A two-time state wrestling champion from Perry, Jake Hager has turned into one of the most recognized competitors in professional wrestling today.
Competing as Jack Swagger for the WWE, he’s held the United States Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship over his eight-year career.
Hager attended Oklahoma as a two-sport athlete, competing in wrestling and football before committing fully to wrestling as a sophomore.
The 6-foot-7 Hager went on to become an All-American at heavyweight in his senior season with the Sooners.
It was an amazing experience wrestling in Perry, Oklahoma. I don’t know if there is any place quite like it. The whole town supports it and breathes it. They go through every step with you. It’s almost like when you’re cutting weight they’re cutting weight with you, or when you’re digging for that last-second takedown they’re right there with you. It’s amazing the support that town gives.
You grow up there knowing that you’re going to wrestle. It’s not forced on you or anything, but it’s a very special environment where you just want to do it. I caught the bug very early.
I was fortunate enough to have great coaches around me like Scott Chenoweth and Danny Hodge. They were not only my coaches, but my friends. I would not be here where I’m at today without Perry wrestling and its coaches.
(Playing football and wrestling at OU), that was a lot. You really had to prove how hungry you were and how successful you wanted to be. Along with juggling a college education it was almost like three sports, but it was a great experience. Being fortunate enough to have two teams and having twice the teammates and experiences is something I’ll take with me wherever I go. You have a special bond with your teammates and I had a lot of great ones at Oklahoma.
I played defensive tackle and I came in on the same class as Tommie Harris and Dusty Dvoracek. Kory Klein and Barry Holleyman were the older guys in front of us. It was a stacked position at the time, but definitely where I wanted to be.
I will always remember the first time I ran out on the field at OU. It was back in 2001 and we had the first game of the season at home against North Carolina. Julius Peppers was in his senior season there, so we were fired up for that. I had tears in my eyes that first time I hit the field and 80,000 Oklahomans stood up cheering for you. I get goose bumps to this day thinking about it.
Right after we won the Rose Bowl (in 2003) against Washington State the wrestling team needed a heavyweight. They didn’t have any backups and I was anxious to get back on the mat competing. I had been wrestling since the age of five, so I couldn’t stay away from it for too long. The relationship I had with the coaches there really solidified my decision to commit to wrestling. I really trusted those guys and wanted to see how far I could go with wrestling.
My senior season I was lucky enough to have the national tournament held in Oklahoma City at the Ford Center. I had a lot of my hometown friends and family to support me along with the Sooner fans. It was kind of reminiscent of being at the high school state tournament, because the whole town of Perry is there for you. It was a very cool moment for me. I didn’t finish as well as I wanted to, but I was still an All-American and I went out with a pin. I remember looking up into the stands and I just felt like they were proud of me and that was nice.
I got very lucky with how I got signed by the WWE. I had met Jim Ross and Jerry Brisco before I was even in college and they always told me to get your degree first and then we’ll give you a shot if you want to come try your hand with the WWE. I graduated in May 2006, flew out to Atlanta for a week to tryout, and by July 2006 I was signed and training in Atlanta. I took a little bit different path than most WWE superstars have taken. I’m one of the few superstars who have gone through all three of the developmental camps.
I loved all forms of wrestling growing up. Any type of wrestling I could get my hands on I loved, so professional wrestling went well with me. Jim Ross has a great eye for talent and Jerry Brisco as well. It’s pretty impressive the group of talented guys they’ve brought into this over the years from amateur wrestling. Hopefully when I’m done my name is considered up there with the greats they’ve brought into the WWE.