A baritone voice introduces the performer to the awaiting crowd. Applause fills the venue as the sound booms out over the speakers. Eyes gaze towards the center in anticipation of what might happen in the next few minutes. But the attention doesn’t unnerve Hofstra wrestler Jamel Hudson. The solitary nature of the sport has the opposite, calming impact.
Stepping on the mat invokes feelings of a one-man show, which is a comfortable situation for Hudson. The Bay Shore, New York native is used to showcasing his abilities in front of audiences as the singer/dancer/musician/athlete balances his time as a wrestler, entertainer and student. “When I do a show, the spotlight is on me and I can determine where the performance goes,” Hudson said. “It’s the same with wrestling. It’s an individual sport when you’re out there. There are team aspects, but if you continue to excel and perform at what you’re doing, then you can be a superstar.”
Hudson is working his way to that elite status. The red-shirt sophomore went 16-4 in his first full collegiate season in 2013-14 when he wrestled at 133 pounds. That was eight pounds less than his current weight class at 141, where Hudson is 8-3 and 24-7 in his career entering Dec. 19.
Entering last season, Luke Vaith was finishing the last of three consecutive campaigns in which he qualified for the NCAA Championships, prompting Hudson to move down a class in order to start. After Vaith graduated, Hudson was able to move up to a weight class that is more suitable for a grappler his size.
Now, he said he is able to eat more efficiently, including small meals every three hours while drinking a gallon of water per day. The physiological impact has paid off with an improved outlook. “I am not hating what I’m doing now, I love wrestling and it’s working out well,” said Hudson, who has earned a national rating of 17 by InterMat’s individual rankings. “My mentality was so focused on weight last year. I would be in workouts just layered up in clothing try to sweat more. Now, I’m able to just focus on wrestling.”
That positive outlook has Hudson thinking big. The former St. Anthony’s standout already has posted a victory over a ranked opponent when he defeated No. 15 Sam Speno from North Carolina State in the Northeast Duals. The 8-3 decision was a result of an offseason of training that saw Hudson embrace the teachings of first-year Head Coach Dennis Papadatos. “He knows what he wants and what he needs to put in to accomplish those goals,” Papadatos said. “My only complaint is that he is good enough to be undefeated at this point. He’s that talented.”
Besides developing a rapport with Papadatos, who also wrestled at Hofstra from 1997-01, Hudson trained in freestyle wrestling and sought quality competition. That included a trip to Las Vegas, where he placed seventh in the 66 KG (145.5 pounds) class at the FILA Junior Freestyle National Championships.
The ever-increasing exposure to facing top talent has helped Hudson create a lofty goals list for this season and his next two years of eligibility. The 2016 NCAA Championships will be held in Madison Square Garden, which is a fact not lost on the 5’6″ grappler. “When I started wrestling, I was always into names and rankings and it would psych me out,” Hudson said. “I don’t even look at it now. I want to go out and prove that I’m better. If you want to win in this sport, you have to feel like you’re best. The goal is to be an All-American the next three years.”
Hudson came to Hofstra after a terrific prep career in which he won the 2012 New York State championship at 132 pounds and recorded the quickest pin in state tournament history by posting a fall in just eight seconds. The three-time CHSAA state champion wrestled in 11 matches during his true freshman season in 2012-13, when he went 7-4 before taking a redshirt.
In 2014, he placed second in the New York State Collegiate Championships by going 4-1 in the competition. Fellow 141-pounder Alex Mirante goes against Hudson constantly in practice and said the high expectations are justified. “Explosive,” said Mirante with a grin when asked to describe Hudson’s style. “He’s one of the strongest people I’ve wrestled in my life. He’s quick on his feet and he makes you fight for everything. In practice, I blink and he took me down.”
When Papadatos came in, he saw the potential in Hudson to take that natural talent to the next level. He put Hudson and the rest of the team through grueling workouts, including 6:30 a.m. running sessions in the offseason, and has talked openly about striving to be champions, both in conference in EIWA and then at nationals. “I think he’s talented enough to be on a podium at the end of the year,” Papadatos said. “His expectations should be high. He works hard enough for his talent level to be an All-American. He’s talented enough to be a national champion eventually. He’s doing all the right things. “He can handle adversity a little better but we’re working on it. I’ve never been unhappy with the effort he’s put in.”
The same dedication Hudson used in offseason workouts is applied to his career as an entertainer. A musician who can sing – his rendition of the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself” was used on a MSG Varsity talent show while he was a student at St. Anthony’s – dance and play instruments such as the piano and guitar have helped make Hudson the subject of television reports from CBS and FiOS1.
Staying close to the New York metropolitan area – and near one of the world’s foremost cities for entertainment options – helped convince the Long Island product to choose Hofstra. He has strong ties to the area, as his mother, Dr. Tracy Hudson, is the principal for Mulligan Middle School in the Central Islip School District and his father, Ron, is a physical education teacher at East Middle School in Brentwood. He has also strengthened his bond with the community by starring in his own one-man anti-bullying show that has been performed in local school districts, including Hempstead High School.
Though acting has always been a passion, he said the opportunity to be an All-American meant making short-term sacrifices to pursue an athletic aspiration. “I didn’t want to leave New York because this is where I was born and this is where I want to excel,” Hudson said. “I saw the campus and I knew it was where I wanted to be. I want to be able to look back when I’m 50 and said ‘I did it; I was on that podium; I was a tough dude.’ I want to be able to say I was a champion.”