Houdashelt wraps up career on top

The senior took down Edinboro’s David Habat in overtime Saturday to claim an individual title.
Missouri Tigers wrestler Drake Houdashelt and Edinboro's David Habat compete Saturday, March 21, 2015, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — Drake Houdashelt had been on this podium before.

Two other times, actually.

But this time around, in his final year, he stood the highest. He had finally accomplished his biggest goal: to be a national champion.

In his last two national tournaments, Houdashelt ended sixth and fifth. This weekend, despite a difficult outcome for the Missouri Tigers as a whole, Houdashelt won the 149-pound bracket.

In the last match of his collegiate career, Houdashelt faced off against No. 3 David Habat of Edinboro. A scoreless first period indicated how tough the final stretch in the quest for the national title would be.

Houdashelt was finally able to snag an escape with a little over a minute left in the second period, entering the third up a point.

An escape from Habat led to overtime, where Houdashelt got a takedown to win it in sudden victory.

“I wasn’t really thinking,” Houdashelt said. “I was so tired. (My coaches) told me to keep going. And it paid off. I was feeling pretty confident in myself going into overtime.”

Last year, when Missouri sophomore J’den Cox won his national championship, he raised his hands in celebration.

Sitting in the stands this tournament, this year’s 197-pound fifth-place finisher did the same, but for Houdashelt’s victory.

“Holy smokes,” an excited Cox said shortly after giving his teammate a tight hug. “It was awesome. That was actually just as good as winning it. Gosh.”

A four-time conference champion, Houdashelt has had his fair share of success at Mizzou, but never seemed to be able to clinch the big title.

He said that every night, while he’s laying in bed, he imagines hugging his coaches following a national championship win.

After finishing the match at the Scottrade Center in front of a crowd of 19,715, the senior did just that, running straight to coach Brian Smith for an emotional embrace.

“Drake and I are very close, so this is very special,” Smith said, his voice cracking. “He’s amazing. If I had 10 of those, I would not have to work very hard, because that kid does everything you ask of him. He just does everything.”

Since he met him, Smith has compared his fifth national champion to Cole Trickle, a racecar driver played by Tom Cruise in the 1990 film “Days of Thunder,” because of his high energy.

“I said, ‘Dude, you wrestle like that every day, you’re not going to make it to your second year,’” Smith said. “He wrestles every day 100 miles an hour, bouncing off the walls, diving through.

“I’m like, ‘Take it easy.’ But he doesn’t know that. He only knows one speed, which is just going and going and going. That’s why he’s a national champ.”

You may ask yourself, “What’s next for Drake Houdashelt?”

He just wants some chicken fingers and french fries. And Smith said he’d be happy to buy him them.

A St. Louis native, Houdashelt was able to reach the pinnacle of his career in front of his hometown crowd.

“This is where I started wrestling when I was seven,” he said. “And it’s kind of nice to come back to St. Louis and finish my career off, especially like I just did. It’s unreal.”

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