At four and five years old, when most of the NCAA’s field is trying on their first singlet, Campbell University’s Shannon Hanna was learning to catch a football and doing his best to find a way to toss a basketball 10 feet in the air.
By age ten, when every wrestler in today’s NCAA field had devoted half of their life to wrestling, Hanna was already working towards a career as an SEC football offensive threat and still was unaware the sport that would one day take him to college even existed.
Games and sports always seemed to come to Hanna a little easier than most other kids. Every sport he tried he seemed to stand out just a little bit more. The gift of athleticism and a knack for figuring out minor nuances and strategies was something he was born with, and he knew exactly how to utilize it.
By the time high school rolled around, Hanna was as sharp as he’s ever been, but the tangibles weren’t keeping up. For the time being, a love for competing and his intangibles were enough to keep him head and shoulders above the high school competition, but his 5’8” frame was ruling him out of his past dreams of being an SEC slot receiver.
In his sophomore year of high school, Hanna was approached by the wrestling coach who (accurately) predicted he would catch on with wrestling just as well, if not better than he had every other sport. In a sport with weight classes separating linebacker-sized athletes from competing against undersized slot receiver-sized athletes, Hanna would be free to soar as high as his training would allow.
Still unable to name a single wrestler, wrestling school or wrestling technique, the consummate gamer went to practice and immediately made an impact on the team.
In less than two calendar years, he made an impact on the whole state.
“My junior year I made it to the State finals and I lost in ultimate overtime to Chris Rivera, who is my teammate now,” Hanna said. “He was ranked Top 10 in the country at that time. We’ve got some really good guys in Florida.”
The next year, the same wrestler who learned to drive before he learned to shoot a single leg was Florida’s State Champion, eyeing what colleges he’d go to. All thanks to a sport he had never even considered a few short years prior.
Now a senior at Campbell University, Hanna still has eligibility left to make two runs at an accomplishment he had never heard of a half-decade ago, and he can’t help but feel like he would already be there if he started wrestling when all of his teammates did.
“At this point, I became a student of the sport,” Hanna laughed. “I still don’t know the old-time wrestlers, but right now, with everything going on in wrestling, I’m kind of an expert at the sport. Right now, my teammates will talk about their idols and favorite wrestlers they grew up watching and I’m like, ‘I didn’t even know this was a thing when I was a kid.’”
Hanna is living proof that with enough hard work, anything is possible, but even he has a hard time putting into words how close to impossible his accomplishments have been in a sport where athletes learn to lace up wrestling shoes before they take training wheels off their bike.
He doesn’t have much longer in the sport, but he’s improved by leaps and bounds in only two years.
“I did it, so it’s hard for me to say this is something impossible, but it’s right next to impossible,” Hanna said. “I know kids who have been wrestling their whole life and haven’t made it as far as I have. I really put in a lot of work. Like a lot of work. Even now, I’m doing extra work because I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I’ve got six years under my belt and I’m wrestling at one of the hardest levels to be wrestling at, so I’ve still got some work to do.”
When Hanna wraps up his career on the mat, he plans to explore the world of MMA, and if he picks up fighting as quickly as he’s picked up literally everything else, lightweights beware.
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