Wrestlers Approach End of Line

Three Penn State seniors will be putting on a singlet for the final time in their collegiate careers soon. Two of them, Jarrad Turner and Josh Walker, will be battling for starting jobs this week in wrestle-offs.

Although Adam Smith, the third senior, has fallen from the national rankings, he still has his mind set on finishing off his collegiate career with a flourish.

“My goals haven’t changed,” Smith says. “I still want to win a national title. I know that probably sounds crazy to you, but that’s still my goal.”

He admits a back injury slowed him down considerably last year and he’s had trouble getting in the right frame of mind to shoot hard shots this season.

“The back’s fine, but sometimes I’m wrestling as if I’m still injured,” Smith affirms. “[Assistant coach Tim] Dernlan’s really helping me get set mentally. Physically, I’m OK, but I have to really commit to hard shots. I’m just not hitting it at full speed or with full confidence. But I think it’s coming along and I really feel as though I can beat anybody in the country if I wrestle all out.”

Smith has been a four-year starter at 125 pounds and is a rarity in that he never redshirted. Smith is a business management major with a minor in agricultural business. He is interested in working for a pharmaceutical company and also wants to stay involved with the sport, possibly running a summer camp.

“I just really like helping kids,” he says.

Smith has had a great support structure at Penn State. He says he considers himself fortunate to have worked with “two of the best lightweight coaches in the country” in Sammy Henson and Dernlan during his career. Smith says Henson was a good fit for him because of Henson’s intensity and that Dernlan “probably has the toughest front headlock in the country.”

Smith says he also appreciates the support of the booster club during his career and is grateful for having his parents in his corner at virtually every bout he’s wrestled in college. Smith is also looking forward to the summer, when he will marry Adrienne Campbell, a teacher in Newport on July 16.

Smith says he is very pleased with his decision to attend Penn State and feels like it’s been a great fit for him and his family. He says he is grateful for all of the time and effort by so many throughout his collegiate career.

“I really hope to represent well at Big Tens and nationals,” Smith says. “It’s kind of emotional, but I really love wrestling and I don’t really want it to be over.”

Turner came to Penn State as an unheralded recruit from Cuyahoga Valley Christian High in Hudson, Ohio. He is leaving as a two-year starter. He’s a telecommunications and American studies major and is looking to possibly get into broadcasting upon graduation.

Turner worked his way into the starting lineup last season and spent most of the year weighing in at 157 pounds but wrestling at 165.

“It was just what was best for the team,” Turner shrugs. “It was a little tough and I felt like sometimes I couldn’t do what I wanted against some of the bigger guys, but that’s just the way it goes.”

Although he’s still a little undersized for 165 pounds, Turner beat Steve Troup earlier this season to reclaim a spot in the starting lineup. The two will meet again this week for the right to represent Penn State in the postseason.

Turner is coming off his best weekend as a Nittany Lion, having taken 11th-ranked Donny Reynolds of Illinois to the brink before falling 6-5 on a riding time point. Turner then picked up his first dual win of the year, getting a takedown with ten seconds left in overtime to beat Mike Kimberlin 6-4. The coaches have always believed Turner’s ability is far beyond the results he’s seen over the last two years. Turner seems to believe, now, too.

“It seems like it’s all coming together right now,” Turner states.

He admits it’s been a little frustrating to “wrestle so well in the room and then it just never seemed to come out on the mat.”

“I definitely think I’m going to make it out of Big Tens (and qualify for the NCAA tournament). I’m more worried about nationals. I’m trying to make sure I get myself to where I need to be to be an All-American. As long as I wrestle up to my potential, I’ll be able to fulfill my goals at nationals.”

Turner is also thankful for the support of his family. His parents have made it to all the matches despite the four-hour drive to Penn State.

“It means a lot to have them there and to look up and know I have their support,” he conceded.

Turner says he will take a lot of great memories from Penn State.

“We’ve always been real close as a team,” Turner says. “We do everything together. When you’re on the mat or off the mat, you know these guys have your back. It feels more like a family or a brotherhood than a team because we are always together.”

Whatever the future holds, Turner feels wrestling will have him well-prepared.

