Subconsciously, senior varsity wrestler Nathan Kraisser began to tap his fingers against his thigh ever so slightly and look nervously around the coaches’ office, occasionally glancing at his father, Cliff Kraisser, the head coach of Centennial’s junior varsity wrestling team. This anxious movement was the result of a rare occurrence for the three-time state champion: he was missing practice.
At an overall high school record of 146-6, Nathan is on the hunt for state championship number four. If he succeeds, he will be the first in Centennial history, and the fifth in the history of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, to win the state title for every year of his high school career.
The closest any Centennial wrestler has come to the elusive record is Dave Nakasone, the 2002 and 2003 state champion (at 140 and 152 pounds, respectively); Ted Lewis, a state champion in 1980 and 1981 (at 105 and 119 pounds, respectively) and a former teammate of Cliff. Remarkably, Cliff worked tirelessly to his own championship in 1983 on the same mats that both of his sons have shed blood, sweat, and tears. The tradition will continue when yet another Kraisser, Austin; will don a Centennial singlet in his freshman year next season.
Nathan’s indisputable success understandably stems from his Olympian work ethic, as well as his insatiable thirst for victory and competitive nature. Nathan feels as though he owes his success to the number of hours he logs practicing. “I spend a lot of time in the practice room,” he explains. “[Even on] Friday nights when a lot of people are out having fun, I’m in the practice room. It’s not just about the amount of hours I put in, but how hard I’m working in those hours.” Indeed, in the words of varsity head coach David Roogow, “Nathan’s work ethic sets him apart from every wrestler in the state.” Cliff agrees with Roogow, owing Nathan’s success to his work habits. “He pays attention…he gets it the first time, he pays attention to the small details, and he works hard,” expounds Cliff.
A Competitive Drive
As we were talking, Nathan did not hesitate to rattle off his losses, but he had to pause and gaze into the cavernous depths of his brain to conjure what he believed to be the amount of tallies in his win column. Nathan questioned his father on the accuracy of his own math, and Cliff interjected with the correct number. “I hate losing… and I think of my losses… [they] motivate me to work even harder so I don’t lose again,” Nathan proclaimed.
For every Michael Phelps, there is an Ian Thorpe, the long-time foe who gives the protagonist matches that are etched into his memory for a lifetime. Nathan’s “Thorpe” is Dominick Malone. The two have crossed paths in various national tournaments throughout the duo’s high school career. Malone will graduate from Wyoming Seminary High School, an independent college preparatory school located ironically in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the spring, and attend Northwestern University next fall. “He beat me my sophomore and freshman year. That has kept driving me to beat and avenge my losses,” Nathan explained. Malone is the only person to have beat Nathan more than a single time throughout Nathan’s entire high school career and leads the series between the pair 2-3 (one of these victories includes an overtime win).
Through videos posted on various websites dedicated to wrestling, the matches between the duo are captivating, similar to a pair of king cobras fighting for dominance. Throughout the matches they circle each other, carefully calculating one another’s movements. Suddenly without warning, there is a blur of multicolored singlet as the two wrestlers tangle in such blinding speed that slow motion would not give justice. The unfortunate soul that finds himself on the ground claws his way onto his feet, ready for more. This weary process repeats itself for the entirety of the match until the referee mercifully thrusts one of the wrestlers’ hands in the air in victory.
Armed with a resume chock full of wrestling accolades, Nathan will undoubtedly be assigned the role of Goliath for the upcoming playoffs. These accolades include the title of eleventh best high school wrestler in the 126 weight division nationwide by Intermatwrestle.com and Centennial’s record for career wins (he surpassed his older brother, Brian, who previously held the record at 126 wins).
However, instead of being cocky or overconfident, Nathan is remarkably humble, fully aware that any opponent he may face may have that stone in his arsenal that could possibly down the heavy favorite. He explained that, “whoever steps on the mat, I’ll wrestle. I take everyone the same, everyone’s a state champ, [and] I take everyone seriously. To me, it doesn’t matter who I wrestle, I am going to treat everyone the same.”
A Family Affair
Later in the week, I stopped by the Kraisser abode to complete the series of interviews I had conducted with the family. I was welcomed in with open arms (Kerri, Nathan’s mother, even offered me a ride home at the conclusion of the interview), and I immediately noticed dozens of pictures of the seven kids in their various endeavors populating the walls. The children, ages 6 to 20, were unsurprisingly well-behaved, and one of the youngest, Jason, could be seen curiously peeking around the wall into the living room during the interview.
The immediate members of the Kraisser clan have always been a source of competition, support and guidance. In particular, Cliff has been a source of authority and assistance in wrestling. “Especially when I was younger, he taught me a lot of the [wrestling] techniques… and how to work hard, how to drive through the pain. Now, it’s not as much about techniques anymore. He analyzes the mistakes I make [during] my match that I can’t see when I’m wrestling. He’s a constant push to help me get better,” Nathan explained.
As a child, Nathan would work hard because he would “see my dad working hard, and I wanted to be just like him.” He exclaimed that being part of a large family helps him succeed by constantly sparking a competitive nature, but they could not be more supporting of his various endeavors. Nathan cracked a slight smile and got a tiny glint in his eyes, as if he was running through all of the memories of various family competitions that had taken place over the years.
