Interviews

“I Love Putting People On Their Heads” — Lucas Sheridan On His Rise Up the Ranks

lucas sheridan, greco-roman wrestling, wcap
Lucas Sheridan -- Photo: Frank Gioia

HE NEEDS THIS. 

You get the sense talking to Lucas Sheridan that if you were to somehow have the power to strip away his life’s ambition, which is to become an Olympic gold medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling, that he would be in danger of being swallowed into some vacuum, lost, forgotten, in shambles. Passion isn’t easy, people. It only appears that way when you are too busy getting caught up in the drama and glamour other sports stars and celebrities find themselves surrounded by. For Greco-Roman wrestlers, especially in America, passion is not a catchphrase or temporary byproduct of having achieved some grand goal. It is ever-present because it has to be. They would be doing this in front of nobody, willfully sacrificing their bodies to one another. They’d be doing it for free, simply because for most, it’s like that, anyway. 

But should you have a magic wand, or crystal ball, or some mystical potion you could pour over Sheridan’s head that would realize all of his dreams, he might not take you up on it. There’s an importance to his plight. He is not doing all of this in vain. Lifelong wrestlers rarely do. Sheridan, while certainly animated when discussing his vocation, is also self-aware enough to understand that chasing the lead wolves means occasionally getting bit back, and it is that chase he is equally seduced by. The work, it’s never easy, but when it stands for something greater than your actual self, it is much easier to throw those blinders on and give it another run up the hill. Your panting breaths a sign that the chase remains satisfying. 

If there is one other thing that stands out about this 23-year-old elite athlete, it is that he is just so damn quick to thank everybody else. As if he is playing a supporting role in his own movie. He is constantly intent on making sure you know that there are plenty of others who have helped usher him to where he is, and where he is headed. Wrestlers always require a cast of characters to lead them correctly and gratuity is not uncommon. Though with Sheridan, he is almost pained at the idea that he might forget someone and not just because these types have meant so much to him, but because he is sure they will continue to. 

For now, Sheridan the Greco athlete is a wrestler shooting for the stars and coming close to orbit. Following a youth spent in one of the country’s best clubs and a collegiate career at a recognized program, he began his bidding on the Senior level and has already asserted himself as a viable contender is an extremely deep weight class. The path keeps pointing straight up. It sure seems that way. What you have is a young man who has enjoyed the walk thus far and yet is looking forwards to taking more steps. You’re welcome to tag along on the journey. He’d be happy to have you. 

5PM Interview with Lucas Sheridan

5PM: In your view, what was your best match at the World Team Trials?

Lucas Sheridan: My best match I think hands-down was in the consolation semis against (Kevin) Radford. He beat me at the Open in Vegas 5-5. I mean, that was his first time beating me. It was a fair and square match, no doubt about it. I think that’s what drove me a little bit training-wise. I was leading that match 5-2 in Vegas and I just stopped wrestling, and I let him come back. I tip my hat to him. But yeah, definitely that match with Radford. It felt good. My positions felt good, my offense felt good, my defense felt good. I felt like I hit my game plan. Definitely that match.

5PM: Okay, conversely, what do you think was your worst match at the World Team Trials?

LS: Definitely the (Ben) Provisor match. I just couldn’t get enough offense going. Obviously, he’s Ben Provisor. I’m not going to talk ill about a two-time Olympian. He is who he is, there’s no doubt about it and I respect that. But I couldn’t get my offense going as much as I’d like. He was getting underneath me and pushing me around pretty easily. So I would definitely consider that one of my worst.

5PM: What has been your best match so far as a Senior Greco-Roman competitor?

LS: My best match so far I would say was this year at the NYAC Tournament for bronze. I wrestled Korea (Junheong Choi), he was actually in my Junior World bracket, he took bronze when I didn’t place (there). I mean, it was just an all-out brawl. It was probably the most fun match I’ve had in my Senior career, getting that win, and getting that first international medal, everything about it. I’d definitely say my bronze match at the NYAC this year.

5PM: If you could think of a disappointing part of your career thus far, a specific event or match, what would it be?

LS: Honestly, I couldn’t pinpoint a match because there were two matches, but the Olympic Trials last year. I mean, I went in as a sixth seed, it was my first year as a Senior and blah, blah, this, that, different excuses why I didn’t do well. But going 0-2 at Trials last year was just bad. I wrestled poorly all around the board, my mind wasn’t where it needed to be. It was frustrating because I have all of the abilities, I had every single tool I need, I had the coaching staff, the athletic training staff, I had every support system possible and I just wrestled bad.

