PREP SPOTLIGHT: Ray Darden
By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector
Thursday, January 11, 2018
Ayden-Grifton wrestler Ray Darden is undefeated so far in his junior season. Darden chatted with Reflector prep sports beat writer Jordan Anders this week about adjusting to wrestling after a childhood of just playing football, as well as his quest to reach the state championships.
Q: How long have you been wrestling?
A: Three years. I started my freshman year and I was new to it.
Q: Why did you start?
A: It was just something to keep me in shape. I kept riding the bus home and one day (A-G wrestling coach Jeff Wooten) was like, ‘Ray, you need to get a second sport.’ I said, ‘Coach, I don’t know. I just like football,’ and he said, ‘Why don’t you try out wrestling?’ So I came out and started doing it as just something to help me stay in shape.
Q: How long had you played football before you got into wrestling?
A: Oh, I played football since I was little, playing rec league and stuff like that.
Q: What is your favorite part of wrestling?
A: What I really enjoy is it’s an individual sport and it’s just yourself. I mean, you have team duals and you want to win for your team, but you’ve got to hold yourself accountable. The only way you can lose is if you don’t have it mentally.
Q: The individuality of wrestling is a pretty stark contrast to the team-oriented mentality of football. Does it take you a while to adjust to wrestling season once football season ends?
A: You’ve just got to realize that it’s still a team sport, but at the same time, on the mat, it’s just you and the guy in front of you. It’s just you. No coaches. No other players. Just you and him, and if you don’t have it mentally, you’re not going to win.
Q: What’s the biggest thing from football that helps you as a wrestler?
A: Just drive and motivation, and the strength to keep going. That’s what helps me.
Q: Let’s talk technique. What’s your strongest attribute on the mat?
A: My wrist control. Anybody who wrestles me knows I always try to go for the wrist. As long as I control your wrist, I can control anything you do with movement and stuff. That’s what I really go for.
Q: Was that a strength of yours from the start or something you had to develop?
A: It was something I had to develop. I had to realize that other guys are stronger than me, but if I can control a certain area and how they move and stuff — because I’m usually smaller than most guys — then I’m a little faster and my wind is a little longer.
Q: What do you think is the biggest difference between the freshman coach Wooten convinced to try out for wrestling and the competitor you are today?
A: My knowledge of the sport itself. My freshman year, I wasn’t really that good because I hadn’t been doing it for a long time. As I started progressing, my mentality told me, ‘Ray, you need to stop losing.’ That kicked in and I started learning the stuff and learning the technique, because I really wasn’t into it at first.
Q: What’s your record this year?
A: I’m 10-0.
Q: What do you think has been the biggest key to your strong season?
A: I think the biggest key has been practice. ... You can see a difference between going a full week of practice and then going to a match, and going one day of practice and going to a match. There’s a big difference.
Q: You made it to regionals last year and lost in the fourth round, just missing out on a trip to states. How much is that driving you this year?
A: It’s a lot more motivation. My biggest thing is just to try to make it to regionals and do whatever I’ve got to do to make it to states. Being a state contender is a big opportunity, and winning states would be even bigger, but my main goal this year is just to make it there.
Q: How confident are you that you can do that?
A: I’m pretty confident. All I know is, this year, I haven’t lost and I’m just trying to keep it that way. The only way to make it to states for sure is to not lose.
If you have a suggestion for a player to be featured in Prep Spotlight, contact Jordan Anders at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9594 and follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.