For Kevin Radford, the journey to Tempe was long and unpredictable.
The redshirt freshman was raised in an Air Force family and is no stranger to moving around the globe. Radford lived in a number of locations as a kid including Germany, Louisiana and Japan. He was always prepared for the unexpected.
Now, Radford knows exactly what to expect. He knows exactly what his life as a member of the youthful ASU wrestling squad will look like for the next several years.
“I used to just get my butt whipped every day in practice,” Radford said. “A couple times during my true freshman year, I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m cut out for this.’ I just wasn’t seeing the results, but coach (Shawn) Charles kept with me.”
With Charles’ vote of confidence, Radford remained committed to wrestling. After not touching the mat during competition last year, the 184-pounder is 16-10 this season with the third most victories on the team.
Radford’s perseverance can be attributed to his roots. The Dayton, Ohio, native is no stranger to having to make adjustments. When he moved back to the U.S. from Japan before his junior year of high school, he had to practically reinvent himself on the mat.
“The wrestling styles in Japan and in America are totally different,” Radford said. “So, that whole summer, I was basically trying to figure out how to wrestle American-style.”
Not only did he have to learn a completely new style of grappling, but he also had to improve his conditioning in order to hang with the tougher American competition.
“When I got back to the states, my condition level wasn’t very good,” Radford said. “I was used to going two minutes, if that. The first time I wrestled a full six-minute match in high school, after two minutes, I was looking for a break and trying to walk off the mat. My coaches were yelling and screaming at me.”
Radford’s junior season proved to be a defining moment in his wrestling career. Once he acclimated himself to American-style wrestling, he knew he had a shot at competing at the next level.
“I felt like I could beat those kids (at the collegiate level),” Radford said. “I thought that if I went on to wrestle in college, I could become one of the better guys in the country.”
Radford ultimately chose ASU over offers from Appalachian State, Hofstra, Tennessee Chattanooga and UNC Greensboro. However, a fresh crop of challenges arose for the young wrestler upon his arrival in Tempe.
“He had kind of a tough time last year and at the beginning of this year because he had some tough guys around his weight,” team captain and redshirt junior heavyweight Levi Cooper said. “But he listens well, and he’s really come a long way this season from where he started to where he’s at right now. It’s been really fun to watch.”
Radford attributes his progress to the fact that he continually makes adjustments to his technique and keeps “chipping away at it” in order to become the best wrestler he can possibly be.
“He’s changed up some of the things that he was having problems with,” Cooper said. “He’s really starting to understand the kinds of things he needs to do to win.”
Assistant coach Brian Stith echoed Cooper’s sentiment and said Radford has come as advertised.
“He’s everything he said he was when we recruited him,” Stith said. “He has the ability, and he’s come in and already gotten better. He’s put himself in a very good spot to make it to nationals.”
Radford got his chance to shine this year when senior Jake Meredith, the 2011 Pac-10 champion at 184 pounds, went down with a knee injury before the season started.
Radford capitalized on the opportunity.
“He didn’t think that he was going to have that chance (to start) this year, but when Meredith was injured and we lost a couple guys, he had to step up starting when we went to New York (on Nov. 26),” Cooper said. “From then on, I think I really started to see a change in him where he believed that he’s good enough to wrestle with these guys.”
Of course, Radford is just one of a handful of talented freshmen focused on bringing the ASU wrestling program back to national prominence.
“I think that by our junior or senior year, we could easily be top 10 or top five in the country,” Radford said. “Everybody brings something a little different to the table, and we all have different things that make us really dangerous as wrestlers.”
As for the immediate future, such as the Pac-12 Championships on Feb. 26 in Boise, Idaho, Radford and his fellow Sun Devils are expecting to make waves at the conference tournament.
“We’re hungry,” Stith said. “We’re starting to get that attitude right now that we’re not going to wait to be good. Just because we’re young, that’s not a reason to not shoot for the stars and win titles and do well.”
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