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

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Oklahoma State’s Malcolm Rodriguez, one particular of the country’s finest linebackers, walked into his locker space right after a video game and experienced to make a person final takedown.

Photograph this: Cowboys mentor Mike Gundy is in there, doing work out correct just after a acquire. He sees Rodriguez, just shy of 32 years his junior, and gets up and provides a challenge. The two may perhaps have been in a football locker space, but this is Oklahoma, and these are two previous wrestlers sizing up every single other.

“I guess he imagined I was fairly sore or no matter what, and he type of got in a wrestling stance,” Rodriguez claimed. “I bought a maintain of him and I kind of picked him up.”

You can forgive Gundy for imagining he had a shot. He grew up wrestling till ninth grade. That year, he mentioned, he concluded 35-, but had to give it up because of time constraints.

Rodriguez, although, won two state wrestling titles in Wagoner, Oklahoma. He claimed Gundy hollered a minimal bit, so he put him down.

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“I was like, ‘Yeah, Coach, I nonetheless received it,'” Rodriguez mentioned. “I could definitely even now get him. He’d have no shot.”

This would appear as no surprise to opposing offenses. At the rear of Rodriguez and yet another star wrestler, defensive close Brock Martin, who gained three consecutive state titles in Oologah, Oklahoma, the Cowboys are a rigid test for challengers.

Wrestling and soccer are both revered in Stillwater, and nowhere do they converge superior than on this year’s stellar Oklahoma State protection, which ranks in the major five nationally in factors for every video game (16.4), details for each travel (1.1) and yards for each engage in (4.4) whilst also major the state with 47 sacks. Rodriguez and Martin are vital players on that stellar defense, and both equally gained to start with-team All-Big 12 honors on Thursday. Subsequent up, the No. 5 Cowboys engage in No. 9 Baylor on Saturday for the Massive 12 championship (midday ET, ABC) with a prospect to make the Faculty Football Playoff.

Both Rodriguez and Martin explained their historical past as grapplers is a significant reason for their defensive good results. It is really all about angles, physics and technique. Rodriguez explained he reads defenders’ hips like he would in wrestling.

“It certainly arrives from that track record,” he said. “It is really next nature, just receiving folks down. I don’t do the significant tackles — I just go for the legs and the hips.”

Martin as opposed his tackling type to the double-leg takedown go in wrestling.

“Me and Malcolm do not miss a large amount of tackles and I assume that’s simply because we equally have been effective wrestlers,” Martin mentioned. “I just form of dive and take out the knees. When you do not have any legs, you won’t be able to operate any more. We are not gonna make any emphasize film or any spotlight tapes with the way we deal with. But it gets the task performed.”

The figures again up their story.

According to ESPN Stats & Data, Martin and Rodriguez are the only pair of teammates in the Big 12 to have a lot more than 20 tackles at or at the rear of the line of scrimmage and at least a 90% tackle share.

Rodriguez is one of 6 Big 12 players with at least 100 tackle tries, but is the only participant among that team to have a deal with percentage previously mentioned 90%. His 21 tackles at or at the rear of the line of scrimmage on developed operates are the most in the Large 12 and tied for fourth-best in the FBS.

Malcolm Rodriguez has 106 total tackles, three sacks and a few forced fumbles this season on Oklahoma State’s substantially enhanced protection. AP Photograph/Sue Ogrocki

Martin, meanwhile, has had only one deal with broken on 47 attempts this year and 16 of these have absent for a decline, eighth greatest between gamers who have attempted at minimum 40 tackles.

Together, they have served Oklahoma Condition direct the Huge 12 with an 84% deal with charge as a defense while also racking up 96 tackles for reduction, next-best in the FBS. The Cowboys have authorized 28% of developed operates to go for a reduction or no acquire, also top rated five in the region.

Martin and Rodriguez are accustomed to being joined. Born just 29 times apart, the two began wrestling when they were being 5. Escalating up about 50 miles apart, they crossed paths early on, with Martin reluctantly now admitting that Rodriguez may well stop up with lifelong bragging legal rights.

“Yeah, he is 1-, if you want to depend when we were 6 a long time old,” Martin said, lamenting that there is certainly even a image of him standing in the next-area place on the podium following to his teammate. “We achieved in the condition championship and he defeat me. I kind of outgrew him from there. We by no means wrestled all over again soon after that.”

Brock Martin stands in next spot when Malcolm Rodriguez retains the profitable bracket. This was the previous time they wrestled every other competitively. Courtesy Rodriguez loved ones

And in spite of getting at rival educational institutions, the two continued to press each and every other. Martin, who wrestled at 220 pounds, reported that he and Rodriguez, who was at 195 lbs ., would heat every single other up for state championship matches.

