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September 10, 2012Most high school wrestlers only dream of a summer such as this. But for Zain Retherford, Penn State's latest recruit for the Class of 2013, the summer of '12 was very much a reality.
Retherford, who was ruled ineligible following a transfer from Line Mountain High School to Benton High School, wasn't able to wrestle his junior year. But he didn't let the missed season throw his wrestling career off track. Instead, he took an alternative route.
Rather than wrestle scholastically, Retherford acted as a student-coach for Benton during his junior season, yet trained as a full-time student-athlete. And when the time came for him to compete again - although it was nationally, rather than scholastically - the 17-year-old was ready.
He won the NHSCA Junior Nationals and the FILA Cadet Nationals in April, Junior Nationals in July, and capped off his summer with a FILA Cadet World Championship in Baku, Azerbaijan in August. All were freestyle tournaments.
He won three national titles and a world championship in a five-month span, and then put the cherry on top when he verbally committed to wrestle at Penn State on Sept. 6.
"I mean, that was my goal coming into the summer," Retherford said. "For me, I had a lot of motivation going in, since I didn't wrestle last year."
Retherford is slated to resume his wrestling career as a senior in 2012 for Benton. FloWrestling ranks Retherford as the 10th-best pound-for-pound high school wrestler in the country.
Blue White Illustrated assistant editor Tim Owen caught up with the newest Nittany Lion over the weekend - after he was done with his Sunday farm chores, of course. Find out what Retherford had to say, here.
BWI: What was it like wrestling internationally?
Retherford: It's different. [The international opponents] are all defense. In spots where you think you'd score on a normal high school kid - or even a top high school kid - you wouldn't be. It's like you think you'd have those shots, but you only get a couple shots instead of setting up for one. You shoot, if its not there, you go to the other side. But you just keep a fluid motion and keep after them.
BWI: Back in April when you started competing in freestyle, did you kind of put recruiting on hold this summer? And were you hoping to make a decision once it was done?
Retherford: After I won FILA nationals, it was around the end of June, or the beginning of July, when they started talking to me. I had a couple [coaches] at my house, like Cornell. That was between FILAs and Fargo. I had Cornell, Lehigh and Penn State at my house for visits. After that I told them all I wanted to do was [focus] on Fargo. So they let me focus on Fargo. I got to talk to them again after Fargo, and then I just kept distance while I trained for Worlds.
BWI: When you say Cornell, Lehigh and Penn State visited, are you saying the head coaches, Cael [Sanderson], Rob [Koll] and [Pat Santoro]? Or did assistants come too?
Retherford: With Cornell, it was just Rob. When Lehigh came, it was Pat and John [Hughes, twin brother of Benton head coach Russ Hughes]. When PSU came it was both the Sandersons. [Cael and Cody]
BWI: How does a typical recruiting visit like that go?
Retherford: They come on inside. We show them the house. We have a back deck. We took them on the back deck. We had lunch with them - it was lunchtime everytime, so we shared some food and drinks and basically just chatted out there.
BWI: When Cael and Cody came down, what did they have to say to you? What did they have to offer?
Retherford: You know, they were different from everybody else. Everybody else was like, 'We want you, and we want you right now.' [The Sandersons] were really like, they had it in their head and they were confident. They were more about coming in right away, tackling it right now and getting it over with.
Most schools were like, 'We want you to come in, come for an official visit, take every single one of your visits.' Cael was like, 'Let's just call it right now. Are you ready? (BWI: So he wanted you decide?) Yeah, exactly.
BWI: You and Cody Weircoch (Canon-McMillan) are at the top of their recruiting list. Did they make that clear to you?
Retherford: They came right out and said that. They said, 'We're not out looking for other guys. Other guys might be coming to us, but [when] we go out fishing for a guy, that's the guy we want. Obviously, we're here, so we want you. We don't just make trips.' It made me feel special, you know?
BWI: You're planning on wrestling 141 pounds, right? Is that what I've heard?
Retherford: Yeah, that's what they see me at. They said they'd be flexible if I grow, you know? It wouldn't be that big of a deal, but where I'm at right now, it'll be 141 most likely.
BWI: What weight are you going to [compete at] this season for Benton?
Retherford: 138, I'm thinking. That's where I'm at right now. I'm weighing about 45. I add a little more toward the season. After Super 32 last year, I gained like 3 or 4 pounds.
BWI: Has Penn State talked about redshirting you your first year, or is that a wait-and-see approach?
Retherford: Kind of a wait-and-see. They mentioned it, but they also said if I was ready to go my freshman year, they'd throw me in, too. It's just a wait-and-see kind of thing.
BWI: How much did the Nittany Lion Wrestling club's Olympic success play into your decision, with Jake Varner's gold medal this summer?
Retherford: It was definitely a big part in that, because that's what I want to do after college. Every year, I look at a goal that is above where I'm at now. Say I win states, then I look at winning nationals. That's my outlook on everything. As soon as I'm there, I'm looking to win a national title at Penn State, and then I'm thinking about winning the Olympic title. So I'm thinking a match ahead where I'm doing that. Thinking good is easy, you know? That's what I want to do, especially after this season. I'm liking freestyle more and more every time I wrestle it, so that played a big part.
BWI: Was [staying close to home] something that played into your college decision, too?
Retherford: Definitely. I wanted to stay close to home if I could. That's where Penn State is the place that I feel like I could get the job done. I know I can get the job done. It's close to home, too. My friends, my family, my fans, the whole community of Benton love the idea that they can come watch. If I want to come home to do my laundry, I can do my laundry, too.
BWI: Other than being close to home, was there anything else that drew you to Penn State? Obviously Cael and obviously the wrestling success, but was there anything else that drew you to Penn State?
Retherford: The academics are top-notch and its tough. I'm going to major in business. I think that's what I'm looking at now. I don't know. That might change. I'm not sure about it, but I'm looking at it more and more now as the season's getting closer and I'm becoming closer to getting into college. But also the Olympic goals, being close to home and just getting the job done nationally, so I can do myself justice by going there.
Retherfrod is Penn State's second recruit for the Class of 2013, joining Matt McCutcheon of Kiski Area, Pa., the nation's 35th-ranked senior by Intermat.com.
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