EARLY LEAD: Robbins’ immunity to pressure has him inching toward all-time status
By BRANDON HURLEY
Living up to the hype is more difficult than McKinley Robbins makes it seem.
And he’s far from done.
There’s no hiding it, the Greene County wrestler wants to become one of Iowa’s all-time greats. He strives to wrestle at the next level.
To be honest, it’s truly remarkable how well the sophomore handles pressure. Greatness is the only way to describe the newly-minted state champion.
The Greene County grappler has already cemented his place among the most successful athletes in Jefferson and Greene County history in a brief two-year span. He’s quickly ascending the state ranks as well.
It’s hard to dispute that notion after looking at the numbers.
He likely won’t come close to the all-time state record for wins, but he certainly has a realistic shot at the Greene County record of 147, held by the late Chase Flack. If not for the truncated season caused by COVID-19, Robbins would’ve won likely 20 more matches this winter. Still, a perfect 34-0 record punctuated by a title is pretty fantastic on its own. Robbins has tallied 71 wins and just two losses in two years as a Ram. He has a reasonable shot at winning three straight titles.
The most striking characteristic Robbins’ possess is not his dedication to be great nor his sound technique and strength but his ability to make it all seem so simple and routine. He entered the Greene County wrestling room a year and a half ago as its most highly-touted wrestler in decades.
He surely hasn’t disappointed. He’s lived up to those remarkable expectations as a two-time finalist and a wire-to-wire No. 1 rated wrestler during the entire 2020-21 season.
He’s unflappable, and it’s a true testament to his greatness. Greene County head coach Zach Beekman is often in awe of his wrestler’s ability to block everything out.
Many athletes crack under the pressure of the Iowa high school state wrestling tournament - a competition that features more than 400 wrestlers and thousands of fans sandwiched around three days of intense action. The end for most is so near, any type of mistake could derail a promising run in seconds with a pin or an overtime take down. Those things have little affect on Robbins, he never seems fazed no matter what happens in-match.
“He’s just so poised. He’s been through a lot in his wrestling career already and there’s not a lot that shakes him,” Beekman said. “We knew with how he performed in his semifinal match (a dominant 4-2 win) that’s all he needed to do for the final. That’s what he did.We didn’t worry about the other guy or anything else. We knew he was conditioned and we knew he had the nutrition in his body. He was ready to go.”
Robbins’ rise to the state championship was threatened rather significantly in the quarterfinals, a match in which he narrowly squeaked out in overtime, 2-1 over Spirit Lake Park’s Jonathan Burnette.
If Robbins had given up a takedown or a reversal in the extra period, he’d walk away with nothing better than third. But the sophomore trusted his instincts. He stayed calm, scratched out the win and powered his way to the top.
Robbins may possess incredible physical strength, but it’s his innate ability to tap into a next-level mental capacity that really separates him. Some may look at it as a lack of emotion, but really, it’s a unique amount of confidence that allows him to shake off moments of doubt.
“He has confidence in himself, he keeps believing,” Beekman said. “You can have a bad match and turn around and change things. Just because you have one bad match or a match goes into overtime doesn’t mean that you can’t be a state champion.
Wrestling’s a sport where anything can happen at any point. You have to keep believing and keep grinding away until the clock stops.”
Robbins lives and breathes wrestling. It’s the only sport he participates in at the varsity level. He spends the offseason touring the country through various high-level AAU tournaments while he also provides his services on the family farm.
State championships are what Robbins needs, and he’s already got one. Reaching the state title match in back-to-back years in two different weight classes - 106 and 120 - is quite the feat. It’s a testament to his unrivaled dedication.
“McKinley is an example of how much you’ve got to work at it. It’s not just a season that starts in November and you hit the podium in February,” Beekman said. “It’s it’s all year round, you’re constantly doing something, whether it’s another sport or in the weight room.
Robbins is molded similar to the all-time legends, guys like Michael Jordan and Tom Brady - competitors who never ease up, who push to find ways to improve, even in minuscule ways. There’s no time to waste, every second of each day is vital.
“It’s pretty much wrestling exclusive,” Beekman said. “But look at his tendencies outside of the room, the kind of work that he does. He works on a farm, he works hard in the classroom. All of that adds up over time. There’s really no break (in his mentality). There’s really no offseason for him. If you want to get to the top, if you want to be on the podium, that’s what it takes.”
Robbins has a realistic shot at winning back-to-back titles. The satisfaction of a state championship is an incredible achievement, but he refuses to stop there. Robbins won’t be satisfied as Jefferson’s only two-time state champion, he wants to make it three, firmly cementing himself among Iowa’s all-time greats.
“I fell short last year and four (state championships) got taken away from me,” Robbins said. “So I have to go get three and get the next best thing.”