The Journey (Part 10) Rush and Morgan's Freshman years-Learning the hard way
For Gail Rush and myself it is the last wrestling season. Our sons have wrestled since they were little boys and as parents, we have followed the journey from the very first takedown, from kids through the high school level to the collegiate wars.
Clayton Rush and Mario Morgan are arguably the two best non DI wrestlers from Illinois in America entering this college season . It has been a long road to this point for them. This is their story.
There is so much that has gone on over the years that I thought it would be kind of cool if both Gail and myself reflected back, journaling in stages and posting them here for those that are still on the wrestling path to peruse. So periodically, we will add chapters until we get to that final match in March.
Just in case you have been hidden under a rock the last 15 or 20 years Clayton Rush, a former high school state (Aledo) champion and 2010 college national champion is the dynamic 125-pound superstar for NCAA DIII Coe College (Iowa).
His mother Gail, a frequent poster at illinoismatmen.com can best be described as the ultimate wrestling Mom. So much so, that she was voted W.I.N. Magazine Fan of the Year by national wrestling writer Jason Bryant. Imagine for a moment how good of a fan you have to be to beat out all of the crazy wrestling fanatics in America. She has ridden the back roads of America taking her son to practice, clinics, meets and tournaments. And now the road is about to end.
Mario Morgan is the 141-pound National Finalist and 2x All American from Mt. Carmel high school and the NCAA DII back-to-back National Champions, Nebraska-Omaha. In addition, unless you are also under that same rock you know that he is my son and a former multiple time kids state champ from the Harvey Twisters.
When I started this column many years ago, I wanted to share our experiences in the wrestling world. I was not a wrestler and had no one to tell me how this all was suppose to go. Eventually I figured most of it out, through trail and error and even became nominated last year for Illinois Wrestling Reporter of the Year by Illinois Wrestling Officials and Coaches Association. While my sons, competitive college career winds down, I much like Gail will be torn with many, many emotions and flooded with even more memories. In a strange way we will gain closure through our journal of our experiences of the wrestling lifestyle.
Stay close to this column, Gail and I will update our experiences. Here in chapter 10 Clayton both Clayton and Mario are freshmen 103 pounders headed to their first IHSA state tournaments.
Happy Holidays everyone!
FRESHMAN YEAR by Gail Rush
Clayton was finally in high school. He was just a little freshman, and I do mean little. I think he was 95-98 pounds soaking wet. There was a reason he and the heavy weight , Lucas Smith, were together all the time…they could both eat whatever they wanted! The weight lifting/gain program Andre Morgan had me put Clayton on worked really well…that is until mid summer when football lifting started and we were told he had to do the “team” lift. His weight gain came to a stand still. I still wonder to this day how things might have been different if he would have been a full 103 pounds, but, like Bubba says, it is , or was, what it was. No excuses. Anyway, before I get full swing into his freshman year, I asked him who his 3 biggest influences were from start to the end of 8th grade. I thought it would be interesting to see if any of his were the same as mine. His answers were Jayson (his brother), Steve Amy, and Kevin Clawson, aka Chiggy. So I guess I wasn’t too far off!!
Back to being a freshman. I was torn. I was glad my son was finally in high school and finally had a team. He was no longer the “man without a country” so to speak. But he no longer needed me. I’ve already gone over that so I won’t put myself through it again, although I will tell a somewhat short story. Bubba and I were talking about this whole “Journey” thing when he was home over break. The topic of me adjusting came up and I told him I thought I was doing pretty well. His response, “Mom…I’m only a senior in college now. It took you long enough!” Seriously, what was I to say to that?
Clayton with Yancy McIntosh (left) and Aaron Anderson (left)
103 pounds. It doesn’t sound like much, but it seemed like Clayton would never get that big. And he didn’t his freshman year. I remember his first match of his high school career. I don’t, however, remember the other wrestler’s name. It was against Illinois Valley Central (IVC). I don’t think Clayton was on the mat for a minute before he had his first high school fall. He was off to a good start. Shortly aftet that he got his 300th win in his entire wrestling career! How did we know that? Because being the OCD person that I am, I have kept books By Mat Moms in Iowa with every bracket and every kid and every place and every weight and every age and division that he had wrestled! Yah, I know…over the top! Anyway, then came the Riverdale tournament and his first high school loss, to Cort Lawton from Polo. They had wrestled through IKWF and Clayton had beaten him his 8th grade year at sectionals. If I remember right, Cort was OW of the Riverdale Invite that year. Clayton got 3rd.
