By JEREMY HINES
Most wrestling stories don’t begin like K.J. Roudebush’s did. Then again, most wrestlers aren’t wired quite like the three-sport star from Tipton, either.
Roudebush got into wrestling as a punishment, and because a household lamp was broken.
“It’s really a funny story,” the Tipton senior said. “I was in fifth grade and my oldest brother was in college so my middle brother and I were downstairs wrestling around. Right when dad got home from work we were still wrestling and my brother and I had gotten mad at each other and one of my mom’s lamps got broken. My dad wasn’t happy. He said if we wanted to continue wrestling at home, we were going to join the wrestling team. I went to the wrestling team and I just fell in love with it.”
Roudebush is currently ranked No. 10 in the state at 195 pounds. He lost in the ticket round last year at the New Castle semistate to current No. 1-ranked junior Silas Allred of Shenandoah.
Roudebush doesn’t make excuses for that loss.
“Silas is something special,” he said. “I went out on the mat and he just dominated me. I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t tired or anything, he was just better than me.”
This season Roudebush wants to go one step further than he did last year. He wants to advance to the state tournament.
For Roudebush, wrestling is a part-time gig. Unlike most highly ranked Indiana wrestlers, Roudebush doesn’t wrestle in the offseason. Summers are for baseball and the fall is for his first love, football. Roudebush plays quarterback on Tipton’s offense and splits time between linebacker and defensive end on defense.
“K.J. is in the top 10 of his class,” Tipton coach Mark Barker said. “He’s such an intelligent guy and he’s a leader in every sport he does. To me, he’s one of those exceptional people that don’t come along that often. If he focused solely on wrestling, I really think it would be hard for anyone to beat him.
“But I like multi-sport athletes. The more sports you do the better you’ll become at all of them. That’s the way things have always been here at Tipton.”
Currently Tipton has just seven wrestlers. For Roudebush, that’s perfectly fine.
“Being on such a small team could really suck, but we get a lot more attention from the coaches,” Roudebush said. “Our individual time with the coaches is through the roof. We’ve never had a big team. I think the most I’ve seen here is 10 wrestlers. Because of that, we don’t win a lot of matches as a team, but when you look at our head-to-head and don’t count forfeits, we’ve won close to 40 duals. We also have a very close bond with each other. I wouldn’t trade that for a bigger program with more practice partners.”
The Tipton team has adopted a philosophy through necessity. The goal is for every wrestler in the lineup to pin their opponent. If they do that, they have a shot at winning dual meets.
“We know what we are up against going into the match,” Roudebush said. “Coach tells us we’re starting out down 24-0, or something like that. We know every single one of us have to pin in order for us to win. It’s awesome. All of a sudden, Bam! We pin everyone and pull off the surprise win. We love that challenge. When we get people on their backs, we keep them there.”
In practice Roudebush alternatese from wrestling with the team’s heavyweight, sophomore Nate Morgan to wrestling with their 145-pounder Blake Hicks.
“Nate is stronger than me and that makes me really focus on my technique,” Roudebush said. “Blake is a scrapper. He’s good on top and he can put the legs in. He has a mean crossface cradle and he’s tough. It helps me a lot getting to wrestle with guys with different body types and strengths.”
Roudebush beat Elwood’s Jalen Morgan last year 5-2 to claim the sectional title. Morgan reversed that decision in regional, winning 3-2. That put Morgan on the opposite side of the semistate bracket as Allred. Morgan advanced to the championship match, losing to Allred but still advancing to state. Roudebush was eliminated in the second round.
“I want to go one step further,” he said. “That’s all I’m worried about. We have a tough sectional. The regional is even harder and I think New Castle is arguably one of the most difficult semistates. My focus is on getting past the ticket round. I’m worried about each match in front of me because wrestling is a different kind of sport. Anyone can win. You have to be ready at all times.”