Photo By Paul Flessland
There’s no other wrestler in the Bison program that has the motor or tenacity of Clay Ream. The aggressive and mean-switch is only turned on before hitting the mat, but his challenge is to now make sure it stays on throughout the season.
Boom. The hospital doors fly open and the loud sirens from the ambulance parked outside are screaming. The EMTs come crashing through the swinging doors with a victim who is experiencing a potentially fatal injury. Tubes and wires are wrapped around the stretcher as doctors and nurses take over, rushing the patient down the hallways of the ER. The victim needs surgery or it’s over. Who is willing to go behind the mask? Who can grab the scalpel and save this life?
Look no further than North Dakota State’s sophomore Clay Ream.
Well, not yet, but the 149-pound wrestler from Wentzville, Mo., can’t wait for his opportunity as a trauma surgeon.
For now, Ream isn’t battling a life-taking wound or a patient an eyelash away from death. He’s battling the best college wrestlers in the world. Today, he’s fighting his personal battle by trying to replicate last season – a season that few freshmen have when he grappled his way to the NCAA Championships.
But before he became one of the five Bison wrestlers representing NDSU at the NCAAs, Ream was winning state championships in his home state of Missouri.
During the beginning of summer before his senior year of high school, Ream won a national championship in folk-style. Suddenly, major programs in the Midwest started inquiring about this kid from Holt High School – located 45 minutes west of St. Louis – and who was ranked among the Top-100 high school recruits in the nation.
Head coach Roger Kish invited Ream to Fargo for a visit. It wouldn’t be Ream’s first or last official visit, but something about the atmosphere scratched his curiosity about the Bison community.
“It was a family,” Ream said. “I felt like I could be myself and joke around and have fun and I didn’t get that impression at other places. It felt like people were trying to be my friend because coach told them, ‘Hey, befriend this kid.’ But here, it felt natural.”
By the end of the summer, Kish had his guy. Ream committed to NDSU before the fall semester began. He finished his senior year with a 52-1 record and a state championship in Missouri’s Class 4, the highest in the state.
Ream struggled his first season at NDSU. As most star high school wrestlers realize, the college mat is unforgiving, especially when you partner with All- American Steven Monk in practice.
“He beat me up every single day,” said Ream with a laugh as he points to a spot on the mat where it all happened.
Ream wasn’t just taking a beating in practice. He took a redshirt his first year in Fargo. This meant he could wrestle in selected tournaments, but would do so unattached so it had no affect on the team overall. The beating continued.
After Ream was defeated in a major decision against a wrestler from Concordia-Moorhead, he’d had enough. Frustration had carried him to his lowest point.
“I actually called my dad,” Ream said. “I told him, ‘I don’t think I’m made out to be a college wrestler. I might quit.’ I was facing guys that weren’t D-I and they were the smaller schools and I was like ‘Jeez, if I can’t beat these guys, then how am I going to beat D-I guys?’ I said, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ I was coming from high school where I always won to this, where I’m losing. It was a hard transition to understanding that losing is a process.”
Patrick Ream, Clay’s dad, told his son over the phone to stick it out. He told him he could make the transition like many of his teammates. This is when Ream’s attitude changed.
“Two weeks before Christmas break, I just decided I haven’t been wrestling,” Ream said. “I went out there scared on the mat, scared to face these college guys. I decided I at least want to lose wrestling giving my best, and so when I started going out there with that mentality, I started winning more and more.”
After coming back to Fargo after the holiday break, Ream found a groove. He won eight of his last nine matches of the 2013-14 season, won his weight class at the Ridgewater Open and placed second in the Briar Cliff Open.
Ream moved down to the 149-weight class from the 157-classification to begin the 2014-15 season. He was now a year more experienced and a year smarter. Kish gave him his vote of confidence to represent the team at his weight. In his first dual, he was surgical, pinning the No. 10-ranked Virginia’s TJ Miller and caught the attention of the coaching staff.
“He’s very physical, very physical, very aggressive,” assistant coach Manny Rivera said. “He’s not a mean person, but he wrestles pretty mean. If you watch him, it’s not the prettiest or the smoothest, but it’s definitely effective.”
Ream finished his redshirt freshman campaign with a 25- 13 record, qualified for the NCAA Championships by winning the Western Wrestling Conference/ West Region championship at 149 and was named Western Wrestling Conference Freshman of the Year.
Ream’s 2-2 record at the NCAAs was more than a .500 performance. It was a learning experience he’s been able to take with him into this season.
“I know that any match is winnable coming away from the NCAA experience,” Ream said. “I wrestled some high-level guys and I won those matches. I came close to winning another one before I got knocked out of the tournament. It helps knowing I’m at that level. Well, I can be. If I perform my very best, I could get an All-American. I could face these guys that you see that are on the top of the charts.”
Rivera said he met the expectations the coaching staff had put on the former Top 100 recruit. He continued, saying it was just the beginning for Ream, who he still thinks could have finished even better than 2-2 at the NCAA Championships.
This season has been an eye-opener for Ream. Coming off a wildly successful freshman season, the wins have yet to add up this year and he has found himself just above .500 in his matches and unranked.
“He’s had some good wins, some very good wins, but he’s had some questionable losses,” Rivera said. “Even sometimes he’ll look good in one match during a tournament, then his next match he’s not the same guy out there.”
Rivera also noted the inconsistencies in Ream’s performances, especially in tournaments, due to the lack of nutrition. But he added it’s a part of the learning process.
“This season has not gone to plan at all,” Ream said. “I expected to be winning more high-level matches, but I’ve only won a couple so I feel like that hurt me a little bit for rankings and stuff. But I just keep thinking, all that matters is the conference (tournament).”
Rivera and Ream both agree he can be an All-American-caliber wrestler. That’s the expectation and the biochemistry student isn’t expecting anything less from this season.
While the battles in the trauma room are in the future, Ream is now confronted with a challenge of putting back together his NCAA Championships form. He said he feels the peak coming this season, and for the rest of the conference, it may be too late to implement a state of emergency for future Dr. Ream.