Carlsons bring brotherly bond to the mat


Emily Matejka, Sports Reporter

For Colten and Clay Carlson, wrestling holds a deeper meaning than playing the sport.

So, what’s this deeper meaning all about? Family, of course.

The Carlson brothers from Willmar, Minnesota have been an inseparable duo from the second they stepped onto the wrestling mat as four year-olds.

Colten, a senior majoring in dairy production, wrestles at 165 pounds for South Dakota State University, while his younger brother Clay, a junior majoring in animal science with an emphasis on pre-veterinary studies, wrestles in the 141-pound weight class.

The brothers have a bond that can easily be seen in their competition routine.

Before a meet, Colten and Clay will warm up together and perform a routine to get into the competition mindset.

Competing with a sibling at the Division I level is “an experience for sure,” Colten said. “I get more nervous for him than I do myself. As I’m watching him on the bench, I’ll be sitting there shaking.”

Clay echoes his brother’s feeling in the audience.

“I get so much more nervous for [Colten],” he said. “I get done wrestling my match, and I cool down and I relax and all of a sudden [Colten] steps on the line and I instantly start sweating again.”

Even outside of practice and competition, both brothers say one of the best things about being together is always having that person to go to.

But being together is not without its challenges.

“My biggest frustration is having that person that knows how to get under my skin in a matter of milliseconds,” Clay said with a chuckle. “A lot of my teammates have learned that ability from Colten as well, because they can pick up on what he does to get under my skin.”

Similarly, Colten says one of his challenges stems from Clay knowing him too well.

“I don’t usually slack, but he’s the one that knows if I am slacking, so I don’t get any days off,” Colten said.

This time together sets the stage for a highly competitive atmosphere.

As kids, they created “Alpha-Carl Competitions” that would decide who would get to be the “alpha Carlson” of the day.

Even now, they still compete for who can earn the most points at a meet or run the fastest in practice.

But this wrestling duo almost didn’t end up at the same college.

Colten secured his spot on the SDSU team by reaching out during high school as a late recruit. He wrestled for two years before it was his brother’s turn to decide on a college wrestling path.

At the end of his high school season, Clay had his sights set elsewhere and was ready to commit before a new coach started at SDSU. Colten knew he wanted Clay on his team, so he persuaded Clay to talk with the new wrestling coach, Damion Hahn.

After talking for over two hours, Clay said he knew that he belonged at SDSU.

“It was a pretty easy decision for me, and I haven’t regretted it once,” Clay said.

Clay’s recruitment holds a special place in Hahn’s time at SDSU.

“I’m pretty certain Clay was my first recruit,” Hahn said. “Watching his growth over the last couple seasons has been a real pleasure … getting to know Colten and his personality.”

From a coach’s perspective, it was obvious to Hahn that Colten and Clay would bring more than just skill to the team.

“They are tremendous human beings,” Hahn said. “They’re guys that lead by example and are passionate about everything they do in their life.”

Hahn said that after coaching Colten and Clay for three years, he doesn’t know how they would have survived if they were apart.

“They are great for each other,” Hahn said. “They’re always trying to push each other to reach their limits and it’s awesome to see.”

This constant drive has allowed the brothers to have a successful season. Colten and Clay have tallied records of 6-5 and 8-4, respectively.

The brothers will continue their season at the Big 12 Conference Tournament March 6-7 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

When asked about where they see themselves after their wrestling careers, neither knows for sure.

Colten centers his future around family back home, where he’s hoping to be “working with family.” He aims to be a wrestling coach while getting into the dairy industry.

Clay says his path is pretty straightforward if everything goes according to plan.

“Hopefully, I will be at the University of Minnesota finishing out my last semester of vet school. Then after vet school, I don’t really have any plans made yet.”

As they finish their final season together at SDSU, Hahn reminisces on their impact over the last three years and in days to come.

“It’s been fun,” the coach said. “And it will continue to be fun building the relationship that we have with them.”