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Healthy for Tigers, Napier enjoys strong start

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University 141-pound junior C.J. Napier has taken a long path to the Tiger wrestling program. Finally healthy and loving the sport again, Napier collected MIAA Wrestler of the Week honors after he won the Elite Division at the University of Nebraska-Kearney Open. Coach Chas Thompson calls Napier among the Tigers' top three or four most talented wrestlers.

"C.J. is very technical," Thompson said. "He is very good on his feet. We are working on getting better on the mat, but he is extremely talented at taking guys down. If anybody goes and watches him wrestle, check him out on his feet.

"Very powerful," Thompson added. "If you look at the lower portion of his body, he is built pretty well altogether, but his lower trunk is pretty muscular. He is a strong guy. He can take guys down pretty easily. He makes good wrestlers look not very good on their feet."

Last season, Napier reached the NCAA tournament, but competed with a broken hand and went 1-2. Napier and the Tigers competed Saturday at the FHSU Bob Smith Open at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Napier's second competition.

"Last season ended horribly and I have been working real hard this summer and preseason and want to be on top at the end of this year," Napier said.

Napier grew up in Columbus and went 143-9 in high school with three state championships. In the summer, he also won a prestigious Cadet Freestyle national championship at 135 pounds. Thompson, from Parsons, has known the Napier family for many years. He tried to recruit Napier out of high school, but NCAA Division I schools were higher on Napier's list. Napier verbally committed to Oklahoma State University, but eventually went to Nebraska.

He started as a freshman at 133 pounds and posted a solid 16-15 record. However, Napier had trouble with losing more in one season than he did in the previous several years combined.

"Losing that much in one year was really rough on me," Napier said. "I didn't handle it very well."

Napier transferred to Labette Community College and planned to attend Pittsburg State University and not wrestle.

"It was a shock to his system, going there as a freshman and being thrown in there," Thompson said. "He wasn't probably ready for that maturity-wise, but it was one of those deals where Nebraska needed him."

During the spring of 2011, Napier started to miss wrestling and wanted to return to the sport. Several schools called Thompson drove down to Pittsburg and met with Napier. Thompson didn't want to rush Napier back into the sport and told the wrestler "to take as much time as he needed." In the summer of 2011, Napier was working a camp at FHSU. The camp marked the first time Napier had been to the campus. He committed that summer and has enjoyed Thompson.

"It's very cool," Napier said. "Me and coach have a great relationship. We are really close. I am very open and honest with him. I have never hid anything. I feel like I can go and tell him anything. I go to him when I have problems. He is the first person that I go to. It's great. I love wrestling for coach."

Napier finished 14-5 last season, but fell short at nationals. Napier hurt his hand one day in practice.

"I just wrestled on it the whole year," he said. "I didn't really want to know what was wrong with it until wrestling was over."

Napier and Thompson knew Napier couldn't grip very well, but thought it may have just been ligament damage. Instead, Napier discovered later that he broken a bone. This season, a healthy Napier has started strong and could enjoy a big year.

"He looked awesome at Kearney," Thompson said. "...I don't want to make excuses for last year, but his hand is healthy now. That's attributing to how well he is wrestling now."