When you realize that Rowland Hall senior Drew Lang grew up in a family filled with passionate and successful wrestlers—including two adored older brothers—it’s not surprising that he became intrigued by the sport at an early age.
When asked when Drew first showed an interest in wrestling, his mom, Jill Lang, shared an especially sweet memory: at a wrestling tournament for the family’s two oldest boys, Will and Jack, then in elementary school, where she discovered the then-toddler Drew attempting to change out of his training pants and into a wrestling singlet.
“I said, ‘Oh no, honey, it’s a little too soon,’” she said, chuckling at the memory.
Luckily for that determined toddler, the wait didn’t last much longer: Drew stepped on the mat for the first time at age three. And he hasn’t stopped wrestling since.
Though Drew’s initial interest in wrestling can be traced to simply wanting to do what his big brothers were doing, a deep personal connection to the sport has kept him going for more than 15 years. It’s clear when talking to Drew that wrestling—a sport that, though organized by teams, is very individual—speaks to his innate drive for excellence. He said he remembers enjoying the repetition of early training sessions, which allowed him to slowly hone his skills, as well as benefiting from exposure to a variety of styles shared by the array of families that made up the first wrestling club the Lang family joined after moving to Utah, Team Legacy. He believes these early experiences set a foundation for success.
Wrestling is very much a sport where what you put in, you get out. The feeling of putting in so much time and effort and sacrifice, and then at the end of the day receiving the results you want, it’s very satisfying and worth it for me.—Drew Lang, class of 2022
“A lot of wrestling is knowing what to do in certain positions, and the only way you can really know that is by wrestling in all sorts of positions,” explained Drew. “You pick up on different things when you learn to wrestle against different types of kids.”
And even though Drew was one of the youngest kids in Team Legacy when he got started, his mom said he wasn’t scared to challenge himself. “From a very early age, he has never, ever been afraid of anything,” said Jill. “It wasn’t that he always thought he was going to win, necessarily, but he always was confident in his ability and he was always willing to try things.” It was an approach that worked: around age five, Drew began to place in, and even win, national tournaments, and that taste of victory marked a turning point.
“The feeling of winning is really what sparked my passion for this sport,” Drew remembered. “Wrestling is very much a sport where what you put in, you get out. The feeling of putting in so much time and effort and sacrifice, and then at the end of the day receiving the results you want, it’s very satisfying and worth it for me.”
Since those first wins, Drew has continued to amass an impressive list of achievements, both in national competitions as a now-member of the Sanderson Wrestling Academy and on the West High School wrestling team (although Drew attends Rowland Hall, he is one of its students who plays a sport not offered by the school at another local high school). In January alone, the two-time 6A state wrestling champion finished in eighth place at the Doc Buchanan Invitational in California (”arguably the toughest high school tournament in the country attracting the nation’s top high school wrestlers,” said Jill), first place at the Utah All-Star Duals, and first place at the Rockwell Rumble. On January 19, he was ranked the number-one Utah wrestler, pound for pound, by the Beehive Top 25. And to top it all off, he’s inching his way toward becoming the winningest wrestler in West High School history, a title currently held by his brother Jack Lang ’19 (who, by the way, won it from the oldest Lang brother, Will, in 2019); Drew should take the title by the time the 2022 state tournament wraps later this month. As Drew heads into the final phase of his high school wrestling career, his chances of additional victories, including a third state championship, are promising indeed—especially when you factor in the impressive mental fitness, refined alongside his physical strength, that the young athlete will tap into as he faces his last high school opponents. It’s a kind of fitness that, at such an elite level of wrestling, can truly mean the difference between victory and defeat.
“Once you get to a certain point,” Drew explained, “mindset is almost more important than the physical aspect, just because everyone is so good. But the people that are the best are mentally strong.”
Nowhere is this more evident for Drew than when he revisits opponents who have previously bested him on the mat: his 2021 6A state championship win, for instance, came against Westlake High School’s Jacob Finlinson, who wrestled the state title away from Drew in 2020, and this year’s win against Juab High School’s Channing Warner at the Utah All-Star Duals was revenge for Channing’s one-point victory over Drew at the same event in 2021.
“I think that’s what’s really helped propel him to do so well in this sport,” Jill said. “He’s never made excuses. He’s accepted what has happened, win or lose, and if he does lose then he immediately goes into the mindset, ‘OK, how do I need to train differently? What would I have done differently in this match if I had a rematch?’”
It’s a mindset that Drew has also applied in the classroom: while the young athlete said he doesn’t often view himself as the top student, his years of wrestling have taught him that he is one of the hardest working. “I think having that work ethic at such a young age really helped me,” he said.
It certainly made a difference in his college search. In middle school, Drew told his parents that he wanted to wrestle for an Ivy League school, and it became a goal that he dedicated himself to with the same energy that he brings to the mat—and with similar results. This fall, he’ll be heading to Princeton University, where he hopes to reach new wrestling heights (he’d like to be a starter by his sophomore year as well as an All-American) and make connections toward a fulfilling career. “The academic growth I’ll have there,” he said, “I think is going to set me up for the rest of my life.”
I think the skills from this sport—learning how to be a good winner, learning how to be a gracious loser, time management, accountability, not being afraid of taking risks—are so beneficial.—Jill Lang, parent
Because when it comes down to it, Drew explained, few people go on to wrestle professionally—but that doesn’t mean the sport doesn’t continue to shape them. “There’s a quote about wrestling: ‘Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy,’” he said. “I think there’s some truth behind that, just because wrestling is the same as everything else: you’re going to fail at times, you’re going to be successful at times.”
Jill agreed. “Drew’s not going to be a wrestler his entire life,” she said, “but I think the skills from this sport—learning how to be a good winner, learning how to be a gracious loser, time management, accountability, not being afraid of taking risks—are so beneficial, whatever he decides to do.”
The sport has also shown him, and those around him, the power of family and community, all of which came together to support Drew’s dreams. While much of this credit goes to Jill and her husband, Dave, as well as to Drew’s favorite role models, Jack and Will, and his coaches, Jill also took time to express gratitude to Rowland Hall for playing an important role in Drew’s journey.
“I’ve been so blown away by how accommodating the school has been; that’s helped Drew be where he is today,” she said. “Middle School Spanish teacher Bill Shann literally has watched more matches of Drew’s than I could ever tell you—away matches, home matches, matches online. He’s just been so supportive. The teachers have been so accommodating, as I’m sure they are with other kids that have interests they want to pursue. That’s been such a blessing for our family, to have such a supportive network.”
And no matter what happens on the mat this month, Drew will end his high school wrestling career surrounded by those who love him most.
“This is Drew’s moment, and I’m so grateful I get to share in it,” said Jill. “I just want him to go out there, and do his best, and enjoy that moment, and just know, whatever place he takes, we’re right up there watching him, as we always are.”
Update February 7, 2022: Drew won the 6A Boys Division Tournament, held February 4–5, and will be the #1 seed going into the 6A Boys State Tournament, which begins on February 18.
Update February 19, 2022: Drew has ended his high school wrestling career with a third state championship; read more about his victory in the Deseret News. Congratulations, Drew!