In regular duals, Clayton won all of them except against Orion and Tyler Clark. Up until this season, Tyler had beaten Clayton only 2 times, ever (they literally wrestled at least 10 times a year), and I remember them both. The first one was at the Monmouth Open Tournament when Clayton was in 4th or 5th grade and the second was in 7th grade at Orion when Clayton got cradled. Bub came back and beat him a few weeks later in Aledo. Their 8th grade year Tyler was at a heavier weight then Clayton. This freshman thing was hard to swallow, mainly for Clayton. He was getting beat by kids he had been beating for years. He would never admit it…there was NEVER an excuse, but I can’t help but think weight was a factor. Maybe that’s just the mom in me…maybe not. Anyway, it wasn’t easy to watch and I’m sure it was even harder for Clayton.
Aledo wrestled at the Stillman Valley Holiday Tournament. Another loss. This time to Vinnie Alber from Dakota. Clayton had wrestled him his 8th grade year in the IKWF State Finals and lost.
Clayton vs Vinnie Alber
The season continued with more dual wins and then the Orion Tournament. Another loss. Yep, to Tyler. Clayton got 3rd. More duals and more wins. And finally a tournament champion. Quincy Notre Dame. If I remember correctly, he wrestled a girl in one of the rounds, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I felt a little bad for her. It was obvious by her pushing - away style of wrestling that QND had picked her up strictly to fill the weight class. Clayton didn’t care. Her choice, her mistake. That’s how he looked at it.
Going into regionals, Bubba had 4 losses, I think. 1 to Cort Lawton, 1 to Vinnie, and 2 to Tyler. Honestly, not bad for my undersized freshman. After regionals he had one more loss, to Tyler, and after sectionals he had yet another loss, although by unjury default ( the only one he’s ever had that I can remember), to Tyler. Now…on to the the IHSA State Championships. State Qualifier. My freshman.
Clayton during his first match at state.
He was a little 103 pounder with the same big goals…go undefeated and win state. Undefeated didn’t last long, but winning state was always on his mind. It was on his mind after he got beaten by Vinnie Alber in the finals at the Stillman Valley Holiday Tournament. It was on his mind when he got bet by Tyler again at the Orion tournament in the semis. (side note - Vinnie beat Tyler in those finals in DOT). It was on his mind when he got beat by Tyler at regionals. I Know it was on his mind when he injury defaulted to Tyler at sectionals. It was even on his mind when he wrestled into Pat McCaffrey at state. I won’t lie, I was actually thrilled he wrestled into Pat McCaffrey. Not that I doubted Clayton and the heart he always wrestled with, but he was, barring an epic catastrophe, guaranteed a wrestle back. Clayton DID get in on a shot against Pat. He apparently didn’t like that too much. He just kind of sprawled it off, and took Clayton down and let him up a few times, then pinned him. Pat didn’t warm up, ever, that I saw. He just walked to the mat with his backpack, sat against the wall, got up and took his sweats off when they called his name, walked onto the mat, and wrestled. Bub’s dream of winning state was gone. But he wrestled on. He had Randal Peterson from Oregon. Clayton lost. If he would have won, he would have placed. He and Randal had wrestled what seemed like 100’s of times as kids and Clayton never lost. But on this day, he did. Pat won state that year. Tyler got second. Randal got third and Cort Lawton got 4th. (IHSA Class A only places to 4) Vinnie didn’t qualify. We were shocked. Of all Clayton’s losses that year, every one of them eventually ended up a state Champ but one.
Bubba’s freshman year was over in the blink of an eye. His dreams shattered. But you know, one thing about Clayton, he always, always, always thought he would win. There was never a question. There still isn’t. Some things just don’t change.