5PM: You are a CYC kid, is that not right?

Lucas Sheridan: Yup, I’m a CYC kid and I’m damn proud of it.

5PM: What makes CYC so special?

LS: I mean, it has to be Coach (Mark) Halvorson and his entire coaching staff. Of course, Mark Halvorson is a huge name in the Greco wrestling community, but underneath him at CYC is Stevie Gee and Kenneth Cook, who is now on the paperwork side, not on the mat. But these guys were my workout partners growing up, you know, they were everything. And I think they do a really great job with us older athletes coming back and mentoring. Robby Smith is my big brother. When somebody asks Who’s that?, it’s, “Oh, that’s just my big brother.” He comes to all of my military functions, he’s family to me. Now I have a younger brother, Peyton Omania, who was on the Cadet World Team last year. So if people ask me when he comes out to train with me at WCAP Who’s that kid?, it’s, “Oh, he’s my younger brother.” It’s just that simple.

The relationships and bonds we have at CYC is like no other. Coach Halvorson is a big name but Stevie Gee and Kenny Cook were my secret weapons that sadly aren’t in the spotlight, but made me into the man and wrestler I am today.

5PM: It’s also a unique wrestling club in so far as the curriculum. Did you recognize that as a youth wrestler?

LS: I do more now that I’m a Senior wrestler. Growing up, CYC was my first club ever. I lived ten minutes from it. My brother went up to my dad one day and said he wanted to wrestle. My dad probably thought he meant WWE — “No, dad, I mean real wrestling.” CYC held a summer camp, the season started and he said, “Hey, do you want to come? We can fight and not get into trouble for it.” I’ve only been a CYC kid up until college and I think that’s why I’m so proud of it since it is my home. I never want to forget where I come from.

But looking back on it, we have a very different curriculum than most youth wrestlers probably with the amount of Greco training, the amount of competitions that we go to and the coaching we get. We had some foreign coaches who would come in. Growing up, Andres Enhert from Germany would come three months out of the year to train us. We had Petkov from Bulgaria, Enkhtur Badamsaikhan from Mongolia, so it was definitely a different curriculum than most kids probably grow up with.

5PM: I remember the first time I met you, you made it clear how important Robby (Smith) is to you. What has it been like watching a guy who has been such an influence on you, considering the age gap there, blossom into this kind of overwhelming force on the mat and you know, even off the mat?

LS: The only word I can use is “fun.” It’s fun to be there with him. We grew up together. Like you said, there’s a bit of an age difference there. He’s seven years older than me. When he would come back, when I was in elementary school and high school, he would take me to play laser tag and stuff. He was my big brother, I and my brother’s big brother. Just being able to be on the Senior level at these tournaments even though we’re on separate teams, he’s an OTC guy and I’m a WCAP guy, my coaches know completely — he is my family, there is doubt about that. And nothing will ever come in between us.

I’m just enjoying the ride. I think he’s an amazing athlete. He’s an amazing role model. I’m just taking in every second I can with him. The sad thing is, one day it’s going to come to an end, so I am going to enjoy the ride while I can.

5PM: College, Hoosiers. First off, how’d you wind up at Indiana? What’s going through the mind of a younger Lucas Sheridan leading up to that decision?

LS: I actually had all five of my trips set up. I remember it perfectly, I was sitting there playing Scrabble with my best friend and my dad comes up to me and says, “Hey, this guy Joe Dubuque called me from Indiana. I really liked what he had to say and I think you should give him a listen.” My dad is my hero, my mentor, my coach, he is my partner in crime, so I trust every word he says and if he says I’ll like what this guy has to say, I’m going to give him a listen. I ended up changing one of my trips to Indiana. I went there for my first trip and I knew right away. I didn’t verbal; but my mom wound up telling me she bought an Indiana sweatshirt the night I got back even though I didn’t verbal for three weeks because I had other trips to go on. She knew that’s where I would end up after how I reacted.

They kind of came in last second, but it was the best decision of my life hands-down. It’s right up there with probably being a CYC boy. I’m proud to be a Hoosier, proud to have wrestled under Coach (Duane) Goldman, Coach (Nick) Simmons, and Coach (Matt) Powless. I was very fortunate to have an amazing coaching staff and an amazing support system there.

