An accomplished wrestling career that has established Christian Carroll on the national level will gain a new audience Saturday when the nation’s top-ranked 220-pounder and New Prairie junior makes his long-awaited high school debut at the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association team state tournament in Martinsville.
“It’s like he’s doing things a little backwards than most Indiana kids as far being more well-known nationally, but not the casual high school fans,” Midwest Regional Training Center head coach Chris Fleeger said. “There’s a buzz to the name, but they’re like, he hasn’t won a high school state title, so how good could he be?”
A knee injury and subsequent surgery wiped out Carroll’s freshman season at Penn. He transferred to New Prairie last year, but was not granted full eligibility to wrestle.
“I never participated, never practiced, never even weighed in,” he said. “Looking back, I didn’t get to wrestle (high school) for two-and-a-half years. I didn’t want it to be that way, but I’ve got to let it go. I can’t change the past. Whatever I do in life, it will all be a part of my story.”
Required to sit out a full school year from the start of the second semester, not the point at which Carroll transferred, he didn’t officially become a part of the Cougars roster until Thursday. Ironically, that came a day after they wrestled the Kingsmen.
“I’m excited to wrestle,” Carroll said. “I’m kind of a hidden gem. I’ve been always with the team. It’s an experience I’ve been waiting for a while now. I hope to open some eyes, bring in some people. With (second-ranked 285) Hunter (Whitenack) back, I keep telling people the bad boys are back. We’re finally going to see all our guys together and let people know we have a really good team.”
Carroll had a bid for eligibility declined the week before sectionals last winter, but he’s had quite a run of success since. He took second at the World Trials, where he lost to an alternate for the Olympic team. He qualified for the Pan American team, but wasn’t able to make the trip due to a delay in the arrival of his passport. After rolling through Fargo Nationals in the summer, where he won by technical fall over the No. 2 220 in the semifinals, and winning the Super 32s, Carroll went up to 285 for the Who’s No. One? event, falling 3-2 in the finals to top-ranked Nick Feldman in a controversial finish.
“It was a good experience wrestling heavyweight,” he said. “There was a lot of hype. I had a specific game plan to wear him out, to be the puppeteer controlling the strings. He was gassing out, but I split my eye lid open and had four blood times. I was controlling stuff. There was a time issue. It wasn’t in my hands. Eventually, it just comes down to being good enough.”
Even without the chance to compete yet for New Prairie, the University of Pennsylvania commit’s made an impact in the room with his presence alone.
“He might not be any good, I don’t know,” Cougars coach Bobby Whitenack said, smiling. “He has a great opportunity ahead of him to showcase what he can do. I really want him to enjoy the high school aspect of wrestling, to be with the team, be a part of the community. It’s different when you go to college. People watch him do what he can do, to be able to manipulate his opponent the way he’s able to, and see, hey, that’s really a special athlete. He just comes up there and practices like everybody else, the good leadership he shows with how hard he works.”
Fleeger, a three-time All-American at Purdue, began training Carroll before he was in high school and prior to the opening of Midwest RTC in New Carlisle. He quickly gained an appreciation for not only the elite physical tools but the tireless commitment to excel.
“He’s a big guy who can really move,” Fleeger said. “He’s aggressive, strong, flexible, fast. The thing that sets him apart is his focus. He doesn’t want to just be the best in the state or the country. He wants to be the best in the world. He knows what he wants to do and what he needs to do to get there. He wrestles year-round, he doesn’t complain if friends are getting together, if there’s a concert or something. Wrestling’s his priority.”
Whitenack likewise admires Carroll’s passion, in addition to the talent.
“This sport’s hard to fall in love with, even as a coach,” Whitenack said. “It’s like a bad relationship. It eats you up. You love it so much, but it doesn’t always love you back. He’s truly passionate about it. He’s a pretty special kid. He has the speed of a 106, the strength of heavyweight, and all the knowledge. He’s got all the skills and he works really hard to master of knowledge of what’s going on.”
Can anybody touch Carroll?
“It’s high school wrestling, strange things can happen,” Fleeger said. “He got to be workmanlike, take every match one by one. If he’s focused, he’ll beat everyone soundly.”
Carroll’s plan is a simple one.
“To dominate,” he said. “Indiana’s unique in that it only has one class. It’s not like other states. There are so many good wrestlers who have had great careers. I want to be a part of that tradition. It’s going to be something great to experience, to have the opportunity to be with a great coach, a great team, to support them and win a state title.”
Christian Carroll, a New Prairie junior, will make his high school debut Saturday at the 2A team state tournament in Martinsville. Carroll, the state and nationally No. 1-ranked 220-pounder, became eligible Thursday after having to sit out a year following his transfer from Penn as a sophomore. (Photo Provided)