The Journey - Sophomoritis...the second year!
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 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 13 Clayton both Clayton and Mario are Sophomores pounders headed back to IHSA state for the second time. For one success, for the other it's back to the drawing board. For both of them there will be lot's of changes.
Clayton's sophomore year by Gail Rush
Back to high school and being a sophomore. It was a little bit different than being a freshman, but not much. The main difference was probably weight. If memory serves me correctly, Bubba finally was a true 103 pounder, if you count weighting about 108 on a good day. He really didn’t have to cut weight. He dropped that and more at practice so, needless to say, he was still on full feed. And again, he and our heavy weight, Lucas, spent a lot of time together…eating.
I can’t honestly remember if it was this year or his junior year that Eric Juergens started Young Guns in the Quad Cities. For writing’s sake, .I’ll say it was this year, the summer after his freshman year. Speaking of summer, there were the USAW Junior National Greco Duals. They were awesome, and anybody that knows me also knows that Greco is my favorite style, or it was until FILA and USAW started jacking with the rules. The Greco Duals will get their own chapter. There is too much to talk about to just stick it in here somewhere.
Anyway, back to high school and folk style again. Young Guns. More driving. We made the trip to the Quad Cities 2 or 3 times a week. Eric was amazing and I can’t imagine what could have been had he been there when he was younger. For those of you who don’t know Eric, he is a 4 time Iowas high school state champ and a 2 time NCAA DI National Champ who wrestled for Iowa. HE IS INTENSE. And it didn’t matter what the age of the kid was either. Along with Eric, there were die-hard parents sitting around the wrestling room watching their kids. The kids had rules, of course, but so did we parents. We were not to talk when he was. Our Cell phones were NOT to ring. There were many times when Eric was talking and he would stop and give one of his looks “our” way. We definitely knew what that meant…and we obeyed like we were in elementary school again. There was this one night. Eric was talking and a little boy wasn’t paying attention. Eric called him out about it and called him a little moron. Now remember, die-hard parents. We all chuckled silently…very silently…we couldn’t believe he just called this little 6 year old a moron! The only time I saw Eric unable to keep his strictness was due to gas. Yep, that’s what I said. Eric was talking and a little boy sitting in the front passed gas. Eric didn’t miss a beat. A few seconds later he did it again only a little louder and a little longer. And again, Eric didn’t miss a beat. He just kept on talking. We parents were ready to bust a gut. Then he actually did it again, much louder and much longer this sound resonated from this little, little boy! Eric stopped, looked at the little boy and said “really???” We parents couldn’t contain ourselves…neither could Eric.
I guess I should talk a little about Clayton’s season. Again, sometimes it’s not the wrestling you remember…it’s the “other stuff”. Speaking of other stuff, Clayton turned 16. He could drive, and although this meant less trips to “town” for me, it was also just another worry. So…his first car was a Riviera. It seemed to fit him somehow…
We started the season off with an early dual against Dakota, which meant Vinnie Alber. I hated it when Clayton wrestled Vinnie almost as much as when he wrestled Tyler. Clayton beat Vinnie in that dual by 2 or 3 points only to have to wrestle him again in the finals of the Stillman Valley tournament a few weeks later. Clayton won that one, too but it was in OT. Nervous breakdown and more wrinkles and gray hair for Mom.
Then there was the Orion dual. Aledo won that dual but Clayton got beat, again, by Tyler, maybe even majored if I remember right. That was hard to watch. Tyler was and is an awesome wrestler, but there was now a mental block of some kind. Very frustrating and unlike Clayton. But it was something he had to work through (or not) by himself. There was nothing we could say or do to make it better.
The Orion Tournament. This is probably my least favorite tournament of all time. Oh…there is great wrestling there. BUT the gym is ridiculous. It is the most crowded, hot gym I’ve ever been in. I always dreaded going to the Orion Tournament solely because of the lack of space and air, and I don’t mean air conditioning, I mean just plain air. I had pretty well decided that Clayton would be meeting up with Tyler in the finals. I guess Vinnie Alber had other plans as he beat Clayton in the semis…in OT. Yep. Nervous breakdown and even more wrinkles and gray hair for Mom. Clayton ended up 3rd. Vinnie got 2nd and Tyler won it and was OW for the lower weights.
The Quincy Notre Dame tournament was our last one before regionals. I remember this one. It was the first time that Clayton was OW in a tournament. On to regionals…more wrinkles and more gray hair! It was Clayton and Tyler in the finals and the tournament was at Orion. I have to say, and I may be a little biased, but this was a match that was worth the price of admission. There were people who came solely to watch this match-up, and on this night, they wouldn’t be disappointed. If I remember right, Clayton was down 11 - 9 in the 3rd period and he had to take a shot. Tyler ended up winning 13-9. It was an amazing match and I KNEW Clayton could wrestle with him. Aledo came away with the Regional team title, so it was also nice having the entire team still practicing.