He said, “I want to be the best on the wrestling mat [similar] to how I want to be the best at everything in my family. They are also very encouraging and supportive.” While he works towards the same goals both his father and older sibling did, he still aims to maintain a sense of individuality, to have a place among the textbook of Kraisser accomplishments but be remembered for his individual accomplishments as well. “I want to be in the same category as them, but at the same time I am going to do my thing… wrestle the way I wrestle. I want to be known not just as a Kraisser, but Nathan Kraisser,” declared Nathan.
Motivated to follow in the footsteps of fellow state champion father, and two-time county champion older brother, Brian, Nathan has carried the epithet of “wrestler” since he began in the first grade.
While he participated in other sports as a child, such as soccer, football, baseball, and lacrosse, Nathan was drawn to wrestling early on in his athletic career. His father, Cliff illustrated that “I wanted him to try [wrestling] because I wrestled, and I think first grade is a good [year] to start.” “He didn’t force me into it or anything, he started me in it, and I liked it, so I just kept on doing it,” interjected Nathan. Arguably the toughest high school sport available, wrestling, with its tenacity and lone-wolf mentality of the game, draws Nathan in time and time again. Nathan expounded that “it’s one on one, it’s only me out there, [and] I can’t blame [my] mistakes on anyone else. I want to be the toughest out there, and wrestling is the toughest sport, so I want to be the toughest wrestler.”
While most mothers would do everything humanly possible to prevent their son from placing a foot on the wrestling mat, Kerri Kraisser is the best fit to be mother for the family of Kraisser wrestlers, who unsurprisingly has a genuine understanding of the trials and tribulations of the sport and a love for the game. “It has been a sport for all of our kids [wrestling] that has helped teach them about perseverance…and build a lot of character. They can learn about perseverance, self-discipline, sticking through something when it’s painful,” enlightened Kerri. Kerri is also a Centennial alum and former athlete (gymnastics and volleyball), and Cliff’s high school sweetheart.
Al Dodds has been an integral member of the Centennial physical education staff for 35 years, ever since its founding in 1977. He has taught a variety of classes and coached a hodgepodge of sports, including Lifetime Fitness, Strength and Conditioning (I, II, and Advanced), Boys’ Cross Country, Boys’ Outdoor Track, and Wrestling. Throughout his teaching career, Dodds has interacted with every Kraisser that has passed in and out of the Centennial doors in one medium or another. He was the wrestling coach during Cliff’s freshman year, the cross-country coach for Brian’s senior year, and the Strength and Conditioning mentor for Cliff, Kerri, Brian, Nathan, and Brandi.
Dodds explained that the Kraisser work ethic is one that is hard to come by, and easily recognizable. “If I were to walk into a wrestling practice room, and observe a particular individual working pretty darn hard a 100% of the time, I might surmise if I knew there was a Kraisser in the room without knowing what he looked like, I might be able to pick him out just by how he was conducting himself at practice,” expounded Dodds.
Pick of the Lot
Nathan will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill next fall on a full athletic scholarship to wrestle for Head Coach C.D. Mock, and Assistant Coaches Cary Kolat, A.J. Grant, and Trevor Chinn. Kolat has known Nathan and the Kraisser family for 8 years while coaching an off-season wrestling club. According to Nathan, Kolat is a main contributor to his enrollment at North Carolina. UNC won Nathan’s pick over Maryland and Virginia Tech. “I liked the coaching staff at UNC better and felt more comfortable there,” Nathan expressed. Kolat could not comment due to NCAA recruitment regulations.
The Legacy Continues
Although Centennial will lose a major cog in the team’s wrestling machine, there is not a void. The seemingly endless wrestling talent pool that is the Kraisser family continues with current eighth grader Austin Kraisser,and is followed by fifth grader Jason, and kindergartener Calvin who will begin to wrestle next season. However, the Kraisser expectations and limelight will shift to Austin next year. As Cliff explains, “Austin looks up to Nathan, and wants to accomplish what Nathan did.” When comparing wrestling styles, “Nathan uses more technique, and Austin is more physical; Nathan will out-slick or out-technique you while Austin will just overpower you,” continued Cliff.
Austin looks forward to the challenge of following in his brother’s footsteps. “There’s a chip on my shoulder. I have to work hard, I can’t let anyone down, Nathan is really good because of how hard he works. I want to work just as hard to get to the same level he is,” he illustrated. He joked that “[Nathan] might only have those records for four more years!”
The Quest Unfolds
Nathan took a step in the right direction on February 18, when Nathan’s talent and hard work elevated him above the rest of his competitors to take the 2012 Howard County Championship in the 126 pound division by a 16-1 tech fall. “I wrestled well, I was able to do what I wanted, and just wrestle tough. I don’t want to look too far ahead, I want to take it one match at a time, because if I start looking ahead that’s when people come up,” Nathan commented. He continued to explain that “I’ll go to regional’s, see who I have first match wrestle him, see who I have next and keep on wrestling one by one.”
Follow Nathan’s quest for number four. The postseason will continue at the regional tournament at Wilde Lake High School on February 24-25, and will conclude at the state tournament on March 2-3 at University of Maryland, College Park.