Nick Hagar knows how to fail. He just hasn't had to deal with it very often during his high school athletic career.
Especially when it comes to wrestling. The Tomahawk senior has compiled an incredible 148-5 regular-season record and is 148-5 overall during his first three seasons, losing three matches as a freshman and two as a sophomore before going 50-0 a year ago.
Hagar ended each of those campaigns with Division 2 state championships on the mats in Madison. Should he complete this year in the same position, Hagar would become only the 10th Wisconsin competitor to accomplish the feat.
To his credit, Hagar worries about short-term goals, such as every practice and each match and lets other people think about the rest.
"It would be awesome if I do it," Hagar said. "It's another goal of mine and I know it's tangible because I've done it. If I don't win a fourth straight title, I won't break down or anything. But I certainly want to win it and will do everything in my power to do it."
Hagar's titles have come at 125, 135 and 140 pounds, and he'll likely compete in the 145-pound bracket in his chase to join an elite group.
Bob Garrou has directed the Hatchets' varsity program for six seasons and was an assistant for 17 years before that, so he's watched and helped Hagar become one of the state's best.
"I've been taking Nick to tournaments since he was in kindergarten," Garrou said. "I'm in pretty good shape, but if I didn't have 50 pounds on him I'd be in serious trouble. We've had great kids come through here, but Nick is incredible. One of them, Josh Chelf, was a three-time state finalist and won a title (in 2004) and then went to UW-La Crosse, where he was a four-time All-American and won two national titles. Nick is head and shoulders better."
That's quite an endorsement, but Garrou said that his star pupil simply has no weaknesses.
"Nick in unbelievable in that within 15 to 20 seconds, he figures out his opponent's style and weaknesses," Garrou said. "He's a lot like a University of Iowa wrestler in that he wears his foes down on his feet and hand fights. He is always in perfect position and balance. I believe he's only given up eight takedowns (in high school)."
So, it's easy to see why Hagar—who's also qualified for state every year in cross country and helped Tomahawk win the team title this fall and reached La Crosse in track twice--has been nearly perfect on the mat.
Hagar is 10-0 at state with six of the victories coming by one or two points, featuring two double overtime decisions, including last year's 5-4 triumph over Kalvin York of Belleville/Monticello/New Glarus in the finale.
Needless to say, many colleges knew about Hagar's exploits, including Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Missouri, Michigan, Central Michigan and Penn State, although none of them followed through with a scholarship.
However, he recently received an offer he couldn't refuse: a full-ride from South Dakota State, where he'll work on a premed or pre-dental degree.
Hagar is happy that the recruiting process is over, but he's concentrating on the little things that got him to this point.
"I feel like I'm pretty good on my feet and whether I'm on top or bottom, but my coaches have stressed all along about being the most balanced I can be," Hagar said. "That's why we practice every day to be prepared for every situation. My coaches always have said to get great at your style and you'll be hard to beat. I've always been more of a defensive wrestler and capitalized on my opponents' mistakes. But I've learned to be more offensive and get on the attack. I've always been right-handed with everything, but I know in college I'll have to do a lot more from the left."
That's only extra motivation for an already self-motivated and intense competitor.
"Nick is a great leader because he never takes a break and is always willing to do extra things and then do more," Garrou said. "He'll go run four miles after practice. I've told him since he was young that you'll be successful if you outwork everybody. Nick is meticulous in everything he does. If he's in a musical and has to take 17 hours to learn a song, he'll do it."
That's why most people in prep wrestling circles expect him to be playing the same tune come March. But he's trying not to put anymore undue stress on himself or the season.
"Getting the signing out of the way takes a lot of pressure off," Hagar said. "Last year it was like, what if something happens and I don't win with colleges watching me. But this season is just for personal goals and pride."