Sectionals were at Tolono Unity high School. One thing that was usually a given…Clayton and Tyler would be on opposite sides of the bracket. And they were and They wrestled in the finals and it was ugly. Majored again…like 11-0. What the heck? Bubba had again qualified for state so off to Champaign we would go, but not alone. He would have Yancy McIntosh and Lucas Smith with him. 3 of them. And I’ve been corrected. It was the 2nd time in school history Aledo qualified 3 for state.
After winning his preliminary and quarter final matches, Clayton had Vinnie in the semis. Dang Dakota, anyway. Clayton won that match, 5-3. That score was way to close for me, but let me tell you, there was some celebrating going on in the stands!! He had made the finals. Bubba was going to “Walk the Walk:. This was something he had been working his whole life for and something I had been driving all over the state for. There is nothing like the first time your son wins in the semis at state. If you are fortunate to have a son do it multiple times, and we KNOW we were fortunate, there is just nothing that compares to that first time. I could actually cry again just thinking about it.
And we were also very fortunate that my brother, Bruce, had a press pass to take photos from the floor. He took the most amazing photo of Clayton and Tyler coming out of the tunnel. They were the first ones out. They were friends, and they were rivals. It was fitting.
Coming out of the Tunnel for the Grand March!
Clayton lost, 10-0. But it was one of those matches that the score didn’t reflect the match. Yep, Tyler dominated, but I wasn’t unhappy at all with Clayton’s performance. Bruce also got a photo of the end of the match and the emotions from both wrestlers…Tyler doing a backflip and Clayton walking to the coaches with his head down.
Winning and losing the state finals - the emotions.
Regardless of what Clayton thinks or thought that night at the Assembly Hall in Champaign, I was proud…and now we could look forward to the Greco Duals!! Oh yah…that’s another chapter!
Mario's sophomore year by Andre’ Morgan
Sophomore year was a year of change. The new building at Mt. Carmel was going up which meant the practice room was moved across the street to the abandoned St. Cyril grammar school building. Practice was in the old auditorium and seemed detached from the rest of the campus. In a way that was probably good since wrestlers and what they do is detached from other athletics. The coaches built a locker room for the boys and MC moved on waiting the new season to unfold.
Time for a weight class change because Mario was growing and growing fast – finally. No boost needed. He was eating like a horse. The options were 119 or 112. The 2003-04 season seemed like everyone was in the 119 pound weight class too. It was simply loaded with too many upperclassmen studs. John Weinert, Jordan Kolinski, Tom Gagan, Jeff Carney, Aaron Winning, Wade Lowe, Mark Lenkowski, Chucky Patton, James Kohlberg, Jhared Black and Thomas Webster. Besides, that Mt. Carmel had a returning former All Stater, Kenny Jordan and he could easily fill the bill at 119.
Mario was walking around at 123 pounds during football season. 112 seemed like where he was headed and it was no walk in the park either. The studs were mind-boggling, starting with Mario’s Chicago Catholic League nemesis Kyle Hutter. In addition, A. J. Ciccarelli, Brandon Precin, Dimitrus Williams, Arthur Robles, Adam Canty, James Simpson, Scott Horcher, Dalton Bullard, Jake Oster, John Deneen, Phil Lukanich, Brandon Zerfowski and Nick Fanthorpe all were dangerous land mines to a state championship.
The ultimate change for Mario was the resignation of his head coach, the legendary Bill Weick a few days into the start of the pre season. Assistant coach Ben Gerdes took over and it seemed the program went into a sideways mode. Weick had been such a fixture at Mt. Carmel it was weird to not seem him at practice and at meets. It has been rumored and banded about the Internet that Weick and Athletic Director/Frank Lenti did not get along and that is the reason he left. I never saw that happen. Only the two of them know for sure and no doubt Weick’s leaving created some tension. How do you replace a legend? I believe he refused to come to his induction into the Mt. Carmel Hall of Fame initially. It took about four years for Weick (who became the coach at Brother Rice) to schedule the Caravan in a dual but he did and was honored that night with H of F induction, etc. Moreover, Frank Lenti was there that night.
When Weick told the team he was leaving, I looked right at Mario. I know he was thinking about what I have always told him, “We finish what we start.” Transferring was not an option. We enrolled Mario at Mt. Carmel for the school, not the wrestling, football or baseball team. On the way home I told him he needed to mend his issues with Coach Gerdes, get on the same page because that was his new coach, and to deal with it. Initially Gerdes and Mario were at odds about wrestling philosophy, practice routine, weight lifting and little stuff like staying out of detention for uniform dress code. As Mario matured and Gerdes settled into his role as head coach they decided to work together for a common goal. Since that time Coach Gerdes has been out to NCAA nationals to see him wrestle and they have grown much, much closer. It is now not unusual for them to talk on the phone about upcoming opponents or strategy. Sometimes when a coach challenges you it takes years to understand what the challenge was all about.
