story by Todd Habiger
photos by Lori Wood Habiger
PARK CITY — Clay Lautt’s senior wrestling highlight video will be short. Very short.
That’s because the St. James Academy student almost always pins his opponents before even a minute has elapsed. He marched through preliminary rounds of the Kansas 5A state wrestling tournament, barely breaking a sweat until he came to the championship match Feb. 25 in Park City.
Lautt became the 182-pound champ — his third wrestling championship in as many years — after a high-point decision battle against Wyatt Hendrickson of Newton High School.
“My goal coming into the tournament was to not have a decision against anybody,” Lautt said immediately after his championship victory.[ngg_images source=”galleries” container_ids=”220″ display_type=”photocrati-nextgen_pro_horizontal_filmstrip” image_crop=”0″ image_pan=”1″ show_playback_controls=”1″ show_captions=”0″ caption_class=”caption_overlay_bottom” caption_height=”70″ aspect_ratio=”1.5″ width=”100″ width_unit=”%” transition=”fade” transition_speed=”1″ slideshow_speed=”5″ border_size=”0″ border_color=”#ffffff” override_thumbnail_settings=”1″ thumbnail_width=”120″ thumbnail_height=”90″ thumbnail_crop=”1″ ngg_triggers_display=”always” order_by=”sortorder” order_direction=”ASC” returns=”included” maximum_entity_count=”500″]After his muscular, scratched up arm was raised in victory, Lautt took a moment to sit quietly on his coach’s chair to catch his breath — a much different sight than the fist-pumping, adrenaline-fueled post-match celebration of his two-time champion teammate Sammy Cokeley who had just won at 160 pounds.
Lautt came close to his no-decision goal. His first two matches came to quick ends with pins in 45 and 40 seconds. His semifinal match resulted in a pin at 1 minute and 28 seconds.
The championship match didn’t go as easily, however, giving him an unaccustomed test.
“I knew I could dictate how the match went so I tried to go out there quick and hopefully break him, but he kept coming,” Lautt said.
Lautt was in control for the majority of the match but couldn’t come up with a quick pin. His lack of long matches almost came back to haunt him.
“I got a little bit tired. I haven’t had many full matches so I’m probably not in the shape I should be,” he said. “It got a little dicey at the end.”
But he prevailed, winning 17-9 on points.
The making of a champion
With his broad shoulders, muscular arms and lean frame, Lautt looks like he’s been chiseled from stone — the result of years of discipline and training.
“You can’t just work in practice; you have to watch videos, work out, lift weights, eat right and run,” he said.
It’s something Lautt has been doing since he was 5 years old.
“It’s just become the normal thing,” Lautt said. “It’s been a routine going to practice and working hard. I’ve fallen in love with that grind. I feel that’s what makes me get better. I love practicing. I love working hard.”
And that’s year-round. For championship wrestlers, there is no off-season.
“The kids that are state champions are wrestling year-round,” Lautt said.
St. James wrestling coach Mike Medina agreed.
“Clay got where he is by wrestling all year long,” said Medina. “In the offseason, he goes to the local training center and gets work in. He wrestles the best kids in the nation he can. He deserves everything he gets.”
The learning years
Lautt admits to being a little overwhelmed and lacking confidence his freshman year at St. James.
“Everyone was so much more mature than me,” he said.
Despite those struggles, Lautt finished sixth at state as a freshman. The best, however, was yet to come.
As a sophomore, Lautt won his first state championship, in the 160-pound division.
“My sophomore year was my first [championship], which was special,” Lautt said. “I pinned him in the first period, which was cool.”
His junior year, however, Lautt looked for a new challenge. He got that by moving up to 170 pounds, putting him in direct competition with Maize High School’s Brett Moon, the defending 6A state champion, whose school had dropped to 5A.
“Clay has always stepped up to wrestle the best kids he could,” said Medina. “Wrestling Brett Moon at state last year — Brett had won 96 straight matches, hadn’t been taken down in two years — Clay saw it as a challenge.”
Lautt ended Moon’s win streak with a 3-1 victory in the finals of the state tournament.
“That was one of the top moments of my wrestling career,” Lautt said. “I wanted that so bad. He beat me twice before in some controversial matches. I could have bumped up in weight and maybe had an easier bracket, but I was pretty determined that I wanted to beat him.”
Looking to excel
In Lautt’s four years at St. James in Lenexa, Medina has found him to be a sponge for information.
“Clay’s a learner, he’s a listener, he pays attention. He’s very coachable,” Medina said.
In the summer of 2016, Lautt got some international experience by wrestling Greco-Roman style for the United States in the 2016 Cadet World Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia, Russia.
“Clay didn’t feel like he was a Greco wrestler where you can’t touch the legs — it’s more upper body,” said Medina. “But he wanted to learn that style.”
“That was one of the best experiences of my life,” Lautt said. “The environment is so . . . different. Everyone is there representing their country. It was very intense.”
Next year, Lautt will attend the University of North Carolina on a wrestling scholarship.
But as he looks to the future, Lautt can’t help but pause to acknowledge the St. James community who helped him in so many ways to grow and mature.
“I’d like to thank all the people and teachers for helping me be a better person,” Lautt said. “And Coach Medina for helping me be a better wrestler.”