In football, although, they had been rivals. Again, Rodriguez came out on major.

“We played 6 occasions in three decades,” Martin stated. “They were in our district. We performed him in the state championship my sophomore, junior and senior 12 months, and he defeat me every single single 12 months.”

Rodriguez was the starting off quarterback, throwing for 6,144 yards and hurrying for 2,449, with 115 touchdowns over a few seasons although also making 238 tackles and intercepting 7 passes as a protection. Martin experienced 400 tackles and 50 sacks in his higher school job. However, for all their success in various sporting activities, the two were very evenly recruited. Martin had offers from a few other Huge 12 educational facilities, but Rodriguez’s only other offer you was from Wyoming.

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But Gundy has prolonged valued that wrestling history.

“I was wrestling 10 or 11 decades and you get a feel for the form of athletes and folks that compete in that sport,” he claimed this week. “So as soon as when we have a chance to get our palms on wrestlers, they transfer up on our list real swift simply because I know the self-discipline and toughness it requires.”

Rodriguez and Martin grew up idolizing the OSU wrestling method. To be in the same athletic section and star alongside them is a thrill, but it truly is paid out off for OSU soccer, as nicely.

Gundy stated he and John Smith, the famous OSU mentor who was extensively thought of just one of the best wrestlers of all time — including profitable Olympic gold medals in Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992 — have been close friends for 40 decades and their parents understood each other.

“John and I utilized to travel all around the place wrestling freestyle in the summertime jointly,” Gundy reported.

Now, as coaches, Gundy claimed both he and Smith have 100-in addition-acre farms exterior Stillwater about a fifty percent mile from every single other.

“We share farm equipment,” Gundy stated. But Martin felt the have to have to appropriate the document.

“As Coach Smith has reported many instances, Mentor Smith is a true farmer,” Martin mentioned. “Gundy can stay messin’ with his llamas and lambs. All the kiddie stuff.'”

But even with a heated farming rivalry, Gundy won’t intellect also sharing his soccer players with Smith.

In January 2020, 3 years right after they past competed on the mat, Rodriguez and Martin began doing the job out with the Cowboys’ wrestling team — the a person that’s won 34 NCAA titles given that its inception in 1915 and has made an regular of 4.8 All-Americans just about every year in Smith’s 30 decades as head coach.

“Me and Malcolm expended a couple of months in there and it was not quick,” Martin stated. “They took it effortless on us, but it wasn’t uncomplicated. The first day we have been in there we experienced to bicycle like 5 miles for the warm up, then we went into the wrestling room and drilled and stuff like that. There is certainly a huge variance in between football condition and wrestling form.”

Rodriguez agreed.

“In football right after a engage in, you get a small rest,” he said. “Wrestling is usually on the go. You might be exceeding your limitations and you are exhausting your self the full match. Cardio is definitely a large amount tougher in wrestling. I was in condition for soccer, but that wrestling shape’s a good deal diverse than persons think.”

Rodriguez was grateful for the encounter, but it helped with some closure, he claimed.

“Every time I get to a dual, I overlook it but I know my time has passed,” he explained. “So I can just observe from listed here on out.”

A working day soon after the Cowboys’ 37-33 gain in excess of Oklahoma, Rodriguez and Martin attended the wrestling team’s 1st house twin in Stillwater this year. They ended up provided a standing ovation by the crowd.

These fellas know a thing or two about wrestling 😉

Constantly good to have @malcolmlrod and @btmartin40 appear through!#DynastyDefined I #GoPokes pic.twitter.com/hTbnXd6T4b

— OSU Cowboy Wrestling (@CowboyWrestling) November 28, 2021

For the Cowboys, who are playing in their very first-ever Major 12 title match this weekend, it’s been a time of assessments, commencing with surviving a 7-stage earn around Missouri Point out to open the season, and two extra lackluster nonconference wins. Now at 11-1, Gundy explained this crew has enhanced as significantly as any in his 31 many years of coaching.

When he talks about what he sees in wrestlers, he may possibly as effectively be chatting about these Cowboys.

“Wrestling is mental toughness,” Gundy explained. “It really is willpower. You have acquired to make pounds. There’s occasions you won’t be able to take in. You go a few times and you are hungry all the time. You are in hand-to-hand physical beat. Your nose receives busted, your eyes get busted. It can be just you on the mat. You won’t be able to level the finger at any individual else. You discover to be disciplined and hard and try out to obtain a way to finish.

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