AJ Ferrari

Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News Press

Oklahoma State's AJ Ferrari was the first Texas native to win a national championship for Cowboy wrestling. And Tuesday's announcement of the OSU vs. Iowa dual being held in Arlington, Texas, will be big in recruiting the state that is growing in youth wrestling talent.

John Smith has proven over the years to have two important wrestling goals: Bring the best talent to Oklahoma State to win a national championship and try to create ways to help grow the sport.

It’s why he’s been a proponent of getting women’s wrestling growing at the high school level in Oklahoma and has been open about OSU discussing the potential start of a women’s program.

The expansion of wrestling, especially in a world that is so easily able to connect now, will only make Oklahoma State wrestling better.

That’s why the NCAA national tournament was originally supposed to move from basketball arenas to an NFL stadium in 2020 – before COVID-19 shut down the sporting world the week before the tournament was supposed to be held in U.S. Bank Stadium, the 73,000-set home of the Minnesota Vikings.

It’s also why the decision to have the Oklahoma State dual with Iowa at Globe Life Field – home of the Texas Rangers – in February 2022, is such a brilliant move.

Texas has become a hotbed for wrestling. And with it, a fertile hotbed for college wrestling recruiting.

Penn State’s Bo Nickal, a three-time NCAA national champion (four-time finalist) and a Dan Hodge Trophy winner, was a three-time Texas state champion after moving to Allen, Texas.

Oklahoma State’s most recent national champion, A.J. Ferrari, was born and raised in Texas – where he was a two-time state champion at Allen High School before relocating to prep powerhouse Blair Academy in New Jersey for a year.

There are future national champions wrestling in high school or at the youth level in Texas right now. Many of them will ask their parents to attend a Division I wrestling match in the heart of the state, and Oklahoma State will be at the heart of their attention.

Oklahoma State – as well as Iowa, obviously – will be tapping into the growing recruiting location that doesn’t have any Division I avenues in which to wrestle. The only sanctioned wrestling programs in Texas are either at the junior college or NAIA levels.

“The growth (in Texas) has helped us a lot,” Smith said during Tuesday’s announcement. “… It’s growing, it is better and it has helped Oklahoma State wrestling, absolutely. It’s helped Oklahoma State quite a bit.”

Cowboy wrestling is like the Dallas Cowboys, they draw a large crowd to any arena they visit.

It’s why Smith traditionally schedules so many trips to the East Coast. The 2019 trip to Princeton and Rutgers, which gave a few of the Cowboys on roster a bit of a test (such as Daton Fix vs. Nick Suriano), mostly served as a way to get the Orange and Black chevron notorious with Cowboy wrestling in front of a swath of potential prospects.

It’s likely the same reason why Penn State would rather not put Oklahoma State on the schedule, even though it would be a good test for all wrestlers involved. It would be a way for the Cowboy brand to infiltrate Pennsylvania – with OSU instead going to Drexel and Lehigh at the start of the 2019-20 season as a way in – as it has produced many of the top collegiate wrestlers.

So with no way to hold a traditional college dual in Texas, they’ve found a way to do so.

Even Team USA Wrestling understands the need to tap into the Lone Star State.

The Olympic Team Trials – in which current Cowboys Ferrari and Daton Fix, as well as former Cowboy Jordan Oliver, competed – were held in Fort Worth, Texas. And the dual between OSU and Iowa is being paired with an international dual between Team USA and Iran.

But the neutral site has been met with resistance from some Oklahoma State fans who don’t want to see the dual moved out of Stillwater.

That feeling Cowboy fans have had in an electric Gallagher-Iba Arena for an Iowa dual – in which they want to feel again – will be shared with an increasingly rabid wrestling base that will get to experience the electricity for themselves by pitting college wrestling’s two most storied programs against each other.

And before anybody argues, “Well, they can just drive to Stillwater to watch it then.” Same could be said about going to a unique setting that can hold nearly three times the capacity as GIA (not to say it will sell out, but you don’t know unless you try). Either option is an inconvenience for some group.

Wrestling has been on the defense of late – with the loss of several Division I wrestling programs, several other programs on the verge of being disbanded and nearly losing wrestling in the Olympics. And anybody who has watched Smith’s wrestlers, or listened to him talk, knows that he wants to be on the offensive.

That’s exactly what he’s doing for his program and the sport with holding the biggest annual college wrestling dual in a total different venue in a state starving for elite college wrestling.

Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at jelmquist@stwnewspress.com.

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