Drake Houdashelt looks wiped out. As he runs laps around the gym after a grueling workout, he finds a place up against a rolled-up, black mat.
"I just have to find a way to suck it up and don't show any emotion so the freshmen don't see anything and can learn from example," the junior wrestler said.
Houdashelt said he wants to be remembered as the guy who went to the max every time he stepped inside the ring. During this practice, his gray shirt is soaked and sticking to his skin. But he knows the MAC championships are right around the corner. The hours spent in the warm gym, with an coach howling for Houdashelt's higher gear, may pay off.
"I don't feel that you can get further than that or better without someone else there to help push you," Houdashelt says, adding that he prefers the coaching staff to challenge him every day.
"He gives so much effort in a match and he has talent. That is going to pay off. That's something we look at in recruiting. Does he have that 'Houdashelt'? I have seen it in (freshman J'Den Cox). I have seen it in a lot of guys we have recruited."
Last year, Houdashelt was an All-American and one of the younger players on the team. Now he is one of the elder statesmen of the team.
"I think we graduated five seniors or something like that," said Houdashelt. "It's just a lot different having to become one of the leaders now. I make sure I am doing things right and setting the example for the younger guys."
Head coach Brian Smith said he knew the kind of wrestler Mizzou was getting. In fact, someone at last month's state wrestling meet reminded Smith of a story.
"They said, 'I remember when you pointed out at Drake Houdashelt at the state tournament,'" Smith recalls. "'You said, 'Watch this guy. He is going to be in a black and gold uniform, and remember this name: Houdashelt.'"
Future Tigers will remember. Houdashelt's name is already up there with some of the past All-Americans in the program. His goal this year is to be the national champion in the 149 pound weight class.
"As a junior this year, he has really stepped up as a leader because it is a young team," Smith said. "With five freshmen starting, he was kind of forced into that role. Whether he liked it or not, young guys were looking up to him."
"He is a quiet leader. I always tell him brings his lunch pale. He shows up, he never complains, he wants to do more and he is getting people to buy into that. I know J'Den Cox listens to him and follows him. He is a leader by example."