Claremore Daily Progress

January 21, 2013

Graham gives Sooner wrestlers mat example to follow

CNHI News Services

NORMAN — Oklahoma pinned down West Virginia 25-14 Sunday afternoon at McCasland Field House and it was good for the Sooners to respond with a victory following Friday night’s disappointing loss at Northern Iowa.

So, there’s that.

Also, there’s the fact the Sooners have only three regular season duals remaining, and none of them at home, to get ready for their three most important dates of the season: the National Duals, the Big 12 Championships and the NCAA Championships.

Or, maybe, put another way, time is short to get the entirety of the Sooner roster to take a page out of Bubby Graham’s book.

“There’s an urgency to him,” said OU wrestling coach Mark Cody of OU’s fourth-ranked 165-pounder, “and that’s what we want to get through to the rest of the team.”

Graham was good Friday when many of his teammates struggled, topping UNI’s Jarrett Jensin 9-4, and he was better Sunday, topping Dominic Prezzia 14-3.

Kenny Mossman, who used to run OU’s athletic media relations office before being moved up to senior associate athletic director, has a nickname for Graham.

“The Price of Admission,” Mossman said.

That’s because what distinguishes Graham is his motor. It’s always running and it’s always running hot. Typically, he’s the most active Sooner on the mat.

“It’s fun to wrestle hard,” he said. “It’s fun to come off the mat exhausted.”

An NCAA qualifier last season, Graham did not place. But in his fifth year under Cody’s tutelage — Graham moved to Norman from American University when Cody moved to Norman from American University — he is 16-2 in his final collegiate season after delivering on Senior Day against the Mountaineers.

“It’s only been two years (at OU),” said Graham, a Maryland native, “but it feels like it could have been my whole career … It’s been an amazing experience. Even being in Oklahoma itself. It’s got great people.”

Sunday was a typical effort.

Graham never quit scoring, settling for a single takedown in the first period, but getting two more in the second and two more again in the third. Each of Prezzia’s three points came on escapes Graham willingly conceded.

Graham knows his grappling style isn’t the safest, that constant aggressiveness can open himself up to being scored upon, but he understands it as a small price for his aggressiveness.

“I don’t stop wrestling,” he said. “If it feels right, I do it.”

It’s the style Cody’s trying to foster in his second year running the Sooner program.

“We need them to keep attacking,” Cody said. “And I think that’s been the problem for some of our guys. We get to a point and then we stop.”

But not Graham.

“If he makes a mistake,” the coach said, “you know he’s going to come back.”

Sunday, there were a few signs the message might be getting through.

Kendric Maple, unbeaten and ranked No. 1 at 141 pounds, who probably doesn’t need to take a page out of anybody’s book, collected a 10-2 major decision over 14th-ranked Nathan Pennesi.

Nick Lester, however, seemed to offer a new aggressiveness in his 17-0 technical fall over Timothy Wheeling. Lester, ranked No. 11, entered just 7-5 over his previous 12 bouts, but scored early and often against his Mountaineer opponent.

“We really got on him,” Cody said of his communication with Lester following the 149-pounder’s underwhelming 5-0 victory at UNI two days earlier.

Then, at 157, the spot typically held down by 14th-ranked Matt Lester, Cody went with Justin DeAngelis instead. DeAngelis responded with an 18-2 technical fall over Jason Luster.

“That spot is still not set yet,” Cody said.

Time will tell if there’s room for turnover at any other spots, but one thing’s pretty certain. If the Sooners want to impress their coach, they’ve got a good senior role model at 165 pounds.

“So far,” Graham said, “I feel like I’m wrestling hard.”