5PM: When you look back at your time with Indiana, what is it that you’re most proud of? It doesn’t necessarily have to be an achievement of sorts. It could be growth-related, something you realized, anything like that, but what was a breakthrough for you while you were there?

Lucas Sheridan: The breakthrough was probably going into my junior year. I was having a hard time. Mentally, I was getting beat down because I was losing matches and I wasn’t used to losing. Obviously, I was a Greco kid in the folkstyle world. But regardless, I was a winner, that’s what I did and I wasn’t doing it. It was that simple. It was beating me down mentally and stuff, and I had to find some way to turn it around, some way to get my head on straight.

I can’t pinpoint a moment by any means, but I think it was just maturity and a couple of extra nudges from Coach Goldman and Coach Simmons, of course. But finding a way to finish that career, to be honest with you, it was tough. There were times when I wanted to quit and just wrestle Greco. There were times when I wanted to say Screw it. But sticking it out is something that I’m very proud of, even though I didn’t get those All-Americans or NCAA titles. The fact that I finished my college career, I didn’t quit even though I was getting beat down quite a bit, it’s something that I’m very proud of.

5PM: Just like you said, you were a Greco kid in a folkstyle world and actually had success on the age-group level, so did you even consider Northern Michigan or that kind of situation before going to Indiana?

LS: No, not really. You know, my big brother, I think the word “genius” is an understatement for him. He wrestled at Columbia and is currently at Penn State on a full ride through law school. He just sat me down and we discussed the possibility of wrestling one day being over and how I need to have a backup plan, I need to have a degree, I need to have a future. So I never really planned on going to Northern. When I decided to go to college, it was going to be folkstyle and hopefully Division I, and then I got lucky and got into the Big 10.

5PM: Eventually you find your way to WCAP. How has WCAP shaped your career as a Senior Greco-Roman athlete thus far?

LS: They are the reason I qualified for the World Team Trials, to be honest with you. Going to Indiana was tough on my Greco career. I lost a lot of my basics that I learned under Coach Halvorson and it was frustrating. I got here and luckily, we have the best coaching staff in the world. Bruce Robinson is probably my main coach for sure there. I mean, every single day, if I do something wrong he’s going to let me know. It’s that simple. There’s no babying it, there is no trying to play nice. We’re going to get me to the top of that podium and I am confident in our coaching staff. Spenser Mango, Glenn Nieradka, Keith Sieracki, Coach (Shon) Lewis, of course, these guys are shaping my career still to this day. I think I’m literally just starting to hit my stride as a Senior athlete and there is a lot more to come. So we’ll see as far as how WCAP shapes my Senior career, but if I don’t get to the top of the podium it’s going to be because of me. I have the best coaching staff, the best medical staff, I have the biggest support system with our chain of command — I have every tool I need to get to the top of the podium, it’s just going to all come down to me.

5PM: Who else is part of this vast support system?

LS: I’d like to give a huge shout out to who I call “Team Sheridan.” Anybody that travels with my brother or my father, they come to every competition. The coaches from CYC, Mark Halvorson, Stevie Gee, and little Peyton Omania. I have other friends, like Ray Trujio, who find their way out to competitions. I truly have the best support system in the world, so I have to thank them. Also, the medical staff at WCAP. Kyle Eckert, Major Barber, Sergeant Norton, Specialist Zelaya, and Sergeant Hinds. Those guys, it’s flat out the truth — I would not have been able to wrestle at the World Team Trials if it wasn’t for them. They take care of me and keep me confident. When I have a doctor tell me that something is torn and that wrestling is out of the question and I go back upset, they are like, Nope, we got you. Don’t you worry. Those guys have my back and I have to give them thanks for that. I appreciate everything they do for me.

Lucas Sheridan, 85 kg, US Army/WCAP, Greco-Roman wrestling

THAT ARM THO: Sheridan sustained a tear in his arm shortly before the World Team Trials and required extensive treatment in order to participate at the event. (Photo: Tony Rotundo/Wrestlers Are Warriors)

5PM: Where does pressure fit into your mindset, your competitiveness? Are you the kind of athlete who feels the need to put a lot of pressure on yourself? Is it the other way around and you need to be relaxed? How does that work for you?

