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Champions on and off the Mat
January 28, 2014

Editor's Note: The No. 6 Sooners host No. 10 Missouri at 7 p.m. on Thursday for Senior Night. Tickets are still available online or by calling the OU Athletics Ticket Office at (405) 325-2424 or toll-free at (800) 456-GoOU.

It is a lifestyle.

That is the message Oklahoma head wrestling coach Mark Cody sends to his team. To Cody, wrestling is about more than just the on-mat practice and competition, but rather the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of life, and his current senior class demonstrates this philosophy perfectly.

The sixth-ranked Sooners’ lineup boasts five seniors who have at least one All-America honor to their name. All five are also currently ranked in the top 20 of their respective weight classes, according to the latest InterMat poll. All five also share one more unique characteristic: They are in graduate school.­

These five seniors are No. 7 Jarrod Patterson (125 pounds), No. 15 Nick Lester (141 pounds), No. 2 Kendric Maple (149 pounds), No. 1 Andrew Howe (174 pounds) and No. 3 Travis Rutt (197 pounds). Maple and Howe also both have NCAA titles to their names, winning in 2013 and 2010, respectively.

“Each one of these individuals exemplifies the type of student-athlete we want now and in the future to represent our program,” Cody says. “They all know what it means and what it takes to be successful in the classroom and on the mat.”

Last fall, the seniors posted a combined 3.78 GPA, and three of them had perfect 4.0s.

“Everything we do in the wrestling room, we take the same attitude and mentality and apply it to everything else in our daily lives, including classes,” Rutt shares of the application of Cody’s philosophy. “It’s the same attitude – being the best at whatever you do.”

Lester echoed this sentiment, saying the OU wrestlers are dedicated to being the best, both in terms of education and in athletic competition.

“I take a lot of pride in being a Sooner,” Lester says.

The key to taking graduate classes, which are often held during the evening hours, succeeding in athletics and maintaining personal lives is learning to balance everything, Maple says, adding that the team also receives support from both the coaching staff and academic tutors, which aids in academic success.

Experience balancing the various aspects of their lives while obtaining undergraduate degrees helps in doing the same now, according to Lester.

“We learned time management, to focus on wrestling when we’re in the wrestling room and to focus on academics when we’re outside the wrestling room,” Lester says.

As far as why they chose to start graduate school rather than continue undergraduate classes during the rest of their athletic eligibility, all five seniors responded by saying the opportunities having an advanced degree from OU would be beneficial to their futures.

“There’s life after wrestling,” Maple remarks. “Your body’s not always going to hold up, and you have to have something to fall back on. We do love the sport, but we also want to have a future after college.”

For Howe, he knew another degree would help open more doors in his future and also give him a chance to improve as an individual.

“I could’ve just went through the motions and drug out my undergrad, but I felt like getting that done and I wanted to get the most out of myself and get the most out of my time here at Oklahoma,” Howe states.

This group also helps set a precedent for the rest of the OU team, and Patterson says all five of the seniors are leaders and hard working.

“We work hard both on the mat and then in the classroom as well,” Patterson explains. “We have five senior leaders in the wrestling room. It’s our last year, so we want to end with a bang.”

These five seniors will be honored before Thursday’s 7 p.m. match against No. 10 Missouri in what will be their last home dual of their careers.

Even though Thursday will be their last home dual, the Sooners still have more to work toward this season, including pursuing a conference title during the Big 12 Championship, which they are hosting on March 8, and competing at the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City March 20-22.

According to Howe, the fact the seniors are successful in various aspects of life demonstrates that wrestling is important at OU, but so is school, and Maple says it just shows the type of athletes and people OU creates.

“I think it says that that’s what we produce here,” Maple says. “We produce people who want to excel, want to go on to bigger and better things, and OU gives you the opportunity to do that.”

To Rutt, it simply shows that Coach Cody’s philosophy is working.

“Everybody is going in the right direction,” Rutt states. “The program is doing great: Great on the mat. Great in the classroom.”

Champions on and off the mat focused on a lifestyle of succeeding: That’s what this OU program is creating.

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