“Yeah, after wrestling, work’s not really going to be that hard,” Turner laughs.

Josh Walker patiently waited for his turn as the starting heavyweight. The good-natured, talkative Walker may very well have a future in broadcasting or public relations.

With some help from strength and conditioning coach Eric Childs, Walker bulked up considerably from the 171 pounds he wrestled his senior year in high school.

A back injury has prevented him from having the senior season he had imagined. A herniated disc prevented him from having the movement necessary to be competitive in wrestling. But, he has received treatments and has been rehabbing and while it’s still not 100 percent, it is good enough for Walker to compete in a wrestle-off this week. Walker is hoping he will still have a few more opportunities to don the blue and white singlet.

Walker was also an unheralded recruit out of Lampeter-Strasburgh High. He credits the coaching staff for its work.

“They took a chance on bringing me in,” Walker admits. “One thing they do really well, though, is if you’re willing to work and you’re willing to put in the time, they’ll make you the best possible wrestler you can be.”

Walker says while the whole staff is great, he credits Dave Hart for a lot of his improvement.

“I have the utmost respect for Coach Hart,” Walker says. “I feel like he’s the best coach I’ve ever had. He can be hard on you, but if you get a kind word from him, you know you earned it. So if he says you did something right, you know you did it right. He just works tirelessly to make us better.”

Walker’s family have also embraced Penn State.

“My mom came to Illinois to watch two matches that I didn’t even wrestle in,” Walker laughs. “My parents have been awesome — they love being part of the Penn State family and interacting with the other families, like the Smiths, the Turners and the Yonushonis’s. They’ve built great relationships just like I have.”

Walker also says he appreciates his girlfriend’s support through some times this year, especially.

“I haven’t always been the most pleasant person this year, but she was always looking for ways to make me feel better, which really wasn’t going to happen with the injury. But, she’s been great.”

Walker has not minded his role as workout partner for Pat Cummins — at least not too much.

“I definitely felt like I was some small part of the success he was having so that was good for me,” Walker admits.

The back injury kept Walker off the mat after the Pitt match on Jan. 9.

But Walker was able to work his way back and convince the coaches to let him wrestle in the final meet in Rec Hall this season, against Lock Haven. Walker gave up an early score, but came back to pick up the 33rd pin of his career. It was a great moment.

“It was great to hear that crowd cheering one more time for me in Rec Hal and I know my family and teammates were really excited for me,” Walker says. “I was definitely pleased — it was a good way to go out, with the Ridge Reilly Award, which is something I’d never won before. So it felt great, but I’ll be disappointed if that’s the last match I win.”

Walker has always been a team-first guy, though, and says he is grateful to Joel Edwards for moving up a weight class and filling in during his injury.

“Joel’s been wrestling great,” Walker says. “I remember when I went up to heavyweight, there’s really a lot of technical things you have to change. You have to adapt your style a little bit.”

Still, Walker wants to be Penn State’s heavyweight in the postseason.

“I’ve waited too long, so that’s the first step for me — to win the wrestle-off,” Walker says. “I’ll have to see how the back’s doing and adjust my practices accordingly. I have a tendency to overdo it.”

Walker also will take many great memories with him — he singles out Doc Vecchio’s win to clinch All-American status as a highlight.

“Watching him win that, knowing the type of person he is and how much hard work he put in, that was just awesome.” Walker says. “I got teary-eyed watching him jump into the coaches’ arms.

“I really don’t have any regrets (about coming to Penn State),” Walker adds. “I wouldn’t change anything. I totally believe in God’s will and things that happen, happen for a reason. But I’ve met my best friends here. Guys like Doc Vecchio, Marat Tomaev and Cliff Wonsettler. I mean these are guys that have impacted my life forever. To have met those guys and others, like Adam Smith, it’s just been great for me. I count myself as very blessed for the experience I’ve had, and not just on the wrestling mat, at Penn State.”

All three seniors say their careers and time at Penn State have gone too fast. To which I can only agree. Regardless of what happens in the wrestle-offs and in the postseason, there is little doubt that all three will go on to future success and I wish them all the best.

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