Abdush-Shakur placed second at 174 pounds to earn All-American honors in the Greco-Roman style and returned two days later to post an eighth-place finish in freestyle to capture his second All-American accolade.
A 160-pound state champion last season at Parkview High School, Abdush-Shakur quickly adjusted to collegiate wrestling and proved his worth on Life’s roster.
“I knew I was going in as the underdog,” Abdush-Shakur said. “I’m a freshman. Nobody knew who I was. But I knew Greco-Roman was my strength, so I focused hard there and knew that I had my best chance at being an all-American in that style, so I peaked at the right time and made the finals.”
Abdush-Shakur cruised through his first three matches, winning by technical fall, decision and technical fall. He dropped his final match by a 4-0 decision.
After the Greco-Roman competition, Abdush-Shakur then set his sights on freestyle.
“I knew I was dangerous in freestyle, but maybe not to the point of being an all-American,” he said. “But I did train hard and did the things that I was taught to get through the matches and finished as an all-American.”
Abdush-Shakur started the tournament with back-to-back technical fall victories, but dropped his quarterfinal match 12-2. Undaunted, he secured all-American status with a 10-8 win in his first consolation match before dropping the next two.
“Winning in Las Vegas is a huge confidence-booster for me going into next season,” he said. “I was wrestling guys at (NCAA) Division I and Division II programs and holding my own against some of them. It’s a huge confidence-booster hanging with those guys.”
Abdush-Shakur didn’t have the breakout season he wanted in his first year at Life. He finished with a 16-15 record at 165 pounds and failed to advance to the NAIA championships after going 1-2 in a February qualifier at Life. He did, however, place second at 165 at the Georgia Intercollegiate Wrestling Championship two weeks prior.
“I was too nervous and didn’t have my confidence for that meet,” Abdush-Shakur said. “I put more pressure on myself than I needed to and didn’t perform well.
“I’m not pleased with how I finished the (regular) season. I know it’s a big difference between high school and college wrestling, but I wanted to be an NAIA all-American as a freshman. I hold myself to a high standard, and I pushed myself to reach that goal and fell short. National championships are my goal and that won’t change.”
Seth Gorman, director of wrestling at Life, appreciated the passion and dedication Abdush-Shakur brought to the program.
“Khalil brings dedication and hard work into every practice and pushes the pace on the mat,” Gorman said. “He’s one of the leading guys in the room, and he has a desire to do well. He has a love for the sport and came in to the program in Year 1, and the results show how hard he’s worked.”