The former college All-American, Olympic wrestler has brought his experience to Saint Thomas Aquinas. We sat down with Akin to ask him a few questions about his program.
Connor Ragan: How does your connection with the athletes help them down the road?
Eric Akin: A lot of people that I’ve worked with, I’ve coached their whole lives. I’m sometimes like a sports agent to some of them; a free one.
CR: What is your professional experience?
EA: I wrestled at Iowa State University. I was a 4-time All-American, earned a place at the NCAA tournament every season, and got second place at nationals my senior year. I was named an Olympic team alternate, which means I was the “number 2” American in 1996 and 2000.
CR: When was your last professional competition?
EA: 2007. I was 36, and up to #4 in the U.S. (rankings).
CR: How can a wrestler compete, looking for matches?
EA: There aren’t leagues, so it’s a lot of tournaments, and individually-funded clubs. A big one around here is the U.S. Open; anyone can come to this one. Then the top eight from that tournament wrestle at the World Team Trials, and you have to win that to represent the U.S. at the Olympics.
CR: How has your coaching experience helped you to this point?
EA: It’s been great. It’s been like a big melting pot. I’ve gotten to learn from a bunch of different guys, and my knowledge has expanded. The wide variety of styles and the level of competition prepares you, and you’ve been preparing your whole life. I now know what it takes for a young man to become a champion on the high school, college, and Olympic level.
CR: Is wrestling more about skill or sheer athleticism?
EA: It’s mostly skill, and a lot of mental toughness. It’s a very taxing sport on your body, and you can easily get tired. It’s painful sometimes.
CR: Can you easily spot potential champions on a team early on?
EA: At the high school level, sometimes you can tell right away, ‘That kid’s gonna be a tough kid.’ And sometimes the kid’s not showing much potential, and you start wondering, ‘Why is this kid wrestling?’, but he continues to improve and eventually places at state.
CR: Last year, the wrestling team was rather small. What’s changed this year?
EA: It might be somethings with a new “attractiveness” of the program, with a new coach and everything. Coach [Lorne] Parks is a good coach, and he built one of the strongest and richest programs in Kansas; I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to be a part of that. It’s also generational. Sometimes, you’ll have a freshman class where two or three guys come out for wrestling, and the next year, you’ll get a class with 20 kids that want to give it a try. I have to pick Coach Parks’ brain a lot, let him mentor me; he’s been really helpful.
CR: How far do you think the team can go this season?
EA: Well, we don’t have a lot of depth. We do, however, have a handful of guys that could win the state title. It’s gonna take me a couple of years to fill every weight class with that same caliber of wrestler. But we have some of the best wrestlers in the state. I don’t want to tell anyone, “Make your goal to place at state.” I want them to shoot to win state.