2024 Gazette Wrestler of the Year: Adin Clifford, Hampshire

Hampshire Regional’s Adin Clifford, right, was selected as the Gazette’s 2023-24 Wrestler of the Year.

Hampshire Regional’s Adin Clifford, right, was selected as the Gazette’s 2023-24 Wrestler of the Year. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-03-2024 5:34 PM

There perhaps wasn’t a better stretch of dominance at the Western Mass. Division 3 Wrestling Championships at Mount Greylock Regional High School in early February than the performance of Hampshire’s Adin Clifford.

To start his day, Clifford pinned Frontier’s Ben Baker early in the first period to advance him to the quarterfinal round. It wasn’t just any other pin for Clifford, however.

The quick work of Baker stood as the 100th career win of his high school career. And as a junior, he still has another year to go.

“My first match at the tournament was actually my 100th win, so getting that done first was definitely a confidence boost for the rest of the day,” Clifford said. “The feeling of finally winning Western Mass. after wrestling for a few years was awesome. Before Western Mass. a lot of my matches went to the third round. To have none of my matches go that late that day felt really nice.”

As Clifford said, he breezed through the rest of the tournament – pinning each of his next three opponents within 2 minutes, 30 seconds – en route to his first career sectional title.

His dazzling display of command and skill throughout the Western Mass. tournament, reaching the century mark in wins included, led Clifford to being selected as the 2023-24 Daily Hampshire Gazette Wrestler of the Year.

“It felt good to get my 100th win,” Clifford said. “Being able to accomplish that with still one year to go is a great feeling. I put in a solid amount of time in the offseason, so to see that pay off is rewarding. Now I get my name put up on a banner in our gymnasium, so I’m definitely excited for that.”

After struggling to get over the hump and into the championship bout during his first handful of years as a varsity wrestler (his best finish at a sectional tournament being third), Clifford finally took the leap this season.

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While his undeniably relentless work ethic had a lot to do with it, his tough cut down to the 144-pound weight class did as well. Clifford was originally slated to wrestle at 150 like he did as a sophomore. But when that class shifted up to 152 this season, he decided to shed a few more pounds off and hop in at 144.

Not only did Clifford feel stronger pound-for-pound, he also had a significant height advantage. In a sport where the majority of its athletes are shorter, his length helped give him an unorthodox style that threw his opponents off.

“The weight class change was a huge difference for me this year,” Clifford said. “It was a bit of a stretch getting down there, but being able to drop down to that new weight class helped out a lot. I was a lot taller than most of the kids I was wrestling, so that was a major advantage.”

His unique advantage in that department isn’t the only unusual leg up Clifford has. Most high school wrestlers prefer to be positioned on top or neutral to their opponent, but Clifford doesn’t mind being on the bottom.

The junior mentioned his defense as “one of his biggest strengths,” and his head coach, Don Willard, agreed.

“What he has going for him, is he doesn’t mind being on the bottom, and a lot of wrestlers don’t wanna be on the bottom,” Willard said. “He can work his way out of there pretty well. He turns, extends and keeps moving until he finds his way out and I think that works well for him.”

Since seventh grade, Willard knew Clifford was going to be special.

During his time with the Raiders program, which expands back to well before Clifford got there, only two wrestlers have qualified for states as a seventh grader. Clifford was the second to do so.

“It was not unexpected with Adin,” Willard said. “He’s worked very hard to be where he is now. He started in seventh grade excelling already. In my time here, Adin was the second kid to ever qualify for states as a seventh grader. When you see a kid get a pass to states in their first or second year of wrestling, it really opens your eyes.”

And as the years have gone along, Clifford has only lived up to the billing.

Typically coaches from the sideline shout out instructions or strategies to their wrestlers during matches – especially important ones. But Willard doesn’t feel the need to do that with Clifford.

Instead, he lets his star wrestler show off his technicalities and attention to detail on his own, only providing coaching when necessary.

“As a coach, we’re usually yelling at kids from the sidelines, telling them a lot of things during their matches,” Willard said. “With Adin, I don’t really have to tell him too much. There’s not a lot of reminders we have to give him. We just let him do his thing. He’s always been one of our smarter, more promising wrestlers.”

With still another year to go, Clifford hopes to not just repeat as Western Mass. champion, he hopes he can catapult into the top six at states (two spots better than his eighth place finish this season) – if not win it. 

“I’m looking forward to hopefully winning Western Mass. again next year, and then placing at states would be really nice,” Clifford said.