Photo Credit: Sam Janicki
By JARED BELL
Zane Richards has one last run.
A two-time state champion at Carbondale High School, Richards is now a redshirt senior on this year’s Illinois wrestling team and is one of the Fighting Illini’s best wrestlers.
A 2016 All-American and a three-time NCAA Qualifier, Richards is currently 14-2 this season at 133 pounds and is looking to break through and win his first national championship.
Recently, Illinois Matmen caught up with Richards to discuss his national-title quest, the one thing most people don’t know about him and life after college wrestling.
Illinois Matmen: Can you talk about the season and how it’s gone so far?
Richards: It’s been an interesting season so far. I started out doing well in a couple of tournaments before we went to the Midlands, where I took a loss. I also took a loss last week, but at all the other tournaments and duals I’ve been able to win.
I’m definitely learning every step of the way, and everything is gearing toward the Big Ten (Championships) and the National (Championships) later this season (in March). It’s all a process, so I have to understand that, be focused and ready to go every day in the wrestling room.
Illinois Matmen: You’re in your final collegiate season, so what’s it like to know that you have one last chance at a national title?
Richards: It’s a great opportunity and a moment that you have to seize, just like it’s been every year since Year 1.
Every wrestler wants to qualify for the national tournament, and that definitely motivates me, but more so the focus is working on the things I need to do to get that title. I don’t think being a senior necessarily motivates me alone.
Illinois Matmen: Who do you train with in the Illinois wrestling room?
Richards: I train with a lot of the guys around my weight, including a lot of the new freshmen in (Montini graduate Dylan) Duncan, (Prairie Ridge graduate Travis) Piotrowski and (St. Rita graduate Jake) Silzer. We also have the ROTC practices once in a while, so I wrestle (Illinois graduate and two-time national champion Jesse) Delgado in Freestyle. (Former NCAA champion and Illinois assistant coach) Jeremy Hunter is also still here and once or twice a week he’ll get on the mat and roll around with us, so I have plenty of workout partners.
All of those guys have been great to train with and have really pushed me to become better.
Illinois Matmen: A lot of high school wrestlers have the dream of wrestling in college, so what advice would you give those kids looking to pursue that dream?
Richards: I would say make it your passion and make it your dream, and by making it your dream you’re going to have to sacrifice things for that dream. It’s very doable if it becomes your life, but also you have to enjoy it and know that you can do it.
And don’t just set your dream of ‘I want to be on a Division I team’ or ‘I want to be a starter.’ Dream of being a national champ and understand what you have to do to get that done, and go for it. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t make an attempt. Prove to yourself that you can do great things. Even if it’s difficult, it’s always possible.
Illinois Matmen: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you? Do you have any hidden talents or interests?
Richards: Outside of wrestling, I really enjoy rock music a lot and just music in general. I listen to Tool or Chevelle and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Really, I’m a 90s grungy guy and a 90s alternative guy, and even the harder stuff is pretty cool.
Illinois Matmen: When the season is done and you don’t have to watch your weight, what’s the one food you’ll eat first?
Richards: Luckily, I haven’t even thought about it because my weight is usually pretty good, so if I have something that I’m really craving I can eat it.
But if I had to pick something, it’d probably be a great big burrito or something like that.
Illinois Matmen: When you’re done wrestling at Illinois, what do you hope people say about you and your career?
Richards: Honestly, people can say whatever they want to say about me and it’s not something I think about a whole lot because I don’t feel like I’m doing this for other people. I’m doing this for myself.
I guess if people do say something about me I hope that it’s I gave 100-percent effort, left nothing and really went after it.
Illinois Matmen: What do you envision doing in life after college wrestling?
Richards: There is no life outside of wrestling (laughs).
In all seriousness, after college, I expect to train for the next level and compete internationally. Outside of that, I’d like to give back and coach. I’d like to stay in wrestling for as long as I can, even if that’s part-time coaching as a minimum.
Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.