Simpson Makes Quick Impression

West Virginia wrestler Lanfer Simpson has had an auspicious beginning to his Mountaineer career after being out of competition for almost three years.

Simpson, who came to West Virginia as a football walkon, had plenty of quality experience as a high school senior, but didn't plan on continuing his wrestling career in college.

At Waynesburg Central High, he wrestled in the 189-pound class as a sophomore before moving up to the heavyweight ranks as a junior and a senior, and earned plenty of accolades along the way. He was ranked seventh in the state as a senior, and earned a WPIAL championship. He also wrestled as a member of the junior national team and finished as high as second.

Simpson was very familiar with the WVU program in high school, having attended a number of matches at the WVU Coliseum. One of his high school teammates went to rival Edinboro, so Simpson was well aware of rise to prominence enjoyed by the Mountaineer program.

Despite his high school achievements, and his familiarity with the wrestling scene at WVU, he decided to focus on football in college. He and teammate Lee Fritz, a quarterback, came to WVU in 2001, but quickly went different ways. Fritz, after only one day of practice on the football team, opted to move over to the baseball squad, while Simpson stuck with the gridiron.

He redshirted his first year, then played in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2002, mostly on special teams. Following the bowl game that year, Simpson decided to get back on the mats.

"Last year after bowl game, I just decided to give it another go. I worked out all spring, and enjoyed it."

Simpson did not wrestle in any matches last year, and was intending to come back to the football team, when a personal tragedy befell him. His mother, Clarkette, passed away, which lead to Simpson stepping away from sports for a while.

"I just didn't feel like going into sports when that happened," the Waynesburg native said. "I just wanted some time to myself, and didn't think about football or wrestling at all."

After that sabbatical, Simpson decided to rejoin the wrestling team this winter, but again didn't expect to see much action, what with Brent Miller, a two-time NCAA participant, holding court at the heavyweight position. However, in a surprising turn of events, Miller was declared academically ineligible after the first semester of the season, which thrust Simpson into the lineup.

He responded beautifully, collecting a fall just :38 seconds into the first match of his collegiate career over Aaron Ferrance of Bloomsburg. And although the big heavyweight appeared to handle the pressure like a seasoned veteran, he admitted to some pre-match jitters.

"It was a big difference from just working out and practicing," Simpson recalled. "I was really nervous going into the match. I hadn't wrestled in competition in almost three years.

"I was nervous until the first whistle, but after that, it goes away. You start doing what you do, and don't think about it. It's kind of like after that first hit on the football field."

Although Simpson was a known quantity to his teammates after putting in long hours with them on the practice mats over the past year, he wanted them to know they could count on him in the heat of competition.

"I wanted to earn my keep," Simpson said as he analyzed his feelings about stepping in for Miller. "I don't think I needed to prove myself, because I've been working out with them. They accept me. But I knew I had some big shoes to fill."

Simpson has done that very well. Since that opening fall, he secured West Virginia's 21-16 win over Cleveland State at the national duals by upsetting No. 8 ranked Russ Davie in the final match, giving the Mountaineers an important win. He's now 2-2 in his young career, but is trying not to get too excited about the future.

"Right now I'm just taking every match one at a time. I just try to win every match I can."

Simpson admits he still has a lot to learn, and is working on improving his wrestling from the standing position.

"I'm struggling with my footwork some," the sophomore admitted. "I fell ok when I'm down, on either the top or bottom. I'm comfortable there. Up, I still need to work on. Wrestling on your feet in college is much different."

Simpson is taking the same day to day approach in his life as he is in his wrestling, and hasn't made a decision yet on whether he may return to football.

"Right now I'm enjoying wrestling," the big sophomore noted. And with the splash he has made in his first matches as a Mountaineer, it's easy to see why.

WVU hosts Clarion at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 25, at the WVU Coliseum.

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