The Journey - Junior Year; Hugs, Cheers and Tears
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.
Both are now headed to their final natinal NCAA tournament, ranked number one in their respective weight classes as the favorite to win the title.
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 14 Clayton both Clayton and Mario are juniors and are now finally having a lot of success. But with that success comes hugs, tears and some pain...and college coaches.
Junior Year – A Hug For All Seasons by Gail Rush
Wrestling season Clayton’s junior year started off pretty rocky. Up to this point, Bub had been very fortunate when it came to injuries. The football season had ended successfully with our team finishing 2nd in the state…to Dakota. Their football team was, by the way, filled with wrestling state champs and qualifiers. In the championship game, the last game of the year, in Champaign, Clayton hurt his knee. He was taken out of the game for a short bit. I wasn’t at all surprised, however, when he talked them into putting him back in. His knee had locked up. He told me after the game that it would be fine, and he started wrestling practice on the following Monday and competed on that same Tuesday or Thursday…I can’t remember…against IVC. There seemed to be an issue with his knee continually locking up. If you asked him about it he would tell you it was fine.
I can’t remember if he wrestled in any tournaments, but by the last week in November he was so frustrated…we finally convinced him to go see our orthopedic surgeon. Scope. Okay. Scope. How bad could that be? Well, there was a huge tear in the meniscus that the surgeon didn’t feel comfortable removing. He said Clayton was so young and he wanted him to keep it if possible, so repair it was. He had surgery on December 8th, which is easy to remember because it’s his birthday. Yep…happy birthday, Bub…your season may be over. That was hard to tell Clayton when he came out of the anesthesia as it meant a minimum of 6 weeks off the mat. It was the first week in December and regionals are in February. We were going to be pushing it.
He was on crutches for what seemed like a thousand years. He didn’t miss a practice unless we were doing a college visit. That was the only good thing about his injury…we used the time to contact colleges and go on visits. Clayton was crabby to say the least. His crutches were thrown, stomped on, taped…not a pleasant kid to be around most of the time. Thank goodness his doctor released him a couple weeks early. And thank goodness for swimming. He swam and swam and swam. I think he had 2 weeks of practice in before he competed in the Quincy Notre Dame tournament, which he won. It is typically held the week before regionals. He had made it back, but by the skin of his teeth.
I guess I haven’t mentioned that he was at 112. He probably could have made 103, but why? I have never been a fan of weight cutting, he had only been riding the bike and swimming, and we always tried to look ahead and 125 is the lowest college weight. So, 112 it was. He managed to win regionals and sectionals. On to Champaign. More nerves and more gray hair. I can remember when the brackets came out. One of our coaches really liked the way they fell. We were a little nervous about who Clayton could possibly have in the semis, should they both make it. Aaron Phemister.
Our coach would say (don’t shoot the messenger) “he’s from down south. He can’t be that good”. Well…we’ve known and wrestled Aaron may times over many years and yes…he’s that good. Clayton and Aaron both made it to the semis and Clayton did win that match…7-5. Yep, it was close but he had done it and made it to the finals again! I love the finals but you can’t imagine how nervous I would get. I seriously felt like throwing up. I had somebody say to me once, “I would think you’d be used to this as long as Clayton’s been wrestling”. I’m here to tell you…there is NO getting used to it. The stakes just keep getting higher and Clayton’s goals just kept getting higher. I get kind of shakey just talking about it…and it doesn’t help that Nationals are in one week…
Anyway, Clayton wrestled Ian Trammel from Coal City in the finals. Bub had this huge knee brace he had to wear and even though he wouldn’t admit it, he was leery of his knee. And I can honestly say I was pretty comfortable with him tying up, etc…even though Clayton has always been known for his shots and takedowns. I couldn’t even believe I was comfortable with it. I think the most common thing people heard me yell was “GET OUT OF THE TIE” until he started Greco. What a lifesaver Greco was that year! Clayton won state that year. I don’t really remember anything about the match except the last few seconds. I was sitting on the rail above the mat he was wrestling on. I believe Ian Trammel’s sister was beside me. Clayton has 9-4 lead with about 12-15 seconds left. He shot in and got the leg and hung on. I remember this girl beside me yelling “what’s he doing?” I turned to her and just said “stalling”. I didn’t care if he stalled one little bit. He won. He got his hand raised in the finals in Champaign.
It was like a dream and any parent who has been through it knows exactly what I mean. I was crying, Rick was crying, my oldest son was crying, my mom was crying, I think everybody we knew was crying…if not because Clayton won, but because crying, for some unknown reason, is contagious! Clayton darted off that mat so fast. I didn’t know where he was…until…he seriously just about knocked me over. He had sprinted up the stairs, half way around the Assembly Hall and ran into me and picked me up. It was amazing and a moment I will never, ever forget. Mom’s I didn’t even know all around us were crying by this time. I am teary eyed right now just thinking about it… It was a hug that will stay with me all my days. Thank you, Clayton…not for winning a state title, but for remembering me in what was a very special time for you…..
