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OPRF junior wrestler Darius Henry has never competed against someone who didn't know his language, so quick, post-match salutations have never been a problem.
But when Henry joins two of his teammates and a "surrogate Huskie" at the FILA Cadet World Championships in Hungary Aug. 23-28, he may encounter a language barrier in squaring off against top wrestlers from countries such as Iran and Russia.
That doesn't mean the Huskie star wrestler is racing out to buy an English-Russian dictionary, though.
"They speak some English, but not a lot," said Henry, laughing off a question about learning some Russian in the next few weeks. Post-match, he plans to "just give them a handshake and give them a hug and get my hand raised, hopefully."
Henry has much more important things to be worried about than what to say after a match. It's what he does in the matches that matters, as for him, Matthew Rundell, Zane Richards and Sam Brooks, the August trip to Hungary is the first step toward competing for a future spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
Brooks has been angling for a chance to go to the Olympics as a wrestler for nearly his entire life. He didn't put a date on when he hopes to make it, only saying "eventually, as soon as possible."
Given his talent and work ethic, that's a dream that certainly could be realized.
"He's pretty well a proven superstar," said coach Mike Powell, who proceeded to list off Brooks' numerous accomplishments. "He is the No. 1 guy his age in the country, and that's why he's going to represent.
"He's our poster-child right now. He's a great testimony to hard work and dedication. I think he's been training year-round since he was [in fourth grade]. He's a great kid to have as a role model for the rest of our program."
Brooks noted he's never been overseas to wrestle, although his mother confirmed the only time her youngest son has been out of the country was on a trip to Canada.
"It should be real cool, I think," said Brooks. "I can't wait."
Henry similarly has never been overseas. "I should check to see that he has a passport," said Powell.
While Henry hasn't traveled the world, he has world-class talent according to his coach.
"His talent is limitless," said Powell. "Wrestling is a sport that's a lot more about work than it is about talent. If Darius is willing to really put in a couple of good weeks here and stay in top shape and keep his weight under control, I think he has as good a chance as anybody on that Greco-Roman team to bring home a medal."
Henry has only wrestled for two years, and in that time he's improved to a point where Powell admits, with more hard work, he could eventually be on the same level as former OPRF superstar Ellis Coleman.
"I would've never thought that I would've made it to the world championships in wrestling my freshman year," said Henry. "Making it here was a big accomplishment."
For the other two Huskies traveling to Hungary, making it to the FILA World Championships is a similarly big accomplishment.
Rundell is an incoming freshman who Powell has tabbed as the next in a long line of greats to come through the OPRF wrestling program. As an alternate, he was selected to go to Hungary when the wrestler ahead of him didn't make weight.
"He's going to be a real superstar for us," said Powell. "He's a great kid with a great work ethic and comes from a wrestling family."
As for Richards, who resides in Carbondale and is referred to as the "surrogate Huskie" by Powell, being selected to the games was not only a great accomplishment, but also an unlikely one.
"Zane doesn't have a great training situation, although he's got a dad who's a very good coach," said Powell. "Where Zane is, there isn't much wrestling. His high school team is relatively small and not very good, so he comes up here and trains with us a lot.
"I think Zane is pound-for-pound, perhaps the best incoming senior in the country."
Richards will join Brooks, with whom he is staying in Oak Park, in wrestling freestyle in Hungary. Henry and Rundell will wrestle Greco-Roman.
For Henry, next month's trip to Hungary will be a chance to realize one of his main goals in his wrestling career, which are lofty yet reachable.
"This is the first step because I want to wrestle Greco in college, and get a scholarship," said Henry. "I want to wrestle my whole life, be in the Olympics, win the Olympics, win the World Championships."
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