By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Looking at the bench for the Oklahoma State University wrestling team reads like a pantheon of wrestling greats.
It all starts with head man John Smith, a two-time gold medalist and two-time Olympic coach, and head assistant coach Eric Guerrero, who was a 2004 Olympian. Assistant coach Zack Esposito may not have Olympian as a title, but he does have his name in the NCAA record books for a national title in 2005 and has the distinction of being a starter on four OSU NCAA championship-winning teams.
The volunteer coaches are equally as impressive — with Olympic gold medalist Kenny Monday and recent bronze medalist Coleman Scott joining the staff.
There is a wealth of experience and knowledge at the disposal of the Cowboy wrestlers. And this week, that will come in handy with the Division I Wrestling Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
“The coaching staff means everything. It’s a big role in why I came here,” said OSU senior Jordan Oliver, a three-time All-American and native of Pennsylvania. “All of them have the same thing in common, is that they have wanted to compete at the international level and have been successful at the international level. That’s my ultimate goal, and I thought, why go any other place than here when those guys have been so successful and really know what it takes to get to that level. Why not come here and train under one of the greatest American wrestlers that ever lived?”
It’s that history and tradition on staff that continues to bring elite student-athletes to wrestle in Gallagher-Iba Arena. And has Oklahoma State one of a short list of favorites to the win the NCAA team title.
The addition of Scott has extra meaning for Oliver, who grew up knowing the Waynesburg, Pa., native. Scott invited Oliver to be his training partner in the London Olympic Games and has continued working with the OSU senior in the confines of Gallagher-Iba.
“It means a lot. Even thinking about the summer, being around Coleman, and him being here coaching, it all goes further back than that for me,” Oliver said. “... It’s just a great feeling having somebody so close and from the same area and state as me, helping out and helping me try to obtain my goals.”
It’s not just Oliver that has benefited from the experience on the coaching staff. The likes of Chris Perry has seen continued growth from his time wrestling at Stillwater High School — where he was a four-time state champion.
And this year, the Cowboy wrestlers have received extra motivation from the success of Scott at the Olympic level.
OSU will send a complete 10-man team to the NCAA tournament, with eight of the 10 Cowboys being seeded in their respective weight class.
“A lot of winning on this staff. Those guys do feed off of that and I think that they got some energy off the Olympics last summer,” Scott said. “... I think they learn from it, just from seeing it up close. I think it has helped them because all us coaches can tell them we’ve all been there and they can believe it and trust in it.”
But one thing the staff hasn’t had in quite some time is a national championship. It’s been seven years since Oklahoma State last brought a team title back to Stillwater. They will look to change that when the national meet begins Thursday.
And with proven winners coaching them, national title No. 35 may not be too far out of reach.