A straight-up beast. At least, that’s my description of him. Of course, I may be a bit biased since I’ve known him for the last five years. I’ve watched him train like a mad man. I have wrestled him on countless occasions. I once watched him do a set of 10 dips with a 90-pound dumbbell attached to a belt around his waist. He’s the stuff of a legend. So why have so few wrestling fans known about him until lately?
I actually hosted James on his recruiting trip to Nebraska back in 2010. I was a fifth-year senior shooting for my second national championship, and he was an ambitious high school senior, looking to compete at the next level and find a university to take him there. Green is from Willingboro, New Jersey, which is only about 20 miles from my hometown, Sicklerville. He was a New Jersey state champion, but flew relatively low on the recruiting radar. After witnessing the growth I made as a student-athlete at Nebraska under coaches Mark Manning and Bryan Snyder, his college decision was pretty much a no-brainer. James and I had similar wrestling styles, and he believed that if he could develop himself the way I did, he could have an amazing career.
To the untrained eye, or the critical wrestling fan, it may seem as though “Greezy,” as we like to call him at Nebraska, has left a lot to the imagination, and many championships on the table. I beg to differ. James has pretty much won every tournament under the sun. He is a two-time University National champion, a University World silver medalist, and now a World Team member — and that’s just in freestyle. James is only the second four-time NCAA All-American in Nebraska history, the other being Bryan Snyder. He has won the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, the Southern Scuffle, a Big Ten title, and countless other tournaments. Pretty darn successful I’d say.
But oh those expectations…they are pretty hard to live up to. Throw in preseason rankings, No. 1 seeds, and the pressure sometimes seems insurmountable. With great skill, comes great responsibility. When someone is blessed with with the work ethic and athletic prowess that James has acquired, it’s no wonder he has almost every trophy imaginable on his dresser at home; every one except the big dog — NCAA champion. In wrestling culture, it’s hard to deem a collegiate career completely successful, unless that little wooden trophy, as unglamorous as it may be, is a part of your collection.
But that missing piece of hardware serves as motivation. Redemption is the word that best describes what James has been up to this “off season.” He has worked tirelessly, and his relentless effort has paid dividends this freestyle season. After finishing third at the U.S. Open in May, James seemed to have possessed a certain poise that I have never before seen from him. Almost perpetual pressure, most coming from within himself, had hounded him throughout the final months of his senior season. But what happens to pressure when you contain it too long? It breaks free. James Green has been unleashed.
After the announcement that Marable was granted a wrestle-off, James remained stoic while awaiting the match that would determine whether or not he would make his first World Team…or second, depending on who’s telling the story. Watching from the inside, there was never a moment when I could sense any fear or resentment in James. Instead, he continued to prepare, confident he could prove to the wrestling world he was indeed the best representative this country had to offer at 70 kilograms.
aOn July 25, he did just that, making the World Team again, this time solidifying his place and guaranteeing him a trip to Vegas. No NCAA championship. No problem. He is going to the big show, and he doesn’t even have his degree yet. To me, it seems like the prototypical coming-of-age story. Jewish boys have Bar-mitzvahs, Christians get baptized, James Green went through a second wrestle off. When September 12th arrives, don’t be surprised if the World champion at 70KG is a young American kid from New Jersey. There may be only one guy in the world he can’t beat, and he wrote this story.
Photo Cred: John Sachs