Southern Oregon's unassuming leader
If Jimmy Ulrey had his druthers, he wouldn't be doing this interview.
He'd most likely be out somewhere fishing, since the furthest thing in his mind is drawing attention to himself.
But so it goes for the affable Southern Oregon University senior, and he only has himself to blame for Wednesday's mid-morning chat.
All he had to do was lay low last year and have a respectable but otherwise unspectacular showing at the NAIA Championships.
But, then again, that wouldn't be Ulrey, either.
Someone who works construction in the spring and summer to help pay bills and has also taken on the burden of mounting student loans just so he can earn a college degree isn't likely to back down from a challenge anytime soon.
That was the case last March, when the then-junior rose from a pedestrian second-place showing at the West Regionals to NAIA All-American status by reaching the semifinals and eventually placing sixth in the NAIA Championships.
The spotlight remains on the 165-pounder as he prepares to take his SOU team to Great Falls, Mont., for this year's regionals on Saturday, and he's still not sure what to think of being such a focal point for the ninth-ranked Raiders.
"It's definitely a lot different from last year," Ulrey says during his 20-minute walk home from a marketing class. "Last year I wasn't sure I could become an All-American and stuff like that. When it happened, instantly people looked up to me and expected me to do things to help lead the team. It changed things quite a bit and it took me a little while this year to get used to the idea that people actually looked up to me and expected me to lead the team."
It's not that Ulrey doesn't appreciate the high standing, it's just such accolades have never been a driving force in his athletic pursuits. The 23-year-old senior is more interested in putting in a hard day's work and letting it stand at that.
Nothing more needs to be said.
"He's just been a kid that's done the right things to get where he
Ulrey placed fifth in the state at 152 pounds as a North Medford High senior in 2003, but his standing in the wrestling community wasn't as important back then.
Ulrey also shined on the baseball field as a right fielder for the Black Tornado, earning all-conference honors, and helping lead the Medford Mustangs to the American Legion AAA World Series during the summer of 2002.
Baseball was expected to be Ulrey's ticket to college, but five weeks into playing ball at Lassen Community College in Susanville, Calif., he began to long for the lure of the Rogue Valley.
A phone call to then-North Medford wrestling coach Kacey McNulty helped open the door for his return, but the rest has been all Ulrey. He's had his ups and downs on the mat in the time since, but none of it has served to deter his desire to continue wrestling.
"I'm 100 percent positive I made the right decision," Ulrey says. "I love baseball and wrestling was always second, but wrestling's one of those things that will stick with you forever."
And it's those "forever" moments that Ulrey lives for the most. His senior season hasn't exactly been dominant, with an 18-9 record heading into Saturday's action, but those regular season wins and losses are fleeting.
"That's stuff that never bothers me," says Ulrey. "Nobody's going to ask you how you did against Pacific as a senior."
His real prize is still out there, beginning with a potential regional title and hopeful national title. He could deal without the former, but the latter is priority No. 1.
"I expect nothing less than to be a national champion," says Ulrey, who's ranked second in the region to Menlo's Robert Davis and fourth in the nation. "I know that I have the ability and talent to do it, I've just got to go out and do it."
Therein lies the rub for Ulrey, who isn't exactly your prototypical college wrestler. He prefers a more wide-open attack instead of the usual close-to-the-vest mentality that lends itself to nail-biting matches.
"I don't go out there to try and win 2-1," he says. "I consider matches conditioning. If I'm not tired at the end of the match, then I didn't do something right."
It's a style that leads to big points, but allows for giving up big points and position on the mat.
"The way I can wrestle will win matches, and sometimes the way I do wrestle doesn't," Ulrey admits.
He has no issue with giving up a takedown, feeling more than confident in his hips and his ability to scramble with anyone and get more out of it.
It's a style contradictory to how Ritchey wants his wrestlers to compete, but one he's getting used to. The Raiders have tried to get Ulrey to hold back more, but the results just weren't as desired.
" changing it so much, guys actually scored more points on me," says Ulrey.
Ritchey adds: "We worked to try not to give up many points but, I don't know, we may just let him go and see what happens (on Saturday). He likes scrambles, and I think we're just going to have to deal with it. I don't like giving up points, it drives me crazy. If there could be a little more balance there, he'd be pretty tough to beat at the national tournament."
But just like before, that's just not Ulrey. He's not being defiant, just plugging himself into a slot that feels more comfortable.
And no game plan is going to alter how willing he is to lay it all on the line for the Raiders as his collegiate career winds down.
"My dad taught me as a little kid to never have any regrets," says Ulrey. "At the end of the national tournament, I don't want to think that I could've gone harder. Even if I don't take first place, as long as I can say I gave it all I could, then that's all that matters to me."
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