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Remember the Wrestler: Ryan Phillips, Burlington HS, Wartburg College, Upper Iowa University

* Ryan Phillips is one of the best athletes to go through SEI. Ever. 3 of my roommates in college were baseball players from Burlington. We had this discussion all the time. It is unanimous, Phillips is who we believe to be the most complete athlete that has gone through Burlington HS. The total package. Coordinated, fast, strong and has intangibles through the roof. No one works harder. He was a state champ as a Senior. He went on to be a D2 national champion for Upper Iowa… the first they had at the D2 level. He coached at Labette Community College and was named the NJCAA Coach of the Year. He was the HC at WBND and currently at CR Jefferson. Great guy, too! Calls a spade a spade! Gotta respect that!


Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a great try?

My brother, Aaron Phillips came home one day from wrestling practice and waned to throw some couch cushions on the wood floor to practice his headlock he just learned. This is how my interest in the sport began to develop. Aaron was a Freshman and I was a seventh-grader at Horace Mann. I decided to give the Burlington Kids Club a try a few days later. I remember I came in late, and Mike Sayre was running everyone through up-downs. After being late, and hating up-downs, I decided not to come back. The next year, I was more mentally prepared and went out my 8th grade year. Mike Sayre was also our middle school coach.

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

My uncle Doug Hart wrestled for BHS, and was a state qualifier as a Senior. My brother, Aaron Phillips also went to BHS, and qualified as a Senior. Aaron went 2-2 at the state tournament and lost in the placing round.


What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

I maybe wrestled in 2 youth tournaments as an 8th grader. I wrestled at the Iron Dog, and the Bear Country tournament in Aledo, Ill. I would not say I had any specific rivals.


What was your record in HS?

I think I was 106-25 in high school. I spent a year on JV under my brother.


How did you place at state every year?
Sophomore Year (1-2)
Junior Year (1-2)
Senior Year 1st Place (undefeated 40-0)


What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

In high school, I would say that my most adverse challenge was figuring myself out after I choked my junior year at the state tournament. I thought I worked hard and believed I did everything the right way, but my goal was never reached. The next year I made sure to do even more than just morning runs in the AM with the shirtless legend, Mike Richart. Senior year I started to get extra reps in after practice to compliment what I was doing in the morning.

The most challenging barrier I experienced in college ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me in the sport of wrestling. I quit the sport in my 3rd year at Wartburg. I came back rejuvenated and energized to be the man. I wrestled 197 pounds and was not given an opportunity to wrestle for the position. The spot was given to Jim Miller’s son. I transferred to Upper Iowa for my last season of eligibility.


How would you describe your wrestling style?

I would describe my wrestling style as controlled and technical. Scoring first is a priority, and controlling the pace of the match to set up my skills was the goal every time. This style worked for me because I was able to limit the scoring of my opponents with basic defensive skills. I also enjoyed opportunities to practice new skills that I have learned.


Who was your most influential coach?

No doubt in my mind my most influential coach was Mike Richart. He was the very first person to tell me that I could be a state champion. I remember him telling me this after practice outside the curtain of the wrestling room. Coach Richart also helped me with technique. I loved to learned new things and loved to reinforce them in the competition even more. Coach Richart was also there for me when I got into trouble when I was 19. He took the time after I graduated high school to check in on me from time to time.


Was your team competitive in HS/college?

In high school, our team was tough. We set a school dual meet record of 17-1 in 2000-2001. We also be #1 Davenport Assumption that year. I believe Riley Ball finally beat Andre Avilla from Assumption. We also set a record for the largest margin of victory over Keokuk, and it was my first experience with a shut-out. We were Quincy Champs, and that tournament was so much fun.

At Upper Iowa, we were Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Champions. We also placed 2nd as a team at the NCAA Regional Championships, which was awesome because we beat the University of Nebraska at Omaha. UNO was 3rd or runners-up as a team at Nationals. We also had 8 National Qualifiers and placed 8th as a team at the NCAA Div. II Championships at UNK. It was a fun year!


Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

Since I started so late, I really did not know who to look up to. I really envied local talent, telling myself, “That is going to be me someday!” I really wanted to be like the Swafford’s from Mediapolis, in the sense that they expected to win every time. As a young high school big guy, I really envied guys like Trey Clark from La Porte City, Union because he was so successful as a young big guy at the upper weights.


Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

Currently, my favorite wrestlers are J’den Cox and Kyle Snyder. I am biased toward big guys, but these guys were successful internationally at the upper weights at a young age. I get so impressed with young successful big guys.


I’ve heard Coach Richart is a genius technician. How would you describe his coaching style?

Coach Richart was/is a wizard clinician. His coaching style was to teach, teach, teach wrestling to kids. We conditioned in the morning (running around the pool). Practices were definitely a TON of technique. Most would criticize that, because we may not have wrestled as much live as other teams, but I soaked up everything. He taught me how to wrestle in EVERY position.


How were you able to catch on to the sport as quickly as you did? It’s not often where a guy starts in JH and wins state… you are an exception to that. Athleticism? Work ethic? Both?

I wish I knew the magic ingredients that aided my early success. In my opinion, I believe I was able to start in Junior high and finish as an undefeated state champion because I fell in love with the sport. Since love and energy was there, I wanted to be a sponge and take in all of the knowledge. I listened to my coaches as well. Richart says that state champs train in the AM, so I did. I wrestled with Alex Sherwood a lot, and he was able to push me. As far as athleticism, I think that came as my body evolved and developed. No doubt in my mind that work ethic and competitiveness assisted in this success.


Did you and your brother Aaron have some battles in the practice room?