I find in my many years of dealing with high school students that the sophomore year is a very difficult time. It is filled with highs and lows. Mario’s second year was no different. On the football field, he moved to defense and had a stellar season. Since he was a bit bigger, he was able to withstand the rugged play of the Chicago Catholic League. One of the more interesting games was with Bishop Mac wrestler Mike Ryan. Mario was at left corner back and ryan at right wide out the entire game. Let’s just say that on the way to a football game a wrestling match broke out. The season came unglued with the Caravan getting upset (well maybe it wasn’t an upset since they struggle with Loyola) by Loyola in the last two minutes at home in week eight.
The last week featured a rare night game at Providence was probably going to be a loss as a dejected Mt. Carmel got off the bus. The team was really bummed out about missing out on being conference champs. On the way to the locker room the Mt. Carmel players saw tee shirts for sale inside the building celebrating Providence as conference champs(they had beat Loyola earlier). Opps! Someone forgot to tell the Celtics they had to beat the Caravan in order to be champs. Of course, a rejuvenated Mt. Carmel went out and beat Providence ruining the planned celebration. Little did Mario know that would be his last football game in high school.
The wrestling season started out great for Mario. He rolled out some early wins and then returned to the Midwest Classic in Ohio, advancing to the finals before taking second to a Ohio kid. Came back home and a date with Adam Canty and St. Rita waited. Mario always had good matches with Adam and won again but the team lost. St. Rita was in the middle of a state championship run. Mt. Carmel meanwhile had a key transfer out, Wesley English our 160 pounder left creating a big hole that would not get filled.
By mid January Mario was rolling. He piled up a 26-2 record including winning the Wisconsin Badger tournament at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He also won the Geneseo tournament with a 14-7 win over Dalton Bullard. That win was a tough one since Mario usually struggle against Dalton but not that night. Following Geneseo it was conference time and another battle with Canty and Hutter. It just seemed like these two just kept showing up on the schedule every other week. Mario the top seed got past Canty with ease and in the finals barley beat Hutter 6-5. I truly believe if there had been another 10 seconds on the clock he would of lost. The picture in the paper the next day was of Hutter holding Mario’s ankle as time expired. Oh well he had CCL title number two in hand and another match with Hutter would be the very next week in the team dual at Providence.
The one time I forced Mario to wrestle I wish I had not. He was sick that night at Providence. Temperature was easily at 102 and he was weak. He didn’t want to wrestle but I convinced him that the team needed him and he could not sit this one out against his main rival. Hutter had his way with Mario that night on his home floor and after the match Mario put his head in the can next to the bench and emptied his stomach. Watching him lose that night and the Providence fans joy convinced me that I was wrong and I vowed to never get involved in if he should or should not wrestle again.
Regionals were a breeze with Mario pinning the 112 pounder from the school I worked at Vocational, in the finals. Sectional was another story. Once again, Mario had to face Adam Canty In the semis. After a decisive 7-1 win an unranked Arthur Robles from Reavis awaited in the finals. Robles had a gaudy 34-2 record but Reavis did not face the same competition that Mt. Carmel did. The unknown made for uncertain thoughts, except for in Mario’s own head. I can still remember him saying, “What are you worried for, I got this.” Moreover, he did, dominating the action and winning his second sectional title with a fall at 3:52.
Mario’s second state tournament started out great. Ranked third at 112 pounds he showed up in the first match, winning 4-0 over Adam Snow of Schaumburg. Up next was the super tough Nick Fanthorpe. A back and forth, match ended with Mario getting caught in a Cisco for a fall at: 32. State title dreams ended just like that. For the longest time I could not find Mario after that match. Finally, some old lady that I had never seen before came up to me and said, “I think that I saw your son walking outside the Dome in his singlet only. I tried to get him to come in but he would not talk to me.”
Are you serious! He was that ticked off. I sent a couple of teammates to find him. He was not talking and if he was not talking to me then it was really bad. Eventually I got him to settle down. “Dad, I came here to win state and if I can’t do that then what is the point in wrestling anymore.” I explained to him that the tournament did not end with a loss; it ended when he ran out of matches to wrestle. Complete the season, don’t let it complete you. He grabbed his warm-ups and walked off slowly, but I could tell he was thinking about what I said. Wrestling and Dads are constantley teaching life lessons.
The next day started with a win, 13-2 over Edwardsville’s A.J. Ciccarelli. Dalton Bullard ended Mario’s All State hopes, gaining revenge over the Geneseo lost 7-0. I remember thinking that Bullard really wrestled Mario well and I wondered how it all ended so hard and fast. Two years without a title. At least he was able to pick up two more wins on Super Tuesday at Team Sectionals including another win over St. Rita's Adam Canty. But this losing at individual state was going to be hard to recover from but I had to try. Mario was disappointed and went off to the baseball team two weeks later, refusing to talk about wrestling until freestyle season started. It was going to be a long summer.
NEXT: Junior Year
Last edited by admin; 02-22-2011 at 08:24 PM.