Konrad takes a human approach to an inhuman streak

Minnesota heavyweight Cole Konrad hasn't lost in 65 matches. But he's not basking in the glow of victory, writes Michael Rand.

Updated: February 14, 2007, 11:49 AM ET
By Michael Rand | Special to ESPN.com

University of Minnesota heavyweight Cole Konrad has not lost in his past 65 college wrestling matches, a streak that puts him, according to the school, in the top 15 all-time in Division I. It's the type of run that can make any athlete seem like a machine.

Cole Konrad
AP Photo/Ty RussellCole Konrad defeated his closest competitor, Oklahoma State's Steve Mocco, in the finals of the 2006 NCAA wrestling championships.
But rest assured: Konrad is human.

Truth is, the streak was eating at him before the season started -- before he'd added 24 more victories to his tally.

"I used to lay in bed this fall," Konrad said. "I'd be up until three or four in the morning thinking about it."

You'd think it would be the other way around, with opponents lying awake thinking about facing him. But that leads us to another point of Konrad's humanity: The forfeits really bother him.

Because he wrestles at heavyweight -- typically the final weight class to wrestle, unless another arrangement has been made -- the outcome of dual meets often already has been determined by the time it's his turn. And six times in duals this season -- most recently Sunday at Nebraska -- the opposing heavyweight has forfeited rather than take a turn on the mat with Konrad.

"It [ticks] me off quite a bit, actually," Konrad said. "I just have to accept it, but I don't see the reasoning behind it. I worked hard to get to where I'm at. At least show someone else how far they have to go to get to this level. But whatever."

Not whatever. We weren't even close to done talking about the forfeits. The first time it happened, Konrad was a sophomore and the Gophers were wrestling at Wisconsin, Konrad's home state. He had about 60 friends and family members there to see him compete. And then there was a forfeit.

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In retrospect, that time doesn't bother him as much. The heavyweight was a converted 197-pounder, while Konrad tends to tip the scales a little closer to the maximum 285-pound mark. And the Badgers' wrestler had the courtesy the following year, when the teams competed at Minnesota, to call ahead and warn the Gophers he was going to do the same thing, Konrad said.

"It's understandable if the guy is little, I guess, because I'm a bigger heavyweight. If I land with my shoulder on his chest, I could hurt him pretty good," Konrad said. "But if it's just heavyweights backing down … Yeah, maybe it's a sign of respect, but it's a sign of disrespect, too. At least have the respect to send a guy out there. You should have enough trust and faith in your own guy that he's going to give it his best shot."

Then again, it hasn't really mattered lately. Michigan State sent Allan O'Donnell out Friday in Konrad's final home dual. Konrad pinned him in 1 minute, 36 seconds.

Forfeit. Pin. Decision. The victories all count the same, and they keep piling up. And unlike past seasons, when Oklahoma State's Steve Mocco was on the scene, there are no dominant challengers in sight. Mocco defeated Konrad in the 2005 NCAA title match, the last time Konrad lost. Konrad returned the favor by defeating Mocco in last year's championship match.

But Mocco is done. The current No. 2-ranked heavyweight, Bubba Gritter of Central Michigan? Konrad defeated him via technical fall, 18-3, in just 4 minutes, 25 seconds at this year's National Duals.

For his part, Konrad is doing a much better job managing the streak and keeping it in perspective. The sleepless nights are over thanks to heart-to-heart talks with Gophers coach J Robinson. In fact, Konrad insists he doesn't even know how many he's won in a row. He also said he doesn't study opponents on film. In both cases, he'd rather not have too much information -- instead, he said, he'd prefer to just go out and wrestle.

Cole Konrad, left.
AP Photo/Matthew PutneyCole Konrad is looking forward to a professional career after college.
"A kid could be ranked in top 10, and I might not know. Outside of four or five top guys that I know really well, I don't have a clue," Konrad said. "I've found that if I get it in my head that the kid is supposed to be good, then I pull back a little. I tend to wrestle better not knowing. I won't watch film on anybody. I don't care to know what they're doing because I really don't change."

That attitude might change once college is over and Konrad starts taking even more serious aim at international competition -- both the World Team trials this year and the Olympic trials in 2008 -- but for now it suits him fine.

While he hopes this year's NCAA team race doesn't come down to his final match at heavyweight -- mathematically, that could mean some of the Gophers other wrestlers had stumbled -- he relishes the thought that it could. It's not about improving on his already lofty Gophers wrestling legacy; rather, it's about a quiet confidence Konrad has when he's doing what he loves.

"I've thought about my place in Gophers history; I'd be lying if I said I hadn't," Konrad said. "But I don't put too much stock in it right now because I know that if I let down, someone else will beat me. The more I think about it, the more pressure there is to perform. I'm a worrier by nature. … When I'm out there just having fun, that's when I'm at my best."

Still don't think he's human? Well, when reached by phone early this week, Konrad was on his way to a shopping mall. He was searching for a Valentine's Day gift for his girlfriend, and he had no clue what he was going to buy.

"I'm just going to wander around until I find something," he said of his strategy.

That's a tactic used by a man, not a machine.

Michael Rand is a staff writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He can be contacted at mrand333@yahoo.com.