Believe it or not, but we never had one go together. Aaron usually wrestled with Randy Boughton and the Belchers. I usually wrestled with Ben Good, Neil Johnson, Phillip Klees, Keven Baltisberger, and a few others that I am having a hard time remembering.


Were you ever close to trying wrestling before you did? Like as a younger kid?

Wrestling was never a thought in my mind until my brother Aaron came home and wanted to practice his headlock on me with couch cushions on the floor. This life-changing event happened in 7th grade.


What tunes would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

I remember using my boom box to create mixtapes to warm up to. I would listen to Ozzy, Metallica, Blink 182, Jimmy Eat World, Incubus, Foo Fighters, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Oh, can’t forget about Lil’ Troy.


What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

I would say the most upset I felt after a loss would have to have been my junior year at the state tournament. I just came off a quick pin first round, and then I got beat 2-0 by Ryan Groom from Oskaloosa. It was the first time I was ridden all season, and it kind of broke me. I then lost my next consolation match. I really thought I was unstoppable at the time.


If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

If I could change anything in my wrestling career, I probably would have wrestled more in the summer. I only attended 2 camps in high school, and only wrestled in 2 freestyle tournaments. I did not have the resources to compete all-around Iowa, nor the means of transportation. I had a little help from some people to attend the Camp of Champs in Watertown, WI.


What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

In high school, it was definitely winning the state championship for BHS. What a cool moment to be the 1st ever.

At Wartburg, I did not have a chance to accomplish my athletic goals, but I was able to earn Academic All-American status. I am so super proud of this.

Finally, at Upper Iowa University it was winning their first NCAA Division II National Championship. I was inducted to their Athletic Hall of Fame last Fall for my efforts.


Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

I loved to bring the heat to guys who have beaten me in the past. I was able to avenge losses from #1 Drew Schmitt from Assumption. I remember I beat him twice in one week. Paul McCleary from Muscatine also had my number as a Freahman. I beat McCleary my junior year to go to state. John Krogman from Clinton was another guy who beat me first, and then never again. I loved to beat the guys who had my number when I was in the infancy of my wrestling career.

In college, my first ever varsity dual meet was against Simpson college. Their 197 pounder was Bart George (from Norwalk), and was also a returning All-American. George was the only person in high school to win by technical fall over me. I stuck him in the dual vs Simpson college. I ended beating him 3 times in college. Twice in his own gym!

I will also mention Jake Mars from UNO. Mars beat me my junior year at Wartburg in the finals of the Harold Nichols Open by a point. I finally got my revenge at the NCAA Div. II regionals in Moorhead, MN. He took me down first with a nasty ankle pick. I pressed and pressed to get a stalling point to force OT. I rode him in the tie-breaker to reach the finals. I then beat the #1 seed (I was seeded #3).


Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

Wrestling was definitely seasonally for me. I wish we had the resources to wrestle year-round. I enjoyed playing baseball too, even though I was not any good at it. I also had to work (Carlos O Kellys) to pay for my insurance and gas money.


Did you wrestle after high school?

Yes, National Champion for Upper Iowa University.


What other sports did you play?

I was also 2nd – team all-state in football as a defensive line-man. I was one of two people in the MAC conference to be selected to the 1st team offense and 1st team defense.

Baseball is still my favorite sport. I played up until my sophomore year in high school. I was cut my freshman year, but made the team my sophomore year.


What are your favorite sports teams?

I am a Cubs and Bears fan. If the wrestling is good then I am a fan. I could watch any wrestling from any team.


What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

As a kid, I enjoyed collected baseball cards and coins. Now my hobbies are kickin’ it with my family. My son, Ayce, who is 3 is my best friend, and I can’t wait to give him a life that was way better than my own.


How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

There is no telling where I would be if wrestling was not in my life. I probably would say that I would be in jail, a drug addict, or an alcoholic. Wrestling helped me stray away from these evils and stay focused. Wrestling gave me an avenue out, an avenue to express myself. An arena where you can call me fat boy if you can whoop me in this circle. Wrestling has taught me that hard work pays off—-eventually, in one way (wins) or the other (better human).


What do you do now?

I am currently in my 3rd year at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School. I teach Mild Intellectually Disabled students, which I freakin’ love! I coach all day! I am also the head wrestling coach.


Are you still involved with wrestling?

I am the head wrestling coach at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School.


Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

Don’t specialize in one sport, continually train your body to do different skills. Trust your coaches. Do not cry to your parents if something is not going your way. Make a commitment and change the outcome. Stick to the basics; single-leg takedowns are 75% of the takedowns at the NCAA Div. I championships. Finally, follow through with your commitments. Do not just talk about it – BE ABOUT IT!


Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

Definitely! I have competed in some opens after graduation. I have competed at the Luther Open and beat the national champs from Cornell and Whitewater. I competed in Bixby, OK in 2014 and got beat by OSU stud Preston Weigel.


Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

I want to give a shout out to Upper Iowa Univesity. That place changed my life. Coach Heath Grimm took me under his wing and showed me how to RUN a complete wrestling program.

I also want to give a shoutout to my wife, Tiffany. She has been there through the tough times at Wartburg and the title run at Upper Iowa University. She has also been the “coach’s wife” for eleven years, and knows the demands of a wrestling coach. I cannot thank her enough to standing by my side!

Randy Boughton fell in the pool one time in the morning while running.

Riley Ball sucked on lemon drops once until his mouth bled.

You never wanted to volunteer if coach Richart was showing any kind of technique. Chances are he’d break you.

During Christmas Breaks Riley Ball, Phillips Klees, Adam Roberts, Neil Johnson, Kevin Baltisberger, and myself (im sure there were more) all would sneak into the pool and go skinny dipping.

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