Junior Year – Big wins and major decisions By Andre’ Morgan
Junior year was probably the best year of all of the high school years. At least from a parents perspective. The 2005 team at Mt. Carmel was winning and the line up had it not gotten banged up could of done some damage. The team mainstays were Kenny Jordan, Khris Argue, Dontae Brown, Jose Esparza, Darrick Hardy, Zeke Rowan, Lawrence Henning, Cartice Lloyd, Christian Brantley, Tim Lambert and B.J. Futrell.
This time Mario made the big jump to 125 pounds from 112. I tried to talk him into going 119 pounds. Some of everyone was at 119 pounds. Jimmy Kennedy, Nick Fanthorpe were two that had given Mario problems in the past. I am convinced that so much of wrestling is match up of styles when you talk about the elite wrestlers. These two definitely created such an issue. In addition, other solid wrestlers like Kyle Hutter, Tom Gagan and Adam Canty all chose to try 119 pounds. Since Mt. Carmel had the very talented Cartice Lloyd, Mario’s teammate from the Twisters available to go 119 the decision was easy for Mario. For the first time in his career he could really cut just a small amount of weight and still be highly effect if he went 125. Mario was weighing 130 pounds and really wanted no parts of the 119 wars. He originally tried to cut to the weight but hitting the wall at 123 ended the 119 plan. While 119 was a very loaded weight, 125 pounds was no easy weight class either. Brandon Precin, James Kholberg, Dalton Bullard, John Ranck and Max Hiatt all started the year at 125.
As it turned out I fell in love with 125 and to this day, it is my favorite high school weight class. For me it is where the men start and the boys separate. The 125’s are the perfect blend of technique, speed, power and finesse. With Lloyd at 112, Brown at 119, Mario at 125 and state champion Jordan at 130 Mt. Carmel created their own version of Murder’s Row and for that year had the states best run of four ranked wrestlers in a row.
This was the second year of Coach Gerdes at the helm. The rocky road continued behind the scenes but on the surface Mt. Carmel was having fun. The team sported new white singlets with brown stripes modeled after Lehigh’s classics. Gerdes had let the captains pick them out and they replaced the North Carolina styled brown and gold ones. He also ordered new warm ups, brown with Mount Carmel spelled across the chest. Funny how a new set of clothes can make men feel really special.
Gerdes had put together a challenging schedule that included stops at Grant with their three studs, Jimmy Kennedy, John Deneen and Daniel Dennis. There was a decent amount of hype around the state leading up to this dual, which would match up Mario vs Deneen, Kennedy vs Lloyd and Jordan vs Dennis. More on this one later. There was the trip to Ohio for the annual Midwest Classic, the trip up to Wisconsin for the Badger Invitational and an additional trip back to Ohio for the Super Duals with the nations top ranked teams St. Edwards and Blair Academy. And of course their was the annual conference championship with state powers Providence and two time defending state champion / rival St. Rita.
Mario had a very good year. He won the Ohio Midwest Classic with a dramatic come from behind fall in the finals over Anton Prater out of Georgia. Prater has gone on to be one of the top wrestlers in the N.A.I.A. at national power Missouri Baptist.
Back home after the first Ohio trip Mario picked up another win over St. Rita’s Steve Zimmerman. The annual dual with the Mustangs was less than three days after the Ohio trip. A true mat rat, Zimmerman was a year younger than Mario but he was no easy customer. You had to wrestle him, especially on the mat. Plus he was big and physical. This one was especially tough as midway through the match Mario hit his head on the wooden floor just off the edge of the mat. It was from a clean shot by Mario and Zimmerman hit a re throw and Mario landed headfirst. That night with the dual in front of a packed house at St. Rita I sat high up in the press area broadcasting the dual for Illinois matmen and IsNet Chicago. As Mario lay motionless, I began to worry as I watched the injury clock wind down. Finally, as injury time was about to expire I started heading down to the mat. When I got half way down the bleachers Mario got up and I decided to stay out of the situation. I remembered the year before how I had forced Mario to wrestle at Providence and he had lost to Kyle Hutter nursing with a 102 degree high fever. I vowed to let his coaches handle it but there was no doubt that Mario had suffered a concussion. My wife looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders. He wanted to wrestle so let’s go, besides it’s St. Rita. You don’t sit out against them if you can breath. I remember that for the next minute and a half of the second period Mario was wrestling in a fog, going through the motions. He was basically wrestling but had no idea where he was or what he was doing. Everytime I watch that tape of the match, to this day I can tell that he was still out on his feet.
However, Mario seemingly woke up in the third, scored nine points including a near fall to win. To this day Mario does not remember this match. Zimmerman would enact revenge at the individual sectionals with a come from behind win with 10 seconds left. That match sent Mario to the tough side of the state bracket. Amazing how the wrestling God’s had a way of evening things out. Zimmerman would go on to become a fantastic wrestler for St. Rita winning a state title as a senior and wrestling in college for Northern Illinois. While having a career winning record versus Zimmerman, none were ever easy for Mario.