LS: I think that’s something I am currently working on. Last year at the Olympic Trials, I think I put too much pressure on myself. I was just over-thinking it, more or less. The truth is, there’s no pressure on me. I am a 23-year-old kid. Last year, I was the youngest wrestler in the weight class at the Olympic Trials. This year, I think Khymba (Johnson) and I are around the same age, I’m not too sure. But once again, I’m the young guy in the bracket still.

There is no pressure on me. And that’s how you need to look it and it’s why I think I won the matches I did this year at Trials. These guys are supposed to be beating me, they’re supposed to be ranked ahead of me, this or that. I think I’m finally growing up to the point where pressure isn’t an option. I’m going out there trying to have fun. I’m trying to focus on what’s important and not be beating myself down emotionally and mentally before the match even starts.

5PM: Which comes first for you at this level — is it the technique or the mentality?

Lucas Sheridan: Technique. I have the mentality. I know I’m going to win, it’s that simple. I used to be too angry as a little kid and I had to tone it down, but this whole year Coach Robinson and I have been talking about it getting it back. You’re only 50% of an asshole right now, I need you at 85%. I know I have the mentality, there’s no doubt about that. I just need to work on technique. I am going to keep working on my offense, finding ways to score, finding ways to get on top and ending matches.

5PM: Every time I bring this up, no matter who it is, they say, “Oh, the rules change all the time.” Of course that is always the case, way too often. But with that being said, how do you like the current rule-set until forced par terre comes back and also, how did you feel about the new emphasis on cautions for fingers and all that noise?

LS: To be honest, and I mean this in the most respectful way, but I don’t care. They’ve been changing the rules and they are going to keep changing the rules. They’re changing the weigh-in rules, they are changing weight classes. I mean, I’m an athlete. Tell me what to do and I’m just going to go do it. I think bringing forced par terre back in will be good, I think it will bring more points on the board, of course. And I know they are bringing it back in, for sure. But even when they take it back out one day, as an athlete, you can’t let it phase you. You just have to keep your head on straight and recognize the fact that, I have no say in these changes, I have no opinion and now two cents on the matter. They tell me to do it and I do it, that’s my job.

5PM: No, that’s perfectly said, so let me give you a follow-up: do you at least notice in other competitors how these things sometimes hang like a cloud over athletes regarding making adjustments? 

LS: They do and they don’t. It’s kind of a double-edged sword in the fact that some people act like there is a cloud hanging over them, and some wrestlers love it. I know of people who when they heard the new weigh-in system they were like, Yes! Perfect! It’s going to be even better for me. I know people when they heard they were taking out forced par terre said, Perfect, better for me! I also heard people go, Oh crap, what am I going to do now? So I think it goes both ways depending on how you look at it. I used to be one of those guys who was like, Oh crap, now I have to get a takedown to get on top, this sucks. But the fact of the matter is, like I said, I want to get to the point in my confidence where it’s you can change the rules however you want to change them, I’m just going to go out there and do my thing.

lucas sheridan at 2017 armed forces championships

Sheridan (red) searching for a tie-up against Sherwin Severin (Air Force) at the 2017 Armed Forces Championships. Sheridan won this bout 3-1 and faced Severin again at the 2017 World Team Trials, prevailing with a 5-5 criteria decision. (Photo: Frank Gioia)

5PM: When did you realize that this was you, that you have what it takes to win a gold medal or as you put it, stand on top of the podium? When did you discover that about yourself, that you had this in you to be this kind of athlete at this level?

Lucas Sheridan: Of course, there are different things I clearly remember growing up. In eighth grade I was at Fargo watching my big brother. Me and my dad were just sitting there and as I was watching the finals, and I said, “I can beat these guys. I can be a National Champion next year.” It didn’t happen right away, but I had that in my head. Then I remember in college, I made one Junior World Team, I trained all summer and lost to Turkey in the quarters and then I kind of got screwed over going for bronze when I was up seven.

And then the next year I was going to go out for the team again and my dad was against it. He said, “I don’t know Luke, I don’t think you should do it. Maybe you should let it go this summer.” I was frustrated for a second. I was like, “What? What are you talking about? You don’t believe in me?” He said, “No Luke, I absolutely believe in you. The problem is that you’re going to train Greco for two weeks and expect to win a World title when all of these other countries are doing it their entire lives.” I was like, “Yeah, absolutely!”

