By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
There’s just something about Gallagher-Iba Arena that’s always held a special place in Clayton Foster’s heart. Maybe it’s the history — wrestling on the same mat as some of the world’s best — or the atmosphere, but whatever it is, Foster knows there’s no place like it in the country.
So when Foster hung up his Oklahoma State singlet for the last time, the waves of emotion poured out. Never again would he compete on those orange mats, mats that have become so familiar over his four-year career.
Or so he thought.
Foster, now a coach on the University of Wyoming’s staff, will return to Stillwater for one last go-around in the familiar arena as he takes part in the U.S. World Team Trials. Only this time he won’t be looking to defeat a Big 12 foe or win a Big 12 title — he’ll be looking for much more.
“It’s exciting,” Foster said. “I can’t wait to see some of my old teammates and wrestle there in Gallagher-Iba again. It’ll be fun.”
As Foster prepares to battle for a spot on the U.S. World Team, memories of his time at Oklahoma State have already flooded his brain. The epic Bedlam wins, the sheer dominance of the program — all the things that make Gallagher-Iba wrestling’s house of horrors.
“I didn’t think I would ever come back (as a wrestler),” Foster said. “I doubted it, but anything is possible. When they set up the trials there, I thought that was pretty cool. I thought it’d be in Iowa again or something.
“It definitely helps. Being an alumni from there, I probably still have some fans there, so I’ll be wrestling for them. It will be fun to hear them cheer for me and Chris (Pendleton).”
Foster won’t only be wrestling for the fans. He’ll also be wrestling for himself, hoping to make a team he’s spent many nights dreaming about.
“It would be a dream come true for me,” Foster said. “My expectations are to win it and make the world team. I’ve been training pretty hard, working on my cardio and stuff just to make sure I’m ready.”
Fortunately for Foster, he hasn’t been alone in his training sessions. Fellow former Oklahoma State wrestler Chris Pendleton, who also coaches at Wyoming, has been right by his side as he also prepares for his trip to Stillwater.
“It helps out a ton, having a teammate doing all the stuff with you, pushing you to the next level,” Foster said. “We’re always competing against each other in the weight room, running and swimming, and even wrestling. We’re grinding it out in the wrestling ring.”
And as the two-time All-American and his training partner prepare for their triumphant return to a place they called home for so many years, Foster said he’s not really nervous despite the immense pressure that comes with the trials.
“I’m not nervous at all,” Foster said. “It’s just like any other tournament, it just has a different name. I’m excited as I would be for any tournament.
“You just have to embrace it. You have to understand that there’s going to be pressure and you can’t let it get to you. You just have to accept the fact that there is pressure and it’s only going to make me a better wrestler or it’s going to make me worse. If you embrace it, you’ll be a better wrestler and get to where you want.”
When asked if he might have a home-mat advantage because of his ties to Oklahoma State, the former Cowboy standout just laughed.
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Foster said. “I’ll just be happy if somebody remembers me.”