Video: Unbeatable — Jake Herbert won two national championships at Northwestern and now has his sights set on becoming one of the world's best wrestlers. Here he reveals the secret to his success. See more videos from Northwestern magazine.
If you want to get to know Jake Herbert, it'd probably be best to do it anywhere but on a wrestling mat.
"When that whistle blows and you're trying to beat me and take away a national title, I'm going to hurt you," he says jokingly. "But I'll pick you up afterward, and we can still be buddy-buddy."
The 6-foot, 184-pound Herbert leaves Northwestern as the best wrestler in school history. He posted a flawless 34-0 record in his final season. It's been two years since Herbert last lost on the collegiate level, and he never lost a match at Welsh-Ryan Arena. His last defeat, the fourth and final loss of his collegiate career, came in 2006 in the NCAA finals.
Herbert's career included two NCAA Championships, four All-American honors and three Big Ten Conference titles, among other accolades. And earlier this spring he received college wrestling's top honor, the Hodge Trophy, the sport's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
Now Herbert is eyeing an even bigger prize than his collegiate achievements: an Olympic gold medal. Herbert hung up the purple for the 2007–08 year to train for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. He competed in Belarus, Ukraine and Greece with early success, but he fell short of the goal. He says he just ran out of gas.
When Herbert returned to the Wildcats last fall, he was even harder to beat than before. "I had been wrestling the world's best men, Russian men, and now I'm coming back and wrestling 20-, 21-year-old boys," he says. "I already know I'm a level above them."
And Herbert's Olympic quest isn't over yet. Herbert, who grew up in Wexford, Pa., plans to spend the next four years training, possibly at Northwestern, for London in 2012.
Herbert took a big first step toward that Olympic goal when he won the 185-pound weight division at the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas in April. Herbert — who entered the event as the No. 6 seed — was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler. By winning his weight class, Herbert became the No. 1 seed at 185 pounds for the U.S. World Team Trials, held in late May.
The communication studies major says he is a living testament that athletes can succeed academically (he's a two-time Academic All–Big Ten honoree) and athletically at Northwestern. He wants to use his outstanding career here at Northwestern to help develop the wrestling program down the road.
"If you have someone who's winning and dominating like I have, that's going to attract more wrestlers to Northwestern," he says. "I want to be that spokesperson for Northwestern wrestling."