2014 Senior Send Off
We saw a lot of wrestlers last matches this weekend. It's not always the storybook ending they hope for either. Only a few people went out on the truly high notes of their career with either a National Title or perhaps finally getting over the hump and placing.
Many of these guys are still feeling the sting of disappointment and regret after a season's conclusion that wasn't what they wanted. This article is to recognize the efforts of those warriors that had unheralded conclusions as a way of saying "thank you" and "good luck."
Think about a guy like Jarrod Patterson, his senior year began with promise, pushing Nahshon to the brink at the All Star. However, injuries plagued him the 2nd half of the season. The Patterson you saw in OKC wasn't the guy I will remember. I'll remember the defensive stalwart who would ride you with legs til your face was blue. He put it on the line that one last time for the Sooners.
Big thanks to a guy like Tyler Graff. For 4 years he was an absolute machine. Technically crisp as any guy at any weight. I still haven't seen anybody get as many 4 point techs as he has. A tribute to his relentless approach on his feet as well as his technical acumen. I remember the pain on his face last year in the semi's when Tony took him down. I'll never forget him slapping the mat after giving up the nearfall against Ramos in the finals this year. Knowing he just lost his shot at a title. Then seeing his emotions in the tunnel afterwards. It was tough to watch a kid that good and humble fall short. Tyler was all class, all the way. He didn't garner the attention that a guy like Ramos or Colon did, but he was always in their league. Here's hoping we'll see Tyler around the Freestyle circuit.
Jon Morrison was in the midst of his finest season, in my opinion. I truly felt he had a shot at the finals. Echoing Willie's sentiments, I was completely stunned to see Brewer take it to him in a way I'd never seen. The disappointment and pain on his face was tough to watch. He's one of the best 133's this year, and a strange tournament doesn't change that.
Thanks to David Thorn for never giving guys a break and squeezing every ounce of skill out of his body. He was a team guy. He sucked down to 125 for the team last year. It was cool to see him go out on a high note on a big day for his team.
Watching Mike Nevinger at EIWA's was tough. It was hard to tell where Mike WASN'T injured. When he's on Nevinger was one of the best scramblers and suffocating mat wrestlers in the weight. I'll never forget his match to qualify for NCAA's. He limped onto the mat, shook his hand and immediately got to a cement mixer and stuck him. Then he limped off the mat. It was BA. Mike squeezed every ounce of ability out of his banged up body, and that's an amazing thing to be able to say.
Big shout to Eric Grajales. He never cared about the expectations put on him coming out of high school. He got 3rd at NCAA's. An incredible accomplishment. Even though many gave him a hard time (myself included) for getting a bit winded, Eric was never one to shy away from a big move. Never a dull moment with Eric.
Nestor Taffur is all class. Got to interview him at EIWA's and you can't meet a more respectful and earnest kid. He carried the flag for a team that needed him in a way you have to appreciate. He gave Alex Dieringer everything he could handle in the quarters. Though Taffur fell short of placing, he left with everyone's respect. That kid can wrestle.
Let's run down Tyler Caldwell's NCAA losses real quick: Freshman year: Andrew Howe and Nick Amuchastegui. Sophomore Year: Jordan Burroughs. Junior Year: Kyle Dake. Senior Year: David Taylor. Is he one of the best to never win it all? I'm not sure, but you won't find a more impressive list of guys to lose to anywhere. Don't call him unlucky though, he chose this and the sport is better for it. He proved to be a very worthy adversary to all the guys who knocked him down including DT and Burroughs. He may not have a title, but everyone can appreciate the amazing career he's had.
It's been a long journey for Joe Booth. He enrolled at Drexel in 2008! 6 seasons later the dude was still grinding, looking for a podium finish. He didn't have to come back for another year. He could have just gone to graduate school and called it career. He went after it regardless and was a real stud this year. A conference champion, just short of an All American finish. A solid career for Joe.
I've always been a big Danny Zilverberg fan, so I know the unconventional path his career took weight wise. He started as a 149 pounder and I'll never forget watching him push Molinaro to the absolute brink in their dual. When Ness came in he had to go 157. Last year he found his stride earning wins over Taffur, Bonin, Dong, Walsh, Alton, Napoli and Bradley but still fell short of an All American finish. I thought he was really hitting his stride, but he had to move up once more when Ness decided to take 157. All he did was go up and place. He provide huge team points for Minnesota. He got to go out on a high note, not many can say that.
I've been an Andrew Howe fan since I listened to his first interview on Flo in the Wisconsin wrestling room talking about how he knew he was ready to go for his True Freshman and that he can win a National Championship. He was darn close that He is the definition of a brawler. Old school grit and toughness that is hard to come by. There's not many world-class wrestlers in the d1 ranks, but he's one of them. He battled various injuries throughout his career and had quite a long journey to get back to the college ranks after taking an olympic redshirt, then a regular redshirt before landing at Oklahoma. When Mark Cody says you're the hardest working human he knows, you know what kind of work this kid put in. He got beat fair and square and apparently Chris Perry is better. I really didn't foresee that coming into this year. Howe always handled himself like a man. It sucked knowing that a warrior like Perry or Howe would have to walk off the mat with their head down, but he should hold it high. He had a fantastic career and I couldn't be more excited to watch him push guys around the mat in Freestyle.
Ryan Loder was a hammer, and I'll always remember him that way. Lots of takedowns in the arsenal and a hammer on top. You'll never convince me he was 100% this year. He missed a huge chunk of time this season. Though he came back, he was never all the way back. A lot of guys pack it in after an early loss. He lost in round 1 and battled all the way back to the round of 12 falling just short to another Senior, Jacob Swartz. It was a gutty effort by the Panther Senior, and I'll remember him for his electric style, not for coming up just short in his final hurrah.
Some people say Nick Heflin isn't the most offensive guy. To a degree that may be true. However, when he goes for it, he could produce some of the most exciting attacks in all of d1 wrestling. I love a guy who will go upper body and put himself in extreme danger for the chance to score big. His strength was ridiculous. He was easily one of the biggest 97's in the entire field. He made Schiller look like he was the guy at 174 a year ago with his cement hips and ridiculous hand fighting. He fell just short, but coming into this year, I don't know of anyone who put him in the "title contender" category. Credit to him for having the guts to go up two weights and compete.
It was a tough end to Tony Nelson's final season. He had the bizarre 3 match losing streak, but really seemed to be rounding into form coming into the NCAA finals. Everything was going according to plan as he had just gotten the 2 minutes of riding time. Gwiaz had no interest in being a part of heavyweight history and straight up beat an all-time great heavy. I'll never forget when ESPN shot to Tony's father in the crowd. I thought he had a unique expression that somehow encapsulated both disappointment as well as a look of "it was a great run." Maybe I looked too far into his facial expression, but it made me feel a little better about the disappointment Tony would be feeling knowing his Father seemed to have the right outlook you'd like to see just moments after the match. It was an amazing career. 4 time All American, 2 time champ.
This sport is so incredibly difficult and the work that goes in to just being a national qualifier is amazing. These guys may not all leave with a high finish or hardware of any kind, but they all have contributed greatly to us, the fans. I know I didn't hit every Senior, and I wish that I could have. Just know your efforts, entertainment and sacrifice did not go unnoticed and that the community is so appreciative of the years you gave to our sport. Thanks again and good luck to the class of 2014.