COUNCIL BLUFFS — The closest call for Colton Clingenpeel came on a frigid January morning nearly two weeks ago.
The Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson senior usually wrestles a pound or two lighter than his limit of 152. But with a Saturday tournament at Omaha Creighton Prep about an hour from starting, he stepped onto a scale for weigh-ins. Two pounds over at 154.
"I had to run it all off," said Clingenpeel, who later cruised to a meet title. "I made it flat on."
Clingenpeel has encountered little other drama while crafting a 35-0 record and working to become Thomas Jefferson's first state champion since Bryce Carruthers in 2004. He's ranked No. 1 at his weight in Class 3-A. He's rated ninth and 16th in the country by a pair of national wrestling websites.
Perhaps the middleweight's narrowest win this season was a 9-4 decision against Sergeant Bluff-Luton's Preston Dunn (2-A No. 3) last week. But with his knack for executing half nelsons — a hold in which one arm is passed under an opponent's arm from behind and the hand is applied to the neck — he also recently passed 100 career pins.
Weight remains the toughest foe for Clingenpeel, who could easily bump up to 160 or 170. As a bus boy at Texas Roadhouse, he sees regular opportunities to torpedo his diet.
"We get free food there, so it's hard during the season," Clingenpeel said. "The buns are the biggest temptation."
Like his size, Clingenpeel's success has grown steadily through high school. He finished 57-3 last year at 138, rebounding from a quarterfinal loss to Southeast Polk's Keegan Shaw to earn third by beating Shaw 8-4. It is his favorite prep match to date.
Thomas Jefferson coach August Manz remembers Clingenpeel as a second-grader among the 15 to 20 inagural members when the Cobra wrestling club formed 11 years ago in Council Bluffs. What began as a slow start — victories were scarce for the youngster his first couple seasons — exploded when he took sixth at state as a freshman.
Manz said a decade-plus of technical knowledge and muscle memory make Clingenpeel a frustrating challenge. Opponents can take good shots and receive no reward because of a slick countermove by the grappler, who boasts a Twitter handle of @wrestleveryday. Rather than running or lifting weights, he'd rather spend practices facing workout partners Cameron Baker or assistant AdamManz.
"I don't like lazy matches — that bugs me," Clingenpeel said. "I honestly don't think about anything. I just go after it. Once the guy is down, he's going to get ridden out."
Baker, with an advantage of 40 pounds, said his teammate will create new moves if the action drags. As the guy who breaks team huddles with yells of "Punishment," Clingenpeel readily dishes it out in the wrestling room, as well.
"I have the pleasure of getting to feel what that's like," said the 195-pound Baker. "He really tries hard to make sure he's getting better every practice. It's not so much that he's stronger than me. He's just so much better than me technically and 10 times faster. It's hard to defend."
Clingenpeel owns the school record for wins (175) and could reach the rare 200-win plateau at state in February. A top-eight finish would make him the program's first four-time state medalist.
"If he was a basketball player, he'd be in a gym shooting hoops all the time and always willing to play a pickup game," August Manz said. "As a wrestler, he'll wrestle whoever wants to wrestle. To win a state title, I can't say it would be a surprise. But it would be well earned."
Colleges have taken notice of Clingenpeel, as well. The 17-year-old said he receives at least a couple texts each day and a deluge of email feelers from Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Ohio, South Dakota and Edinboro.
Though he won't make a decision until after the state tournament, Clingenpeel is strongly considering Northern Iowa for its close-knit campus. NCAA Division II Lindenwood (Missouri) is also a contender because of his connection to assistant Jimmy Rollins, who got him started in freestyle and Greco as a child.
"From the Division I level, it's the most attention I've seen in well over 20 years for a T.J. wrestler," Manz said.
Clingenpeel plans to major in physical education and would like to come back to Thomas Jefferson or Cobra as a coach someday. In the meantime, Manz said the animal lover will maintain the "lovable goofball" status he's had since childhood — and bearing the nickname "Clingenpoop."
"He loves making life fun," Manz said. "He doesn't take it too seriously; he just wants to live life to the fullest and have a great time."