Photos By Hillary Ehlen
Retaining local talent is a point of pride for Roger Kish and Bison wrestling. The top wrestlers throughout the Red River Valley (and North Dakota in general) seem to always continue their careers at North Dakota State. Currently, Kish has three native Fargoans on his roster. All of which are making a significant impact on the success of the program.
Jared Franek is one of those student-athletes.
The redshirt freshman is in just his second season on the campus of North Dakota State. However, he has already laid claim to the 157-pound spot for Kish and the Bison. Franek was deemed the starter before the team’s season-opening dual against Cal State Bakersfield on November 3. Franek won the starting role over Luke Weber, who enjoyed a breakout season last year after transferring from Nebraska. The redshirt junior went 10-6 in duals last season and was performing well at the Big 12 Championships before suffering a lower-body injury. Had it not been for that, one could assume Weber would have been an NCAA Qualifier for NDSU.
“Luke is a really good opponent and I wrestle with him in the room and every week we go back and forth,” Franek said about battling with Weber for the starting role. “It was definitely a challenge but I know all the hard work I put in would pay off. I just came gunning for the spot, I guess.”
That is not to say Franek does not appreciate his fellow teammate. He is aware of Weber’s talent and knows the starting role can change at any moment. However, both Franek and Weber agree that they improve one another on the mat each day.
“It grows both of us, going back and forth. With that kind of talent in the room, pushing each other, we always want to one-up one another,” Franek said of training with Weber. “It gets us both a lot better and it’s going to improve both us as wrestlers and our team around us.”
This ascension for Franek should come as no surprise to those who witnessed him compete for West Fargo High School. He led the Packers to two state titles and was a four-time North Dakota state champion. Franek tallied an unreal 272-14 record throughout his career as a Packer. Not only that, Franek made a splash in the national scene too. He was a USA Wrestling Nationals freestyle champion.
With fellow Packers Brandon Metz and Jesse Shearer already on the Bison roster, Roger Kish and the Bison staff were well aware of Franek’s ability. While he had offers from other schools, Franek decided to stay home.
“I had a lot of different colleges talk to me and I narrowed it down to a few. I picked NDSU because I felt it fit me best and it was close to home,” he said of choosing NDSU. “So now my family can come watch, I have friends I can stay in touch with and we have a great fanbase. They have the partners and coaches here to achieve my goals and it was just an all-around good fit.”
Franek, a Harwood, North Dakota, native grew up with North Dakota State all around him. Because of this, Franek puts a certain amount of importance on being a great student-athlete on and off the mat for the Bison. “Coming from such a close place to NDSU, I have so many people behind me,” Franek said. “I just want to go out there and prove to myself that I can do it. I want to show up and put on a show for all of those that have followed me and supported me.”
Throughout his short career, Franek has done just that. In his redshirt season last year, he went 10-2 with three pins, two tech falls and two major decisions. Meaning, that not only did Franek simply defeat opponents, he dominated them. Within that 10-2 record, Franek won two of the three open tournaments he competed in at 157 pounds.
One might be content with that level of success as just a true freshman. However when talking with him, you will quickly learn that Jared Franek may never be content with his performance on the mat. In fact, he believes he should have gone undefeated last season. Franek used this summer to improve on his “weak” points.
“I’ve seen my biggest improvements over the summer because a lot of offseason training is where you get a lot better. I noticed last year I had a few losses in my redshirt season that should not have been losses,” Franek said. “Now, having a hard summer and a good summer, I’ve noticed I’m improved both physically and mentally on the mat. It’s hopefully going to show here soon and I feel more confident when I go out there too.”
This past summer of training was a challenging one for the Bison. They went most of the offseason with just head coach Roger Kish in the room. Kish was still filling out the staff around him with three assistants leaving after the season. While that provided a challenge for Bison wrestling, Franek believes it made the team better.
“That was definitely some adversity we had to go through with coaches leaving and stuff. We all just had to come together and stay together and trust the process,” he said. “Now, we got some awesome coaches that came in and we all get along and it seems like they’ve been here a lot longer then they have been.”
So far this season, Franek has proven his worth to Bison wrestling. He won his first collegiate match by decision against Cal State Bakersfield. Competing in the annual Bison Open, Franek was the tournament’s champion at 157 pounds. He won four total matches against stiff competition from Minnesota and South Dakota State. Despite a good start to the season, Franek wants to continue to improve.
“I just want to see it get better at every position and not ever give up any easy positions. I want to be able to wrestle through every position,” he said. “Everyone at this high of a level is good at each spot, so I want to be able to perfect my game and perfect my top, bottom and neutral wrestling. If I do that, I feel like I can be pretty successful.”
If you know Jared Franek, you’ll understand that he will improve in those areas as his career goes on. With plenty of wrestling left to take place for the redshirt freshman, the future is certainly bright.
While they may stay quiet inside the wrestling room, there is a storm brewing for the Bison. That storm is Jared Franek, and he may just destroy everything in his path to the podium.