Isaiah White poses for a portrait inside the Hendricks Training Complex on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska

On senior wrestler Isaiah White’s 8th birthday, his father, Walter, took Isaiah to the local wrestling gym, the Romeoville Spartans Kids Club. 

“That was a day in my life that I will always remember,” White said. “It was the day that fundamentally changed who I am today and what I do.” 

That day, Walter, a former wrestler himself, taught Isaiah all about wrestling, working out and “grinding hard every day.” That’s exactly what Isaiah did from that day forward, as he started going to that gym to wrestle.

“I remember a kid I would wrestle everyday, then after about a month or so, I beat him. That kid didn’t want to wrestle me anymore after that,” White said. 

White’s hard work and determination continued into his high school wrestling career, where it sometimes worked to his own detriment. White, a self-declared goofball and jokester, was so dedicated to his wrestling that he often neglected his school work and did not take academics seriously. 

“There were times that people had to tell me to step back from wrestling to focus more on school, because I was just so into wrestling,” White said. 

While White readily admits to being overly absorbed by wrestling at times, he still maintains a normal balance of wrestling, school and hobbies. White loves to play video games, and even labels himself a “hardcore gamer.” His competitiveness carries over to the various sports video games he plays, as he claims that he could beat anyone who challenges him. 

White also values spending time with his family, which he believes is very important. 

“I don’t get to see my family very often, because of how far away they are,” White said. “So any chance I get to see them is special to me.” 

While White has found a balance in his life, that was not always the case. Due to his poor academic performance in high school, he was forced to go to an NCAA Division II school, wrestling for Notre Dame College in Ohio his freshman year. This was despite receiving multiple DI offers and having “kind of committed” to wrestle at Ohio State. Coming out of high school, he was ranked as the number one wrestler in the country at the 152-pound weight class by FloWrestling. 

He didn’t squander his opportunity, helping Notre Dame College to a team national championship win and winning the individual title at the 165-pound weight class. White said he has no “negative memories” of his career there, but he needed to move onto bigger things.

White then transferred to Nebraska after improving his academic standing and has been a regular for the Huskers at the 165-pound spot since arriving on campus. In his career at Nebraska, White is 63-20 in all competitions, but has been frustrated with his postseason performances. 

“When I got to Nebraska, people thought that I could win a national title, but my first year going out at [round] 12 was so painful,” White said. 

While White improved last postseason, finishing fifth nationally and earning All-American honors, White believes he still has room for improvement.

“I know that I can be a national champion, I just have to keep putting in the hard work everyday and it will pay off, I’m very confident about that,” he said.

Head coach Mark Manning shares a similar belief about White’s standing amongst the elite 165-pound wrestlers nationally.

“We know he can be a national champion and he’s at one of the toughest weight classes,” he said. “There’s about three guys at his weight he has trouble with and he’s right there with all of them and he just needs to break that barrier down and be who he should be.” 

White did break down a barrier of sorts on Sunday, Feb. 2, in his match against Ohio State’s Ethan Smith. While fighting through a left ankle injury, he got the pin with two seconds remaining to help the Huskers take down the No. 4 Buckeyes, 19-14. It not only can be seen as a season-altering win for the Huskers as a team, but also for White personally. 

“It was a tough match and he [Smith] is a great opponent, but it felt great to get the pin in front of the home crowd,” White said. “Coach said, ‘it’s not broken, you’re going to be able to walk again, go out there and finish the match.’”

This was an especially important victory for White as he had been in the midst of a three-match losing streak. This also was White’s first victory by pin this season. Clinching the victory helped to move the Huskers to No. 6 nationally and White to No. 5 nationally in the 165-pound weight class.

“He’s really grown as a wrestler and a person, that’s what college athletics is all about and Isaiah was a perfect example of that today,” Manning said. “We know he can be a national champion.”   

Beyond wrestling, White says that his ultimate goal is to coach at any level, but would really enjoy coaching at the collegiate level. 

“I would love to show kids, especially those that are disadvantaged, that there’s a way out,” he said. “You don’t have to turn to the streets, with hard work and determination there’s a way out of any situation no matter how dark it seems.”