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Seven Minutes with Brett Harner

By Andy Hamilton, TrackWrestling, 10/10/16, 1:30PM CDT

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This is the 17th installment of seven minutes. It's a series of interviews with college wrestling's top stars.

Most of the question-and-answer sessions last roughly seven minutes. Hence the name. Princeton's Brett Harner earned All-America honors for the first time last season when he placed eighth at the NCAA Championships at 197 pounds, completing a 36-6 season. He takes a 92-28 career record into his senior season with the Tigers. 

Trackwrestling's Andy Hamilton recently caught up with Harner. 


Let’s say wrestling has one governing body and you’re the president, what would you want to change?

I feel like a lot of people would probably be complaining about the freestyle rules, and this might sound ridiculous, but I don’t even really know the rules for freestyle anymore. I think the last time I wrestled a match in freestyle there were three periods. It was Fargo my senior year of high school. So I can’t necessarily speak to the Olympic style, other than it does change every year, and I think there should be a little more consistency. People shouldn’t be so quick (to change), and this goes for folkstyle as well. The process for adding rules, I think, should be one with a bit more friction. They shouldn’t just pump out rules. I think they added two rules midseason last year in NCAA, which is absolutely absurd. I remember we wrestled one match and they were enforcing the rule and the next day and the ref didn’t know it. It didn’t apply one day and the next day it did. I think that’s generally just bad for the sport.

Another thing is headgear. I think headgear should be optional. I don’t really understand why we have to wear it. If you want cauliflower ear, it should be your choice.

Take me through your pre-match preparation: What’s the typical size of a last-minute weight cut for you? What do you put in your body after you step on the scale? What do you have pumping through your headphones during your warm-up?

This is probably not what most people are going to say, but I’m blessed and cursed with the ability to sweat a lot. We have our pre-match routine. Coach (Chris) Ayres has it down to a science where we’ll come in, warm up for 10 minutes, light drilling for 10, 15 minutes and then he puts us through kind of a guided drill where you’ll hit your singles, doubles, counter-offense. It’s kind of like a mini-drill match. If I toss on the sweats, I’ve lost as much as seven pounds in that pre-workout match. Depends on what time of the day it is, too. If it’s really early in the morning, I’ll try and put an upper limit on coming in — four pounds (over) is usually my upper limit. If weigh-ins are an hour before wrestling starts, we’ll start our pre-match about an hour and a half before weigh-ins start.

If I’m not in my home gym, I’ll try to come in around 3.5 or four pounds (over) and just sweat that out last minute. But if I’m at home and I’m comfortable with the environment, my body seems to sweat more in a wrestling room, I can come in 5.5 pounds over and be absolutely fine. (My ability to sweat) is great for wrestling, but it’s not so great for social settings.

I try to slam as much water as possible and then usually for another drink, we have this stuff called The Right Stuff. It’s basically a sodium electrolyte supplement. I drink that before every practice to limit how much sweat I produce. Then usually I have a sesame seed bagel with cream cheese.

I don’t really warm up with music. I like to relax and just go through my own little warm-up routine, trying to clear my mind. If it’s not a dual meet and we’re at a tournament, I’ll lay down or sit in a comfortable chair and put on some sort of upbeat music to try to lighten the mood, usually some Tropical House-type music.

What’s the last thing you tell yourself before you set your foot on the line?

Before every match when I step out there, I stop and say a quick prayer. As far as telling myself things, I tell myself to just have fun. Coach Ayres stresses that a lot, too. We are so fortunate to even be able to do this. I tell myself to just have fun and let it rip. I’m not going to be able to do this forever, so I might as well take advantage of it while I can.  

What’s one thing your coach yells that you can hear every time?

I can’t think of anything specifically. I can always hear coach (Sean) Gray. Coach Gray has a lot of crazy catch phrases and things he’ll say during a match that you can generally hear. It might sound like we’re crazy to other people. It’s an inside joke-type of thing. Other than those sort of things, I generally don’t hear much. Plus, coach Ayres is usually pretty quiet during matches. He lets Gray or (Joe) Dubuque do the yelling.

What’s the strangest thing that’s ever gone through your mind during a match?

My sophomore year — I forget who we were wrestling — one of my buddies changed my ringtone on my phone to the song ‘Milkshake’ by Kelis, which is a pretty absurd song to have as your ringtone. I remember someone calling me right after weigh-ins and that was blasting out of my phone. I was very confused. Then I had that song stuck in my head the rest of the day. I was literally singing ‘Milkshake’ in my head while I was wrestling.

If you could go back and re-wrestle any match, which would it be and why?

This one definitely would be the first match after I (clinched All-America status) against (Pat) Downey from Iowa State, mainly because I wasn’t aware how quick the turnaround was between the blood round and the consi quarters. My head definitely was not in the best spot. It was one of the more emotional moments of my life and then I had to get back out there half an hour or so later, which is not to use as an excuse. But my head was definitely not in the best spot and I remember coming out of the match not really remembering what happened just because my head just wasn’t there. It was probably not one of my better matches in that tournament.

What’s the most interesting about you that has nothing to do with wrestling?

School and wrestling takes up a good chunk of my time here, but I’d say I’m a pretty huge Game of Thrones fan. Most of our team is really into it. It’s the highlight of our Sundays generally during the spring. We’ll get all the guys together and throw on Game of Thrones and oftentimes watch it twice. A few of us are pretty into it. I haven’t read the books; I don’t have time to with the books I read for classes, but I think after I graduate I’m going to read the books. It’s a few thousand pages. There’s a whole history to it. There’s a lot that goes into that show and I don’t think people really realize it. My friends and I could probably talk about it for hours.

What’s your greatest fear?

I guess this would be a fear. I hate bees. I really hate bees. Getting stung by a bee doesn’t hurt that much and doesn’t last more than five seconds, but if we’re outside eating and there’s a bee near our table, I will literally get up and move or leave the room until it’s gone or someone kills it. It’s pretty funny because I’ll be with friends and their 10-year-old little sister has a higher tolerance for bees than I do.

We’re trying something different with the last part of the series. We’re giving every wrestler the opportunity to ask a question to the next guy we interview. Oklahoma State’s Joe Smith asks: How much of an impact do you think having Olympians like J’den Cox and Kyle Snyder coming back will have on the visibility of college wrestling?

I think it’ll definitely have a huge impact, mainly because the Olympics are something everyone watches, generally speaking, even in wrestling. My friends who don’t even wrestle will start asking questions and having that service-level interest, at least for the summertime, and then when people find out these guys are still in college — and especially a guy like J’den who’s in my weight class or guys me and my teammates compete with throughout the year — people find that generally pretty surprising. That being said, I think it should definitely sway some interest away from the summertime Olympics interest with people rooting for the USA and just exploring and trying to learn more about the sport and hopefully growing it from the ground up, from people outside the sport.

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