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FINDING HIS BALANCE : Wrestling Begins to Loosen Its Hold on Dru Anderson

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Times Staff Writer

There’s a wrestling term for one immobilizing hold that leaves a man tangled and trapped underneath the one holding him. It’s called the cradle.

Dru Anderson has been performing cradles nearly as long as he ceased sleeping in one. He has been wrestling since the fifth grade, when his father would put a wrestling mat over the living room carpet and tell Dru he had to take him down to earn supper.

Now a senior at San Clemente High School, Dru has won international age-group competitions and a Southern Section championship. But as he grows, so does the grip and weight of his father’s reputation as well as the expectations for a wrestler with seemingly limitless potential.

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“If he ever decides to go at wrestling 100% he’d probably be one of the best in the world,” said San Clemente Coach John Owens. “But I really don’t think he ever will.”

Owens has told this to Dru. So has his father, Bob, who believes that with a little added intensity Dru would be a three-time state champion. The question is does any of that really matter to Dru, who comes close to grappling blasphemy when he says, “Wrestling is a part of my life, but it’s not my life.”

Perhaps of all sports on the high school level, none require more determination, drive or sacrifice than wrestling. It is the domain of overachievers and zealots. To the truly exceptional, everything becomes wrestling--what they eat, what they don’t eat, workout schedules, technique homework.

“Dru’s pretty unusual,” said Janet Anderson, his mother. “He’s not gung-ho and everything is wrestling. That drives Bob crazy.”

Bob won a Southern Section championship at South Torrance High School in 1962, was an alternate on the 1968 Olympic team and went on to win six national senior open championships.

Bob, 45, wrestled until he was 36 and only quit because the people at work were worried that he’d lose production time to wrestling injuries. So he started a wrestling club, called the Jets. He taught kids what he knew during weekend training sessions at Camp Pendleton.

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Dru is a member of the Jets, one of the nation’s top club teams. By the time he was 14, he had won a gold medal at the 1985 Junior Pan American Games in Greco-Roman wrestling. The next year, he won gold medals in Greco-Roman and Sambo, a cross between wrestling and Judo, and a silver in freestyle during the 1986 Junior Olympics in St. Louis.

He won the Southern Section 3-A championship at 168 pounds as a sophomore. Last year, he moved up in weight to 175 pounds and placed second in the 3-A division to Valencia’s Fred Jenkins, a three-time Southern Section champion.

Southern Section runner-up is pretty heady stuff, except when you’re expected to conquer the world.

This season he is 26-1, has won individual tournament titles at Valencia, El Toro and, last Saturday, at Escondido. Of his 26 victories, 22 have come by pins. This comes after he took the summer off from training and competition, an almost unheard of move for a top wrestler.

“That just shows how exceptional his talents are,” Owens said. “Only a very few could take off the summer and pick up like he’s done.”

According to Owens, if it wasn’t for Bob, Dru might have left wrestling long ago.

“There have been times I’m sure Dru wouldn’t have shown up if his dad wasn’t there pushing,” Owens said.

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Bob didn’t push his kids into wrestling. Shane, Dru’s 22-year-old brother, never wrestled, devoting his time to playing bass and now to his band, Johnny Monster and the Nightmares. Dru chose to take up wrestling. But once he did, Bob decided that it would be all the way, starting with weekends with the Jets.

“Training would start Friday night,” Dru said. “Then you’d get up at 6 on Saturday morning and lift and run and wrestle. Then you’d do the same thing on Sunday.

“Once I got to high school, I realized that I hadn’t done anything but wrestle on weekends. I guess I didn’t realize at the time, but once I was in high school I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again. I know guys who wrestle and that’s all they want to talk about. As far as I’m concerned, when I’m off the mat, wrestling is over for me.”

And perhaps, wrestling will be over for Dru once high school ends. He’s not thrilled with the collegiate style, which also is used in high schools. If he does continue, he said he might just do it with a club and wrestle Greco-Roman, the style he prefers.

It was Bob who taught Dru the Greco-Roman style, attacking the upper body as opposed to shooting in on the legs.

“He definitely wrestles more Bob’s style than mine,” Owens said.

Bob and Dru have more than wrestling style in common. In high school, Bob used to paint his tennis shoes and run with a pack Janet called “a bunch of wild surfer guys.”

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Dru got into punk music and painted his fingernails black. Owens wouldn’t allow him to wear the polish while wrestling, so polish remover took a place alongside adhesive tape in the San Clemente first-aid kit.

Then again, Bob was a fighter (“In my family it was accepted, as long as you won,” he said) and Dru is not.

When Bob wants to watch videotapes of Dru’s matches, Dru would rather ride his chopped Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

“I think part of it is just Dru growing up and looking to break away from his parents,” Owens said. “It’s very normal.”

But breaking away in wrestling circles is next to impossible, short of legally changing his name.

“I think there’s more pressure on him because I’m his father,” Bob said. “I think that gets to him sometimes. He’s expected to win.”

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In fact, Dru says he only feels the pressure “when I lose.”

Which doesn’t happen very often. But others seem to think it happens too much.

“It seems like other people get more upset when I lose than I do,” Dru said.

And so, it’s easy for Dru to say that after high school he may just walk away from wrestling.

“He’s told me he’d like to coach it, but might not want to wrestle again,” Bob said. “I look at all the talent he has and I just don’t know. He’s my son, but sometimes I really don’t know what he’s thinking.”

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