Junior Back From Injury, Ranked 14th (Wrestling)

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

Nick Hayes came to Northwestern four years ago with fellow recruits Ryan Lang and Jake Herbert, both ranked atop their respective weight classes. Now a redshirt junior, Nick Hayes has worked himself to a No. 14 ranking with a shot at All-American status.

But it hasn’t always been easy.

Unlike Lang and Herbert, Hayes did not redshirt as a true freshman, but instead entered the lineup as a starter at 165 pounds in 2003-2004. He posted a 14-10 overall record, including a team-best 5-3 in Big Ten dual matches, on the way to qualifying for the NCAA Championships.

But after a freshman year that exceeded all expectations, Hayes ran into adversity his sophomore campaign. He battled an assortment of injuries, culminating with a dislocated shoulder suffered a week before the Big Ten tournament.

After the 2004-2005 season, coach Tim Cysewski decided to redshirt Hayes, giving him the year off he did not get as a freshman.

“We decided to redshirt him last year to get him bigger and stronger and that’s what he did,” Cysewski said. “He came back bigger and stronger and he’s at 174 now, not 165. It’s paying off, he’s having a good year so far.”

But the 2005-2006 season was anything but time off – in fact, Hayes may have even wrestled more in open tournaments than he would have competing with the team.

Hayes used the redshirt year to improve his technique, add muscle and improve overall as a wrestler.

“I’m definitely a far better wrestler now,” Hayes said. “Having that time off gave me a chance to get back and reflect on the things I was doing wrong.

“I really couldn’t see all the flaws in my style.”

It was not always easy for Hayes to watch his teammates. While he practiced with the team, helping wrestlers such as current No. 2 197-pounder Mike Tamillow and Herbert improve, he could not help during competitions.

Hayes watched his teammates earn a fifth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships and 13th at the NCAA Championships.

“When I was still recovering off those injuries … it was hard to see the team do so well and not be a part of it,” Hayes said. “I came in my freshman year and jumped right in the lineup and it was just a different sort of feeling to sit back and watch as opposed to help.”

But everyone in the Northwestern wrestling community now agrees the redshirt year was a beneficial and necessary step, one that has Hayes thinking big this season.

After beating several ranked wrestlers early in the year, Hayes has his eye on returning All-Americans and top-five contenders. All-American status is attainable, but his roommate, Herbert, is thinking even bigger.

“He can place anywhere,” Herbert said. “I’m pretty sure he can get into (the) national finals if he just puts things together.”

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