FRESHMAN YEAR – Part two by Andre’ Morgan
One of things Mario would have to learn freshman year would the new rivalries and tournaments that would come with the Mount Carmel schedule. The Caravan wrestled in four tournaments, Ohio Midwest Classic, Wisconsin Badger, Geneseo and the Chicago Catholic League. In addition their were several duals that Mt. Carmel considered rivalries or must wins for the wrestler, St. Rita, Providence, Marist and Montini.
In early December there was the Ohio trip to the Midwest Classic tournament featuring 32 East Coast or southern teams. While not the more prestigious Ohio Ironman tournament, held the same weekend, there were several good teams in attendance including highly ranked Apple Valley (MN) at the Midwest. Mario would have to drawn his national experience to have any type of success and maintain his spot in the starting lineup. One of the things Coach Weick liked about the Midwest Classic was that the wrestlers would get a lot of matches over a short period. Mario wrestled four matches the first day going three and one in pool play, good enough to advance into the championship bracket. On the second day in Ohio two and two was not good enough to place and he learned that high school wrestling would be a little bit more complicated than the IKWF tournaments he had been use too. Mario realized that he was not put an extra work after practice and also get a little bit stronger door to compete with the older junior's and seniors in his weight class.
Before Mario could deal with the next match, awaiting him in practice was another wrestle off with Matt McNaughton this time kind of a surprise since his coach didn't tell Mario about the match until the day Mario of. Mario won the wrestle off 5-3. The entire wrestle off procedure was new to Mario and at same time a bit irritating to him as well but he put together a string of wins. Eventually the wrestle off scenario ended when Mario won five of the six matches, almost injuring McNaughton in the final match in January just before Catholic League. What has started out as the best two out of three matches ended up being the best 5 of 6 with the old veteran Coach Bill Weick explained that he increased the wrestle offs because although he knew Mario would win the spot he thought it was a good opportunity to keep Mario sharp. At the same time, he wanted to keep McNaughton, a very solid wrestler on the team and interested because in the future he would need both of them in his lineup. More on that in a later chapter.
Mount Carmel's main rival St. Rita was scheduled for five days after the return from the Ohio tournament. With a lot of guys banged up it was a tough test for the Caravan. St. Rita was a vastly improved team and came in ranked top three in the state right behind Mt. Carmel. The gym was packed at St. Rita. Mount Carmel would prevail that night winning on a much debated a tie by criteria. Mario met up with an old rival Adam Canty from the IKWF. 11 times and they would meet over the next four years with Mario winning 10 times but I'll get to that later.
Next, up a trip to Wisconsin to the Wisconsin badgers tournament at the University of Wisconsin in the field house right after Christmas. This time Mario was a bit more acclimated to the atmosphere and high school wrestling in general. He did a nice job coming back with a third place finish going into the New Year and placing in his first high school tournament.
Following the New Year Mt. Carmel’s next big challenge was the prestigious 28th Annual Geneseo Invitational tournament. At the time it was considered the second toughest tournament in state plus there were additional tough teams from out of state like nationally ranked Iowa City West. Plus Chicago Catholic League foes St. Rita and Providence would bring their high caliber wrestlers as well. In all there were 12 state champs and 35 ranked wrestlers throughout the tournament. It was at Geneseo that Mario would find one of his toughest challengers, Dalton Bullard of Belvedere. In addition, this would be the first meeting between what would develop into one of the best rivalries in Chicago Catholic League and state history, Kyle Hutter of Providence.
Unseeded Mario entered with a modest 22-5 record, opened up with a fall in the first round. Next, up the first of two meetings with Hutter, a fall at 5:56 to move into the semis. Looking strong with two falls Mario was blindsided by Bullard and his 27-0 record. Bullard who two had a couple of falls, decisioned Mario sending him to the consolation bracket to face St. Rita’s Adam Canty. Mario bounced back with a 7-2 decision over Canty and another match with Hutter. This time a closer 12 to 7 win by Mario resulted in a third place finish in one of Illinois better tournaments. The thing about Geneseo that year, Mario had just really met three other wrestlers that he would begin to face over and over again in Bulllard, Hutter and Canty. As time went on it became kind of strange how they impacted each other’s high school career. Mario could not dominate Bullard, Hutter could not dominate Mario and Canty kept running into Hutter and Mario but could beat everyone else. It developed into a vicious circle. More on this later.
