One of my favorite things about running this site is having the opportunity to choose who I want to cover, acknowledge, give props to, etc. There are several wrestlers who I have always felt deserved more credit than they received or accomplished feats that were overlooked. Tanner Abbas is the poster boy for this type of wrestler. This kid has deserved acknowledgement for some of his accomplishments for years…because what he has done is not only impressive, but rare. Tanner Abbas was a 4-time place-winner for Clarion-Goldfield in high school. This weekend, wrestling for Grand View, he won the NAIA Heart of America Conference title, and knocked off the #4 ranked guy in the nation in doing so. You know what makes this an incredible accomplishment that has gone unacknowledged for years? He didn’t start wrestling until 7th grade…
Wrestling is the most difficult sport that I know of to become competitive at it, if you start doing it at an older age than most successful wrestlers start. The over-whelming majority of guys who start wrestling in Junior High as Abbas did will either not stick it out and quit because they were tired of being destroyed every day or they just weren’t ever able to catch up with the guys who started at a young age. I would become pissed off at myself if I gave up a couple of mere takedowns to guys who started in Junior High. If you have been wrestling since you were a tyke and you get a new practice partner who just started in Junior High, there’s a good chance that you will dominate that person in the practice room for the remainder of your wrestling career. Every once in a while, you get guys who started at that age who place. Sometimes you’ll get a Terry Vesey (Davenport Asumption, ’03 grad who won state in his 1st or 2nd year), but that is so uncommon that it ends up being discussed 17 years later. Tanner Abbas placed 4 times. Think about that… he began wrestling in 7th grade and placed 4 times… And to some of you old-timers who don’t consider 7th-8th place as actually “placing,” because it was only top 6 in your day, well, that doesn’t apply to Abbas. He placed: 4-4-6-4. Is he the only one to ever do that…? Seriously? And get this, he didn’t even start his HS career at a weight that generally consists of underclassmen. He did it at 1A 138 in 2015. You want to see a list of the place-winners from that bracket?
1st Place – Carter Happel of Lisbon 55-0, Jr.
2nd Place – Trey Brisker of Wilton 46-8, Fr.
3rd Place – Jeren Glosser of Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont 56-1, Sr.
4th Place – Tanner Abbas of Clarion-Goldfield-Dows 39-12, Fr.
5th Place – Tanner Sloan of Alburnett 38-13, Fr.
6th Place – Karsen Seehase of Sumner-Fredericksburg 25-5, So.
7th Place – Drake Healey of Iowa Valley, Marengo 51-7, Sr.
8th Place – Jake Mulford of Audubon 41-7, Jr.
I doubt I need to elaborate much further on that. You get the point…that bracket was loaded.
I am happy to be able to give this kid the props that have been long-overdue since he was a Freshman, at least…which was his 3rd year. Tanner Abbas is the Jeff McGinness of guys who began wrestling in Junior High. I don’t know of anyone who became good so quickly and stayed consistently good throughout the duration of their career like Tanner Abbas. If there is someone I am unaware of, fill me in… I’d love to write an article about them so I can give them their presumably long-overdue props.
So how did Tanner do it? This is something I have always wondered. And holy smokes, he’s wise beyond his years!
Do you have any family members who wrestled or was it something your whole family had to learn?
The only person in my family to start wrestling before me was my brother, Reed. He began wrestling in kindergarten/1st grade. So, for the most part it was something my whole family had to adjust to.
What got ya started? What got you to actually stick with it despite being behind most of the top competitors?
I had actually tried 1 or 2 tournaments when I was younger and didn’t win a match. I officially took wrestling up when I was in 7th grade after I saw the white version of the combat speed 3’s at super peewee state when my brother was wrestling. I really like how the shoes looked, my dad said he would buy them for me if I gave wrestling practice a shot. (I played basketball at the time). He bought the shoes, I started attending Team Valley Wrestling club coached by Carl Valley. I started going once a week and it was definitely humbling considering that I got beat up by everyone in the room. I stuck with it because it gave me something to work towards and seeing progress made me really excited. As most wrestlers know, it can become obsessive or addicting trying to get better.
How long did it take before wrestling became something that you considered important to you?
It didn’t take long actually. As soon as I started seeing progress, I made it one of my top priorities. Although I regret it on some occasions, I started missing out on social gatherings, school related events, and other things because I wanted to go to “The Can” (our club) to go wrestle. It was always a blast getting to wrestle with some of the best around at the time including: The Lara brothers, Ryan Leisure, Brady Brott, Carter Barkema, Slade Sifuentes, The Portillo brothers, and so many others. Seeing how good these guys were was enough motivation for me to make sure that practice was extremely important to me. Along with that, I tried to compete as much as possible when starting out because I enjoyed it so much. My dad, Jeremy Abbas, never forced us to do anything and always took us wherever we wanted to go compete.
If I remember correctly, you placed rather high at AAU state as an 8th grader or at least did well there… how on Earth did you get there so quickly? Are you naturally athletic?
Yeah within my second year, my 8th grade year, I made the AAU State Finals. For the most part, I credit that to attending almost every club practice that was held and spending a lot of time in the weight room. I was always pretty naturally athletic and strong but one of my former coaches, Kyle Ruiter, took me under his wing and made sure I spent a lot of time getting stronger when I first started out and continues to train me throughout high school. Along with that, Carl Valley toughened me up by beating me up for countless hours and then going over positions that I struggled in each day. It was a culmination of a bunch of different things that lead to early success.
