By Brad DePrez
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Iowa State’s Earl Hall capped off an unlikely run at the 2014 NCAA Championships with an eighth-place finish at 125 pounds, garnering All-America honors. After a fourth-place finish at last year’s Big 12 Championships, it was uncertain if the Homestead, Florida, native would even receive an invite to the NCAA Championships.
Hall would eventually get the nod, joining the 125-pound field unseeded. As soon as he was notified, he called his parents to let them know he’d be competing for a national championship.
“I called my parents and told them the news, and they said, ‘Alright, we’re going to come up for (the NCAAs) then,’” Hall said.
Hall was going to get the chance to wrestle in front of his parents at the highest level of collegiate wrestling, an opportunity that many wrestlers can only dream of and one that comes with a lot of pressure.
“I came to practice the next day, and after practice I just broke down,” Hall said. “I said, ‘I have to make it happen, Coach. I can’t let them down.’”
It was then that Iowa State head coach Kevin Jackson began the transformation of Hall’s mental aspect to his wrestling. He urged Hall to block out those around him and to go out there and wrestle for himself.
“I think that he was probably involving too many people in his thought process, as far as why he’s wrestling and why he competes,” said Jackson. “I told him it’s hard enough to win for yourself, let alone your mom, your dad… and anybody else.”
With his run to the podium at the NCAAs, a new mind frame was instilled in Hall that has carried over to the 2014-15 season. Up a weight class to 133 pounds, Hall has risen to as high as sixth in the national polls and built a 9-0 record to begin the New Year. During this streak, Hall has knocked off four top-10 foes, two by fall, won a Southern Scuffle title and has been named Big 12 Wrestler of the Week twice.
“I don’t put any pressure on myself,” Hall said. “That’s my main focus this year. I just go out there and wrestle for me.”
On top of Jackson’s coaching advice, Hall attributes the addition of four-time All-American at Indiana and 2008 national champion, Angel Escobedo to the Iowa State coaching staff as a huge part of the success that he’s seeing on the mat this season.
“It’s like having a big brother in my corner,” Hall said. “He’s the perfect coach for me. He wrestles with me, he sets the pace for me and sets an example. I feel like his style is rubbing off on me.”
Escobedo says that the relationship is a two-way street. He likes that Hall looks up to him, but he thinks that wrestling with the All-American can help him just as much as it helps Hall.
“It’s something that I can relate to because I’m doing it everyday,” Escobedo said.
Coach Jackson has also noticed the relationship that Escobedo and Hall share and is pleased with how it has translated to success in competition.
“He’s a guy that he trains with everyday that pushes him to another level,” Jackson said. “He’s done the things that Earl wants to accomplish; being an All-American and a national champion. Angel’s done a lot for his confidence.”
One move that Hall has become known for is his patented “cement-mixer,” a move that is not all that common in Folk-style wrestling. It’s a move that derives from his days of working out at the Olympic Training Center, and a move that has led to numerous falls.
“It was something that we worked on out there,” Hall said. “I did it before, but I didn’t really know the necessary technique. I just have kept it with me.”
Jackson knows the value of this high-risk, high-reward pinning combination that Hall has made his signature move.
“When it’s working, we’re really happy with it,” Jackson said. “It’s nice having a move like that in your arsenal to get a fall or guy to his back when the opportunity presents itself.”
With the Big 12 Championships and NCAA Championships barreling down on the Iowa State wrestling team, Hall is well on his way to making a serious statement come March.
“I have to go out there and dominate and just make it happen,” Hall said. “Don’t overlook anybody. Don’t make anybody bigger than they are. Just go out there and win.”
Jackson saw potential in Hall when he was recruiting him at the Olympic Training Center, and now that potential is turning into a reality for the Iowa State wrestling coach.“He had all the skills and intangibles that would allow him to be successful at this level,” Jackson said. “I think if he can really capture the mental aspect and the grind that it takes, he can accomplish a lot.”