Sweat drips from Chad Red Jr.’s face down onto the mat. He is down 3-2 in the final period with only 30 seconds remaining in the match. He looks into the stands and sees his mother, Niki, who mouths to him, ‘What are you going to do?’
He immediately gets into an aggressive stance and takes down his opponent. His opponent was a junior from Minnesota, Tommy Thorn, who had been an All-American the previous year. The match was the championship round for the 141-pound weight class at the 2017 Daktronics Open, some of his first wrestling experiences as a Husker after a redshirt season.
After winning that match, Red Jr. would go on to become an All-American himself in his redshirt freshman season and then again in his sophomore season, when he finished the year ranked eighth in the nation in his weight class. Red Jr., now a junior, is currently ranked seventh in the nation in the 141-pound weight class and has high expectations for himself this year.
“I don’t want to go to nationals again and get second or third, or seventh or whatever,” he said. “I plan on leaving with a trophy in my hand.”
His passion for wrestling is clear, and it began early in his childhood with help from his father.
Red Jr. got into wrestling when his father, then head coach at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, would bring his young son to practice to watch and experience wrestling.
His father, Chad Red Sr., who wrestled collegiately at Lincoln College, was the head coach for Lawrence Central High School from 2001-2010, where he shaped his young son’s love for the sport of wrestling. Red Sr. also co-owns a wrestling organization, the Red Cobra Wrestling Academy, which he founded 15 years ago. Under his father’s tutelage, Red Jr. competed for the academy as his father shaped him into a premier wrestler.
“My dad is just always there for me, even though he lives 10 hours away,” Red Jr. said. “He still makes it to every match — he’ll be here for Wyoming, he’ll be at Northern Iowa. He never misses one.”
By the time Red Jr. reached high school, Red Sr. became the head coach at New Palestine High School in a suburb of Indianapolis, a position he has held since 2012. Coached by his father once again, Red Jr. dominated throughout the entirety of his high school career, where he wrestled at a different weight for the Dragons each season, going up from 106 pounds to 120, 126 and eventually 132. He went a combined 183-0, with 133 pins and four state titles in four years.
“My father made me the wrestler and the man I am today,” he said. “He taught everything I know about wrestling obviously, but also about life.”
Following one of the most dominant wrestling careers in Indiana state history, Red Jr. was highly sought after and chose to wrestle at Nebraska to continue his career.
“I chose Nebraska because it feels like a brotherhood,” he said. “I love everything about being here; it’s an awesome experience.”
Red Jr. took a redshirt year in his first year at Nebraska in which he still wrestled for the team, but his totals and results did not count at duals or in his personal statistics. After taking his redshirt year, Red Jr. picked up right where he left off from high school, with a lot of success. He finished the year 26-11 overall and finished seventh at the NCAA tournament. Along with Taylor Venz, Red Jr. was the first Husker freshman to earn All-American honors since 2012.
“Wrestling has taught me to be mentally tough, and that’s something I use in my everyday life as well,” Red Jr. said. “Things are going to weigh you down, and you have to overcome it.”
In his sophomore season, Red Jr. struggled, at least according to his standards, finishing 22-14 in the regular season. Red Jr. did not place at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, where he had placed fourth the previous year.
“There were just times in the season where I didn’t feel like myself and I wasn’t really enjoying wrestling all that much,” he said.
Red Jr. snapped out of the funk in time to finish second in his weight class at the Big Ten tournament, an improvement over his seventh-place finish the previous season. He carried a lot of momentum into the NCAA tournament but couldn’t capitalize, as he finished eighth in his weight class.
“I just keep that memory in my head; it motivates me every day,” he said.
Despite underachieving for his standards, Red Jr. was still awarded All-American honors for the second time. This year, however, he will let nothing stop him.
“I always wrestle like I’m number two trying to be number one,” he said. “This year, I’ll wrestle through any situation, sickness, injury, you name it — I’ll wrestle through it this year.”
Red Jr. feels as though he has as good a chance as anyone in the country to win the national title.
“I’m not going to hesitate to go after anyone, no matter what,” he said. “I’m always going to stay aggressive and hungry. No one is going to stop me this year. I’m getting that trophy; I’m going to win.”