Wrestling the Wisconsin defending state champion, Sergio Mireles, the Badger State brought more heart pounding stuff. As was starting to be the normal, Mario pulled a last minute performance out the bag. Trailing 4-0 after a period and a half Mario was in trouble before a reversal and a take down tied the match. Staying aggressive Mario drove Mireles out of bounds and was hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty gave Mireles the lead with :30 seconds left. The MC coaches to no avail did much complaining, however Mario took matters in his own hand garnering a stall call that tied the match with :02 left. In overtime hit a double to a blind half to give Mireles his only loss in another championship season. Mireles went on to wrestle for wrestling powerhouse, Cornell. I have included the video of this match for your viewing pleasure. Just click the link.
Badger State Championship video
One of the biggest wins of Mario’s high school career came in mid January at the Super Duals over Blair’s Kellen Russell. Another last minute effort was needed to record the 8-7 win. It would be one of only three wins over the country’s top ranked team. Blair’s legendary Hall of Fame Coach Buxton came over to personally shake Mario’s hand and compliment him on his win. I am pretty sure Mario had know idea who the coach was or that Russell at the time was ranked 2nd in the country to Lance Palmer from St. Edwards, his next opponent. Palmer would go on to beat both Mario and Russell that day. It was kind of wierd to be in a gym and not have Mt. Carmel the focus. The Blair vs St. Edwards dual was on national television and even the Mt. Carmel team watched the nations two best high school teams dual. It was quiet the experience. At least Mario had got a big win out the deal. Russell, wrestling for University of Michigan, is now the current top ranked NCAA DI wrestler at the same weight Mario is at in DII, 141 pounds.
The Grant dual was especially fun. Mt. Carmel drove forever to get to Grant but once up in northern Illinois the atmosphere in the Bulldogs gym was electric. Everyone came to see the big three dual. Lloyd-Kennedy was a cautious affar with neither opening up much. I don’t remember the score but it was close with Kennedy getting his hand raised. Mario faced Deneen in the next match and won by technical fall. He was on that night, fired up by the big crowd. Jordan beat Dennis in the next big match. I believe MC won the dual but the next day lost to DeKalb, losing any momentum gained from the Grant win.
Chicago Catholic League title number three was the only one where Mario did not face Kyle Hutter in the final. Instead, Mario beat a Loyola kid with a quick fall before facing Zimmerman again. Winning 7-3 over the budding St. Rita stud left a match with friend Thomas Webster, DeLaSalle. Webster knew Mario better than anyone having been the first person he ever wrestled. A back and forth athletic affair went down to the wire. Mario scored a third period takedown and hung on to fend off a hard charging Webster at the end. I have told Mario several times that if there had been another 15 seconds in the match he would of lost. The third title was definitely not a beautiful work of art but he got his hand raised and was in position to join the best ever in the Chicago Catholic League the next year.
Regionals were a breeze, sectional junior year was the only time Mario would not win a sectional title and state was more disappointment. It just seemed like he would draw the worst bracket of anyone but this time it was easy to see that if he had not lost those last ten second Zimmerman he would be in a better position in the bracket. Another disappointing loss at state to Bullard, whom Mario just could not get past. Now there was only one year left to win state.
Mario would enjoy freestyle state success winning his second state title and a Greco one as well. Even more fun awaited on Team Illinois Dual team as Illinois began to make their national move in 2005. Mario really enjoyed freestyle and wrestling on the dual team for Coach Sean Bormet. There was something about the freedom freestyle allowed and the quick scoring. It was perfect for his style of wrestling.
I had Mario take the ACT test following school in June and he had done fairly well on it, passing and setting himself up to be a college recruit. Soon we would sit down and look at the list of schools available. A conversation I had with Proviso East coach Bill Cartwright at high school state about Nebraska – Omaha would lead to a campus visit and interest by both parties. UNO the defending DII NCAA national champs were an interesting team and their engaging Coach Mike Denney began to make a strong pitch for Mario’s services. Since Mario’s grandfather lived in Omaha, UNO moved ahead of Nebraska-Lincoln, North Carolina, Iowa, North Carolina State and Buffalo in schools of desire for Mario.
It only took half of a campus visit on the night of the UNO banquet for Mario to decide he wanted to go there. Walking out of the locker room he stated, “I want to sign. This place just feels right.” Little did we all know how right he was? I asked him if he was concerned about not being in division 1 and he replied, “those are the same wrestlers I have been wrestling my whole life, I know I can beat them in college, I like this place Dad and it does not matter to me about the division.” Done deal in my mind, if he was happy with his decision then so was I.
In September, Mario committed early and did not waver in his decision. He did not want to have looking for a school stand in his way of having fun his senior season.
Last edited by admin; 03-06-2011 at 11:13 PM.