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Why Mike Gundy loves finding ex-wrestlers for the Oklahoma State defense

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Oklahoma State’s Malcolm Rodriguez, one of many nation’s greatest linebackers, walked into his locker room after a sport and needed to make one final takedown.

Image this: Cowboys coach Mike Gundy is in there, understanding proper after a win. He sees Rodriguez, simply shy of 32 years his junior, and will get up and presents a problem. The 2 could have been in a soccer locker room, however that is Oklahoma, and these are two former wrestlers sizing up one another.

“I suppose he thought I used to be fairly sore or no matter, and he sort of received in a wrestling stance,” Rodriguez mentioned. “I received a maintain of him and I sort of picked him up.”

You’ll be able to forgive Gundy for considering he had a shot. He grew up wrestling till ninth grade. That 12 months, he mentioned, he completed 35-0, however needed to give it up due to time constraints.

Rodriguez, although, received two state wrestling titles in Wagoner, Oklahoma. He mentioned Gundy hollered just a little bit, so he put him down.

“I used to be like, ‘Yeah, Coach, I nonetheless received it,'” Rodriguez mentioned. “I may undoubtedly nonetheless take him. He’d don’t have any shot.”

This could come as no shock to opposing offenses. Behind Rodriguez and one other star wrestler, defensive finish Brock Martin, who received three consecutive state titles in Oologah, Oklahoma, the Cowboys are a stiff take a look at for challengers.

Wrestling and soccer are each revered in Stillwater, and nowhere do they converge higher than on this 12 months’s stellar Oklahoma State protection, which ranks within the prime 5 nationally in factors per sport (16.4), factors per drive (1.1) and yards per play (4.4) whereas additionally main the nation with 47 sacks. Rodriguez and Martin are key gamers on that stellar protection, and each earned first-team All-Large 12 honors on Thursday. Subsequent up, the No. 5 Cowboys play No. 9 Baylor on Saturday for the Large 12 championship (midday ET, ABC) with an opportunity to make the School Soccer Playoff.

Each Rodriguez and Martin mentioned their historical past as grapplers is a giant motive for his or her defensive success. It is all about angles, physics and method. Rodriguez mentioned he reads defenders’ hips like he would in wrestling.

“It undoubtedly comes from that background,” he mentioned. “It is second nature, simply getting individuals down. I do not do the large tackles — I simply go for the legs and the hips.”

Martin in contrast his tackling model to the double-leg takedown transfer in wrestling.

“Me and Malcolm do not miss a number of tackles and I believe that is as a result of we each had been profitable wrestlers,” Martin mentioned. “I simply sort of dive and take out the knees. When you have no legs, you may’t run anymore. We’re not gonna make any spotlight movie or any spotlight tapes with the way in which we sort out. Nevertheless it will get the job performed.”

The numbers again up their story.

Based on ESPN Stats & Information, Martin and Rodriguez are the one pair of teammates within the Large 12 to have greater than 20 tackles at or behind the road of scrimmage and no less than a 90% sort out share.

Rodriguez is one among six Large 12 gamers with no less than 100 sort out makes an attempt, however is the one participant amongst that group to have a sort out share above 90%. His 21 tackles at or behind the road of scrimmage on designed runs are essentially the most within the Large 12 and tied for fourth-best within the FBS.

Martin, in the meantime, has had just one sort out damaged on 47 makes an attempt this season and 16 of these have gone for a loss, eighth greatest amongst gamers who’ve tried no less than 40 tackles.

Collectively, they’ve helped Oklahoma State lead the Large 12 with an 84% sort out price as a protection whereas additionally racking up 96 tackles for loss, second-best within the FBS. The Cowboys have allowed 28% of designed runs to go for a loss or no achieve, additionally prime 5 within the nation.

Martin and Rodriguez are accustomed to being linked. Born simply 29 days aside, each started wrestling after they had been 5. Rising up about 50 miles aside, they crossed paths early on, with Martin reluctantly now admitting that Rodriguez may find yourself with lifelong bragging rights.

“Yeah, he is 1-0, if you wish to rely once we had been 6 years outdated,” Martin mentioned, lamenting that there is even a photograph of him standing within the second-place spot on the rostrum subsequent to his teammate. “We met within the state championship and he beat me. I sort of outgrew him from there. We by no means wrestled once more after that.”

