Isaiah Spencer accused himself of not being as well-conditioned as he had hoped.
Perhaps it was a factor in the semifinals of the Sergeant Bluff-Luton Invitational on Dec. 7 as Spencer, a Spencer High School senior, lost a 2-1 third-period lead when No. 4-ranked Sean Monahan of Woodbury Central rallied for a 7-4 victory in the final 30 seconds of 160-pound semifinals.
“I need to get a lot better at that,” said the No. 7-ranked (Class 3A) Spencer, who settled for a third-place finish that particular day.
Everything else has been strong for Spencer, who had competed in the Class 2A state tournament in each of his two previous years. He has also had to deal with a hamstring issue that cost him the first 2 ½ games of his football season.
Spencer is better known as the leading rusher of the Spencer Tigers each of the last two seasons. He won first-team Class 3A all-state honors as a junior when he carried for 1,533 yards and 20 touchdowns on an 8-3 squad that
reached the 3A playoff quarterfinals. The hamstring pull limited him to 908 yards and six touchdowns as a senior, although he still averaged a sharp 6.7 yards per carry.
Yes, he said, football and wrestling complement each other well.
“Wrestling helps my tackling on defense,” said Spencer. “The running helps with the conditioning aspect. I’m smooth as my teammates like to say.”
Spencer is hoping for a smooth year on the wrestling mat. He went 31-10 a year ago, which included a 1-2 mark while competing at 145 at the 2A state wrestling tournament, but that was one more win than he had a year earlier.
Spencer’s signature move is the fireman’s carry, something he saw at the state tournament following his freshman season. That season, he was a fan, cheering for teammates who had qualified.
“Most kids know it’s coming,” he said. “I’ve gotten so good at it that not many of them can really stop it. When I do it right, I keep their arm in. I can almost go into my half from there. I really didn’t start hitting the high crotches until freshman year.
“I just kind of picked up the fireman’s carry and I had a feeling that it was gong to be good. It has worked out well for me. I saw somebody do it and I thought it looked pretty cool so I figured I’d give it a try.”
Spencer Coach Adam Gress feels the fireman’s carry makes Spencer even more explosive.
“He’s been known to have a carry,” said Gress. “He can hit it on both sides. Any sorts of his leg attacks are explosive and quick. That part with his quickness and his explosiveness, not knowing which side he’s going to go is dangerous.
“He has always been explosive and quick, but somehow, or some way, he finds a way to get more explosive and more quick. The styles are different too, when you get bigger. He’s hitting stuff like 106-pounders, 113-pounders and 120-pounders. That part is fun, a 160-punder being able to move like he does. It’s really fun to watch.”
Yet, there’s also an added element of power to Spencer, who topped 100 yards rushing four times as a senior, including a season-best 187 yards in a 34-12 Week 5 Class 3A District 1 win over Denison-Schleswig.
Spencer gets that from working out in the wrestling room with teammate Brogan Seier, a junior who competes at 195. It led to two falls at the SB-L Tournament.
“He’s a pretty strong kid,” Spencer of Seier. “He helps me so if I wrestle a strong kid, I kind of have a feeling of what to do. I’m not just depending on the strength aspect.”
Gress calls Spencer “deceivingly strong”. Football, the coach said, gave him mental toughness, grit and determination, elements that transferred from the gridiron to the wrestling mat, where he has won over 80 career matches.
“If he can take a hit from a 300-pounder, he can take a double-leg from a 160-pounder any day of the week,” said Gress. “He’s a really good wrestler. He has been doing it since he has been in kindergarten. You can go back and look at all of his AAU accolades and say he has been a good wrestler for a long time. It has been fun to watch him mature and grow.”
Naturally, Spencer’s goal is for a state championship to cap off his senior year. He’s willing to do what it takes, no matter how much time it involves.
“It’s going to take a lot of dedication,” said Spencer. “I’m going to have to practically live in the wrestling room. It’s going to be a lot of hard work. I’m going to have to wake up in the mornings and go on some runs to help my conditioning and keep lifting in the weight room.”
Gress feels it will take that and much more. He said Spencer will need to expand his shots and gut out the close matches.
“That’s probably going to be the biggest one,” said Gress. “When it comes to state tournament time, every match is tough. Every match is going to be a grind. He has to put himself in situations in the practice room where he has to gut out some positions and grind out positions and things like that. That comes from him, not from us as coaches and not from teammates. He has to push himself to do that. If he can do that, there’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to make the podium.”