The third weekend in January is reserved for the Chicago Catholic League. Once again another meeting with both Canty and Hutter was probable plus Mike Ryan from Bishop MacNamarra. In addition to that Fenwick’s Charlie Wolf was dangerous and best friend, former Twister teammate, DeLaSalle’s Thomas Webster knew Mario better than anyone did. A fall over Wolf at the 6:00 mark in the first round and a narrow 13-12 escape from Webster in the semi’s set up another showdown with Hutter.
An aggressive Hutter took a 2-0 lead in the first period. Starting on the bottom in the second, Mario escaped moving the score to 2 to 1. No more scoring in the second and Hutter starts on the bottom with the slim lead in the third. At the whistle, Mario surprises everyone when he reaches over and locks up a spladle. I didn’t even know Mario knew how to do a spladle. Taking it backwards Mario has five more points and has to hold it for 1:50. Referee Greg Brooks loves to tell the story of how the three of them are down there holding a conversation. He warned Mario, “Not to stretch him out”. Mario ask, “if he can get a pin from this?” Brooks tells him probably not. Moreover, Hutter is repeating, “How do I get out of this This sucks” as the period winds down the crowd is counting down, “Three….two…one..Bzzzzzzz.” And just like that, Mario was a freshman Catholic League Champion. One down and three to go to become a rare four time CCL champion.
In a two-week period, Mario had wrestled Hutter three times. And there would be two more starting with the regular season Mt. Carmel vs. Providence dual the next week going Mario’s way. In March, at Sheppard h.s. both would enter the A. A. U National Championship and meet in the semis. That was a crazy affair with Hutter leading by nine points entering the third period. Mario scored ten points to win and if there was not a rivalry before there was now. Five wins in one year, all close, all won in a different fashion.
Freshman year would end with a thud as far as the state playoffs goes. Mario seemed to be snake bit in the IHSA tournament. Every year he would win the regional and three out of four sectionals. That would get him the all-important bye in the first round but the blind seeding of the state tournament never did Mario any favors.
That first year I remember advice from Mt. Camel captain and two time state champion to Mario. “When you are in the tunnel, in Assembley Hall, waiting on your next match, don’t look up.” Reasons being many first time wrestlers get intimidated by the enormous dome and the crowd.
Mario won his first match as a freshman downstate defeating Bloomington’s Tyler Johnson 6-4. But all joy ended in the evening session as Mario lost to Naperville North’s Nick Fanthorpe. One thing I can also say about Mario it is usually the eventual champ he would lose to and there is some small solace in that fact. Not a lot but some. For an hour after the loss to Fanthorpe I could not find Mario. I looked everywhere but where Charles Lloyd had said not to look. But that is where he was, sitting in the very top row of the Dome, still in his singlet and shoes, mad as hell. He had come to state to win it all and without that possibility he just seemed to not care. Each of the previous five years he had been in the state finals. The last three he won the state title. He had not prepared for the possibility of losing. He was a freshman and although mature as an athlete he still had some ways to go in being mentally mature following a loss at state. Mario headed to the wrestle backs where a pin by Bullard ended Mario’s first state tournament.
It just seemed like Mario could never get untracked at state. Every year he entered the state tournament ranked no lower than third and would come up short. Over the course he faced some fantastic wrestlers that to this day he has become friends with. Just last month at the Dvorak Mario and Bullard chatted about the many times they met. I remember both talking about their future and going into coaching to give back to the sport. Aren’t the lasting friendships the real gain in the sport not the wins and losses?
NEXT TIME: Changing Speed and fast forward to the final National Duals for both Mario and Clayton. Video Interview with both wrestlers.
Last edited by MR TWISTER; 02-22-2011 at 03:50 AM.