YET AGAIN: PSU’s Zain Retherford wins the Hodge for the second straight year

Zain Retherford of Penn State University Wrestling holds the Hodge Trophy after being introduced during the Penn State-Georgia State football game on September 16, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Mark Selders)

UNIVERSITY PARK — Zain Retherford didn’t need another accolade to cement his legacy among the all-time greats in Penn State and NCAA wrestling history, but he received one Tuesday just the same.

For the second straight year, the Penn State 149-pounder was named the WIN Magazine/Culture House Hodge Trophy winner. The award, presented by ASICS, is considered the Heisman Trophy for amateur wrestling and has been presented to the nation’s best wrestler since 1995. Retherford was the runner-up for the 2016 award.

“To win the award that symbolizes dominance in college wrestling two years in a row means a lot to me. It’s awesome,” Retherford said in a release. “Coming into college my first year, I really wasn’t that dominant. I would ride just to ride and would squeak out a few wins. Throughout wrestling at Penn State, I learned to look for more points and expand matches a little bit.

Retherford received 35 of 48 first-place votes from the voting committee, which includes past winners, national wrestling media and select retired coaches from different regions of the country. Teammate Bo Nickal finished second in the voting. South Dakota State sophomore 133-pounder Seth Gross, who won an NCAA title this year, was third. Arizona State sophomore 174-pounder Zahid Valencia, who beat Penn State defending champion Mark Hall in this year’s final, finished fourth.

Retherford becomes just the third Nittany Lion to win the Hodge, joining David Taylor (2012 and 2014) and Kerry McCoy (1997). Retherford is just the fourth to win the award multiple times, joining Taylor, Missouri’s Ben Askren (2006-07) and his coach, Cael Sanderson, Iowa State (2000-02). Penn State is the only school to have had three different honorees.

“Zain is very consistent. That’s one of the keys to him being how he is. His consistency is his best every second. And that’s very rare,” Sanderson said in the same release.

The award is named after Dan Hodge, the former three-time (1955-57) NCAA champion from the University of Oklahoma, who did not allow a takedown in his career and pinned 36 of 46 victims.

Criteria for the award includes a wrestler’s record, number of pins, dominance on the mat, past credentials, quality of competition, sportsmanship/citizenship and heart.

The first four criteria are the primary criteria. Number of pins is an extremely important criterion. Part of the reason the award was created was to elevate the importance of the pin, and to motivate top collegians to go for the fall. The Hodge Trophy is a single-season award. However, if you have two candidates who are virtually equal, consideration can be given to past credentials, which is criteria No. 5. The last two criteria should be used to help guide voters to select a winner who also is a good representative of the sport.

Retherford’s list of accomplishments is as long as it is impressive:

-Three-time NCAA champion, the second in Penn State history along with Ed Ruth (2012-14)

-Four-time All-American, the 10thin Penn State history.

-Three-time NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler Award winner (2016-18).

-His 19 NCAA tournament wins are second in Penn State history behind Ed Ruth’s 21.

-Three-time Big Ten champion, the fifth in Penn State history.

-Finish his final three seasons undefeated (34-0 2015-16, 28-0 2016-17, 31-0 2017-18).

-Finished his career with a Penn State record 94-match winning streak.

-Finished his career with a 59-0 record in dual meets.

-Finished his career with a 126-3 career record.

-Finished his career tied for first on Penn State’s all-time pins list with 53, along with Josh Moore and David Taylor.

-2017 World Team Trial champion

-2017 CoSIDA First Team Academic All-American

-Two-time NWCA First Team National All-Academic Team

-2016-17 Penn State Male Student-Athlete of the Year

Despite all of those accomplishments, Sanderson said Retherford has remained the same person.

“When he won the Hodge (in 2017), It really didn’t change him. He’s stil the nice Zain. But when he competes, he’s tenacious and competes to socre points and do what it takes. He’s low-key, but he’s competitive and wants to be a world and Olympic champion,” Sanderson said.

Retherford, who has consistently downplayed one of the most dominant careers in Penn State and NCAA history, revealed that humble nature in talking about what he’s most proud of accomplishing in his five years in Happy Valley.

“Win or lose a match, I think I became a better person being at Penn State and made the most of it,” he said. “The thing I’m most proud of is the person I’ve become.”