Feb. 13, 2013
Travis Rutt will officially take to the mat as a member of the University of Oklahoma wrestling team for the first time next year; but unlike most newcomers, Rutt is an All-American senior with two NCAA Championship appearances under his belt.
Rutt has spent two seasons away from the NCAA wrestling mat. The 2011-12 season found Rutt training for an Olympic bid, and the 2012-13 season has brought new challenges after a transfer to OU.
Rutt’s collegiate wrestling career began at the University of Wisconsin. In three years in Madison, Rutt made two NCAA appearances with a seventh place finish in 2011 and an automatic qualifying performance where he went 1-2 in 2010.
Along with teammates Andrew Howe, another Oklahoma add on in 2012, and Tyler Graff, Rutt took an Olympic redshirt for the 2011-2012 season in preparation for the U.S. Olympic trials and the 2012 London Games.
With three of its top veterans out for a year, Wisconsin lost all eight Big Ten Conference dual meets. Rutt, Howe and Graff began to look for a new home.
“When everything fell apart at Wisconsin, it really came down to three choices,” the 184-pounder explained. “Michigan, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Those were the only schools I looked at.”
When Badger assistant coach Donny Pritzlaff left Wisconsin for Michigan, many felt Rutt and Howe would follow their coach to the Wolverines or that Rutt, a native of New Prague, Minn., would go home to Gophers for his senior year.
Fortunately for the Sooners, Big Ten rules prohibit student-athletes from transferring to other conference schools. With that rule in place, Michigan and Minnesota were off the list, leaving Oklahoma as their final destination.
With the transfer to OU, Rutt reestablishes his relationship with Jared Frayer, who was Rutt’s assistant coach at Wisconsin from 2009-11. Frayer, and Oklahoma graduate and two-time All-American out of the OU wrestling program, brings a sense of familiarity to the Oklahoma practice facility for Rutt and Howe.
Sooner head coach Mark Cody was pleased to have a top wrestler like Rutt, alongside Howe, transfer to OU.
“Travis did a great job at Wisconsin,” Cody stated. “You have to definitely acknowledge Wisconsin’s contribution to his success. They have a great staff up there and have done a lot with him. We’re fortunate to have him.”
Rutt and Howe have taken the 2012-13 season off as part of the transfer process. While Howe has used it to recover from an injury suffered while training for the Olympics, Rutt has been able to participate in open tournaments, unattached to OU.
The two still practice together in the OU wrestling room.
“They are obviously best friends,” Cody added. “They both work really hard; they are warriors. It’s just a lot of fun to watch those guys compete.
“Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to run practice so I could watch those two scrap, because it’s a lot of fun to watch them battle against one another.”
Rutt has worked his way through five tournaments this year, with first place finishes at the OCU Open, Bethany Swede Open and Joe Parisi Open.
Additionally, he has tallied 20 wins, good for third place on the team behind Oklahoma’s top-ranked 141-pounder Kendric Maple (22) and freshman Clark Glass (21), who is also wrestling unattached. Rutt leads the Sooners with 10 pins in 22 bouts.
“He realizes he has a ways to go if he wants to attain his goals and be a national champion,” Cody said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he can attain that goal, and we’re seeing that in the way he is competing right now.”
This year hasn’t been without challenges for Rutt, but his teammates have embraced the new Sooner and helped with his transition into a new team.
“It’s definitely different,” Rutt stated. “When I first came here, I felt like a freshman again, I didn’t know my way around.”
Even on the mat, Rutt has had some new experiences as an unattached wrestler.
“It’s a little more stressful,” Rutt explained. “It’s not the most ideal wrestling situation, but it’s something you have to work through.
“That’s what everybody works through when they’re redshirting,” he continued. “We have a good group of guys at the tournaments, so that has made it a lot easier.”
Rutt will step into a new role next year for the Sooners: a veteran leader who has never taken the mat attached to the OU name.
“I’m new here, but I’m not a freshman,” Rutt expressed. “I’m a senior, so I know what I need to do.
“It’s not like I am a freshman where I need to learn the ropes all over again. It’s definitely a different role.”
Even in a new role, Rutt feels prepared to lead the Sooners through his final collegiate year in 2013-14.
“My goal is to be a national champion, but I know that’s what everybody’s goal is,” Rutt asserts.
“A team national championship would be nice, especially since it is in Oklahoma City. That would be the ultimate goal, and that’s something we’re looking forward to.”