And regardless of being at rival colleges, the 2 continued to push one another. Martin, who wrestled at 220 kilos, mentioned that he and Rodriguez, who was at 195 kilos, would heat one another up for state championship matches.

In soccer, although, they had been rivals. Once more, Rodriguez got here out on prime.

“We performed six occasions in three years,” Martin mentioned. “They had been in our district. We performed him within the state championship my sophomore, junior and senior 12 months, and he beat me each single 12 months.”

Rodriguez was the beginning quarterback, throwing for six,144 yards and speeding for two,449, with 115 touchdowns over three seasons whereas additionally making 238 tackles and intercepting seven passes as a security. Martin had 400 tackles and 50 sacks in his highschool profession. But, for all their success in a number of sports activities, the 2 had been very evenly recruited. Martin had affords from a couple of different Large 12 colleges, however Rodriguez’s solely different supply was from Wyoming.

However Gundy has lengthy valued that wrestling background.

“I used to be wrestling 10 or 11 years and also you get a really feel for the kind of athletes and people who compete in that sport,” he mentioned this week. “So as soon as when we now have an opportunity to get our fingers on wrestlers, they transfer up on our listing actual fast as a result of I do know the self-discipline and toughness it takes.”

Rodriguez and Martin grew up idolizing the OSU wrestling program. To be in the identical athletic division and star alongside them is a thrill, however it’s paid off for OSU soccer, as nicely.

Gundy mentioned he and John Smith, the legendary OSU coach who was broadly thought of one of many best wrestlers of all time — together with profitable Olympic gold medals in Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992 — have been buddies for 40 years and their dad and mom knew one another.

“John and I used to journey across the nation wrestling freestyle in the summertime collectively,” Gundy mentioned.

Now, as coaches, Gundy mentioned each he and Smith have 100-plus-acre farms exterior Stillwater a couple of half mile from one another.

“We share farm tools,” Gundy mentioned. However Martin felt the necessity to right the file.

“As Coach Smith has mentioned many occasions, Coach Smith is an actual farmer,” Martin mentioned. “Gundy can keep messin’ along with his llamas and lambs. All of the kiddie stuff.'”

However even with a heated farming rivalry, Gundy would not thoughts additionally sharing his soccer gamers with Smith.

In January 2020, three years after they final competed on the mat, Rodriguez and Martin started understanding with the Cowboys’ wrestling staff — the one which’s received 34 NCAA titles since its inception in 1915 and has produced a mean of 4.8 All-Individuals yearly in Smith’s 30 years as head coach.

“Me and Malcolm spent a few months in there and it was not simple,” Martin mentioned. “They took it simple on us, however it wasn’t simple. The primary day we had been in there we needed to bike like 5 miles for the nice and cozy up, then we went into the wrestling room and drilled and stuff like that. There is a large distinction between soccer form and wrestling form.”

Rodriguez agreed.

“In soccer after a play, you get just a little relaxation,” he mentioned. “Wrestling is at all times on the go. You are exceeding your limits and also you’re exhausting your self the entire match. Cardio is unquestionably so much tougher in wrestling. I used to be in form for soccer, however that wrestling form’s so much completely different than individuals suppose.”

Rodriguez was grateful for the expertise, however it helped with some closure, he mentioned.

“Each time I get to a twin, I miss it however I do know my time has handed,” he mentioned. “So I can simply watch from right here on out.”

A day after the Cowboys’ 37-33 win over Oklahoma, Rodriguez and Martin attended the wrestling staff’s first dwelling twin in Stillwater this season. They got a standing ovation by the gang.

For the Cowboys, who’re enjoying of their first-ever Large 12 title sport this weekend, it has been a season of assessments, starting with surviving a seven-point win over Missouri State to open the season, and two extra lackluster nonconference wins. Now at 11-1, Gundy mentioned this staff has improved as a lot as any in his 31 years of teaching.

When he talks about what he sees in wrestlers, he may as nicely be speaking about these Cowboys.

“Wrestling is psychological toughness,” Gundy mentioned. “It is self-discipline. You have to make weight. There’s occasions you may’t eat. You go a pair days and also you’re hungry on a regular basis. You are in hand-to-hand bodily fight. Your nostril will get busted, your eyes get busted. It is simply you on the mat. You’ll be able to’t level the finger at anyone else. You be taught to be disciplined and hard and attempt to discover a solution to end.

“These are the issues that you just get out of wrestling.”

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