiting’s goal of becoming a four-time state champ. The freshman also said he wants to be Wisconsin’s top wrestler and to one day win an Olympic gold medal.

As Whiting strives for his individual goals, he’ll also serve as an inspiration to his teammates.

“He led mainly by action. Very few words,” Oconto Falls tri-head coach Marc Kinziger said. “He set the bar very high-level for what kind of work it takes to be a champion. His work habits have already begun to wear off on his teammates.”

“Clayton is 100 percent wrestling,” tri-head coach David Brasier said. “He talks and thinks about wrestling at all times. His level of commitment to wrestling is well beyond most other student-athletes. Clayton enjoys working out, lifting weights and competing. He has the attitude to make progress every day and continually improve.”