Right when I said that it clicked in my head like, Wow, really, I do have a mental problem. He was 100% correct. It’s not that he was doubting me by any means. He was being a caring father. He saw how upset I was the year before when I didn’t reach my goals. And realistically, I would only go to the second World Team camp. I would wrestle Greco for two weeks and then go to the World Championships and go in there saying I’m going to win. I don’t know when it happened, but I realized that’s what I want to do and that is what I’m going to do.

5PM: That’s kind of the criticism for Greco in the US, like “How can we expect to compete internationally when we are so far behind the eight ball because of our developmental structure here?” Considering your own background, what is your perspective on this constant dialogue?

LS: I hear the debate a lot, especially being one of the only guys in recent years who finished a four-year Division I program and then wrestled Greco. Obviously Ryan Mango with Stanford is an amazing story. So I get this question a lot and I hate to keep referring back to my dad, but that is where most of my wisdom comes from. In my mind, wrestling is wrestling. Wrestling shoes, wrestling singlet, wrestling mat…hey, it’s the same exact thing. It’s that simple. Time on the mat is time on the mat. When we were younger, it didn’t matter if it was folkstyle, it didn’t matter if it was freestyle, it didn’t matter if it was Greco — we don’t care. Wrestling is wrestling.

I don’t think our problem is necessarily with that. I can’t tell you exactly where the problem is. At the end of the day, I think we have the most kids on the mat, these young kids, and we need to change something up. Not sure what it is. Like I said, I don’t have any agenda myself trying to say, Oh something needs to change. No, then I’m part of the problem, to be honest with you. I think wrestling is wrestling. If you’re out there on the mat, you’re practicing, you’re in competition and getting that mat time, you’re going to get better. It’s that simple.

5PM: What is the biggest lesson you think you have learned, on or off the mat, that has helped you other aspects of your life, including wrestling?

LS: To be honest and I don’t want this to sound weird, but it’s doing the right thing and doing the right thing when no one’s looking. Whether that’s you cranking out your homework at night so you can go to wrestling practice when you’re in fifth grade, instead of telling your dad, “Yeah, I finished my homework”, then he lets you go to practice and when your report card comes, you get in trouble. That’s what I struggled with growing up. I just wanted to wrestle and I was going to do whatever it took to do that. I would steal my report cards out of the mailbox so my parents wouldn’t see just so I could get an extra week or two of practice in before they would ground me (laughs). It was because I wasn’t doing the right thing when nobody was looking.

It’s the same thing with wrestling. When you’re sitting in your bed at night, you don’t need to get up and have that soda. And the only person who is going to know you didn’t is you. You can go tell your coach, “No I didn’t, I’m good.” But doing the right thing when nobody is looking is probably the most difficult task I had to learn, as well as the most important task because it applies to everything in my life. It applied to my schoolwork, it applies to my military career, it applies to my wrestling life. Hopefully one day when I’m a father and a husband, it will apply to that. Definitely doing the right thing when no one is looking.

5PM: If you weren’t wrestling, what would you be doing?

LS: I could not answer that to save my life. Wrestling has been my life. The reason why I’m wrestling right now is because I am not ready to give up that dream. I haven’t accomplished it yet, but I am not going to give that up. That’s a lesson, too. If I wasn’t wrestling, I’d be scared to see where I’d be at in my life right now. If it wasn’t for wrestling, I would honestly be afraid. I’m sure I would be okay because I have amazing parents that push me in the right direction at all times. But it’d be scary to see a Lucas Sheridan who never met wrestling.

5PM: What is or has been your biggest attraction to Greco?

Lucas Sheridan: I love putting people on their heads. It’s that simple. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. Everybody knows I have a headlock. When I was in elementary school, they said it wouldn’t work in middle school. When I was in middle school, they said it wouldn’t work in high school; when I was in high school they said it wouldn’t work in college; and when I was in college, they said it wouldn’t work on the Senior level. I have no idea why people still fall for it. I can’t answer that. But I love Greco, I love putting people on their head. I love fighting somebody where they are mad enough to start pushing back because they’re mad I’m pushing them around. And then I’m going to put them on their heads.

Follow Lucas Sheridan on Twitter and Instagram leading up to the World Military Championships and to keep up with the rest of his competitive schedule. 

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