How influential was your youth coaches getting you to a high level at an insanely quick rate?
Like I stated before, Carl Valley really got me started pretty hard and heavy right out of the gate. Throughout Middleschool, Carl and my junior high coach, Kyle Ruiter, really laid the foundation for everything I’ve learned up until this point. Without those two, I wouldn’t have had near the success I did at the beginning.
After you began, how long did it take for your family to catch the wrestling “bug?”
My family had always enjoyed going to youth tournaments to watch my brother and we always went to support the Clarion-Goldfield-Dows high school team even before I decided to join the sport. The “bug” has always been there for the most part but it grew on them at a rapid pace. My brother and I are pretty involved in the sport now and I can have conversations with my dad, brother, and mom about every level of wrestling, even as far as talking about international competition. It’s been really cool to see how much wrestling has impacted our family and I hope it continues to be a priority for all of us as the years go by.
If you could redo it, would you start when you were younger?
I don’t think I would start younger if I had the opportunity. I joined at a time when wrestling became became extremely important to Clarion and I got the opportunity to start when I was a little more mature and understood the concept of hard work. I really like how my journey has played out and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Did you ever have your moments where you’d wonder to yourself if you’d be a different wrestler if you began earlier?
Yeah of course. I think everyone plays the “what if” game in their head. I’ve always been curious about the idea of how good I could be right now if I would have started at the same time as my peers. My short time in the sport has been filled with curiosity, asking as many questions as possible, and trying to absorb as much as I can from others. I’ve really become a student of the sport and the game of “catch up” has been a fun challenge.
When you first started wrestling in 7th grade and were having to play catch-up with guys who had been doing it since they were 4, did you ever have moments where it seemed like some guys were so good that you didn’t know how you’d get to their level?
Yes! My 8th grade year I would always get beat up by Billy Higgins and Ben Sarasin. I could never manage to beat either of those guys no matter how much I worked. It was extremely frustrating and I’ve always been a kid that struggled with managing emotions so there were times that it did seem hopeless. It was just a constant effort to keep working, improving, and simply doing more than others. Over time, it started to pay off immensely.
Why do you feel wrestling is a sport that is difficult to be successful in if you start late and what was it that you had that overcame that?
I think there are some cool stories out there about guys who started late and had success in their careers, so I was never too worried about the process. Wrestling can be difficult and discouraging when you first start out considering that guys are much more experienced. It’s a very tough sport and getting beat up day by day when first starting out can take its toll, but it’s just a matter of coming back each practice ready to learn and fight when it comes to that time. For me, it really helped that I was a naturally strong kid and I’ve always had the mentality that I was going to try to be the best at whatever I did whether it was school, video games, wrestling, and anything else. Those attributes were probably two keys to me overcoming some of the obstacles of beginning later than normal.
Were there any landmark moments that stick out to you that were vital in increasing your confidence to do well in the sport? Did you ever have any moments where you defeated an opponent(s) that you weren’t in the same league as when you began?
I would say making the AAU state finals gave me some confidence my 8th grade year and pinning Jacob Vogel from Oakland, Riverside in the blood round my freshman year was what really exciting (Had to look that one up) It’s kind of fun to see how much progress has been made when you start beating guys that used to beat you, or beating guys that you aren’t supposed to beat. I’m sure I could go through and list off special matches or moments, but those two really sparked something in me early on.
How crazy was that 1A 138 lb. bracket that you placed 4th in as a Freshman?
It was insane! I always joke around with my dad and old high school coaches about that bracket. You had Carter Happel (Wrestles at Iowa), Trey Brisker (Wrestles at Airforce), Jeremy Glosser (Wrestles at Iowa), Me, and Tanner Sloan ( Wrestles at SDSU.) Placing in that order, and to see how careers played out and are still playing out, it is pretty astonishing to see all those guys in one bracket. (On a side note, Jeren Glosser was my favorite wrestler when I was in junior high, and I got to wrestle him twice that tournament).
How happy are you that you happened to give wrestling a try and that you ultimately stuck it out and did well?
It’s completely changed my life. I’ve become a better person because of it. Wrestling has given me some of the absolute worst moments of my life but also some of my greatest blessings. I’ve developed so many relationships and had so many opportunities because of it that I couldn’t be happier with my decision to begin and stick with it. From starting out to my current situation at Grand View, I’ve grown tremendously and I credit a lot of that to the influential coaching that I have.
Would you like to give props to any family, coaches, teammates, fans, friends, etc.?
I would like to thank my family, my brother for being a hype man and being my best friend, the best roommates I could ask for, friends who supported me over the years, Carl Valley, Kyle Ruiter, Kurt Morgan, and Dan Gabrielson for guiding me through Junior high and high school and continuing to help and advise me. I would also like to thank Coach Paja for keeping me strong, Joey Boyens for helping me on a weekly basis with my nutrition, Coach Mitchell and Reedy for allowing me to be part of Grand View’s team and believing in me from the first day I stepped on campus. Lastly I would like to thank Coach Grant Henderson for drilling with me constantly, helping me with my confidence, and being like an older brother to me!