This is the 45th 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.
Arizona State sophomore Zahid Valenica is ranked No. 1 nationally at 174 pounds after placing third as a freshman at the NCAA Championships.
If you could take what you know now and have a conversation with yourself at 15, what advice would you give yourself?
Just to make sure to always have fun with it. There’s times back then when it’s a grind and stuff, so just remember it’s your lifestyle, it’s a lot of fun and this is what you’re passionate about.
What were your top three schools in recruiting and why did you pick Arizona State?
There were a lot of schools I was looking at, but ASU, Iowa, Penn State and Nebraska were all up there. But heading down to ASU for my unofficial, I was talking to Zeke Jones and hearing his future plans and his goals he had in mind, it really spoke to me. He said I could be the best in the world and I believed him. That’s why I decided to go to ASU.
What’s the most rewarding victory you’ve ever had?
This year, the All-Star match (against Mark Hall) was pretty rewarding with just getting my revenge and knowing I worked all summer, training hard and being able to come back and take my No. 1 spot back, that felt really nice.
If you could go back and re-wrestle any match, which would it be and why?
It would be the semifinals of last year’s NCAA tournament, (a 4-3 loss to Hall). I had my undefeated season and that’s where my streak ended, so just leaving more on the mat, leaving it all out there and making sure I don’t make any stupid mistakes.
Who’s one guy you’ve wrestled in college that you enjoy scrapping against and why?
There’s plenty of wrestlers, but I like wrestling Mark (Hall). He leaves it all out there. Bo Jordan, there’s been a couple fun matches (with him) this year. I’d say those two guys have been great to wrestle.
Let’s say wrestling has one governing body and you’re the president, what would you want to change?
I’d have just one style — freestyle. That’s what the Olympics and the World Championships are. I feel like if we’d start young and focus only on that, America would be even better. That would be the main thing I’d change.
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?
For my weight-cut, I’m probably on weight in the morning. I make sure I’m a pound over at night, so I’ll sleep that off and wake up on weight, so I don’t have to do anything before weigh-ins. After weigh-ins, I usually drink Pedialyte and then I’ll have a bagel with cream cheese and stuff like that. And then before my matches, I don’t really listen to music. I like to stay relaxed and talk to my teammates, just hanging out and staying as loose as possible.
What’s the last thing you tell yourself before you set your foot on the line?
Go out there and score points. I tell myself: score as many points as possible and go out there and try to dominate.
What’s the strangest thing that’s ever gone through your mind during a match?
I remember getting taken down in one of my matches and looking up and there was a very attractive girl and I was like, ‘Damn, I’m going to have to get these points back.’ I went back in the middle and tried to score as much as possible to try to impress her.
What’s the most interesting about you that has nothing to do with wrestling?
Not a lot of people know this, but I like to draw. I drew a lot as a kid and I’d say I’m pretty artistic.
If you could go back and wrestle anybody from any era, who would you want to compete against?
I’d say my coach, Chris Pendleton. I’d like to go back and wrestle him at ‘74 and show him I’d be able to get him.