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Old 12-23-2010
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The Journey continues - Motivation or Pressure plus Freshman Year


It’s that time of year. No, not the holiday season (well it is but who cares), it is wrestling season. For some it is just another season. For others like Gail Rush and myself it is the last wrestling season. Our sons have wrestled since they were little boys and as parents, we have followed the journey from the very first takedown, from kids through the high school level to the collegiate wars.

Clayton Rush and Mario Morgan are argubably the two best non DI wrestlers from Illinois in America entering this college season . It has been a long road to this point for them. This is their story.

There is so much that has gone on over the years that I thought it would be kind of cool if both Gail and myself reflected back, journaling in stages and posting them here for those that are still on the wrestling path to peruse. So periodically, we will add chapters until we get to that final match in March.

Just in case you have been hidden under a rock the last 15 or 20 years Clayton Rush, a former high school state (Aledo) champion and 2010 college national champion is the dynamic 125-pound superstar for NCAA DIII Coe College (Iowa).

His mother Gail, a frequent poster on illinoismatmen.com can best be described as the ultimate wrestling Mom. So much so, that she was voted W.I.N. Magazine Fan of the Year by national wrestling writer Jason Bryant. Imagine for a moment how good of a fan you have to be to beat out all of the crazy wrestling fanatics in America. She has ridden the back roads off America taking her son to practice, clinics, meets and tournaments. And now the road is about to end.

Mario Morgan is the 141-pound National Finalist and 2x All American from Mt. Carmel high school and the NCAA DII back-to-back National Champions, Nebraska-Omaha. In addition, unless you are also under that same rock you know that he is my son and a former multiple time kids state champ from the Harvey Twisters.

When I started this column many years ago, I wanted to share our experiences in the wrestling world. I was not a wrestler and had no one to tell me how this all was suppose to go. Eventually I figured most of it out, through trail and error and even became nominated last year for Illinois Wrestling Reporter of the Year by Illinois Wrestling Officials and Coaches Association. While my sons, competitive college career winds down, I much like Gail will be torn with many, many emotions and flooded with even more memories. In a strange way we will gain closure through our journal of our experiences of the wrestling lifestyle.

Stay close to this column, Gail and I will update our experiences. In part 10 Gail finishes explaining who motivated Clayton and Andre' tells about those first few days of high school.

Pressure or Motivation - Part 2 by Gail Rush

Before I continue, I need to clarify that these “motivations” were before high school. There are others during and after high school, but I’ll save that for another chapter…

Mark “Bam” Pustelnik. I think Clayton just liked to say “Bam”! Bam was the head coach at United Township High School when Clayton was very young. At that time, UT had a wrestling camp every summer that Jayson went to. Again, it goes back to Jayson. The camps were day camps and it was split up…bigger guys in the morning and little guys in the afternoon. AND there was a lunch break. This not only meant a trip to East Moline for me every day but I would have to wait there all day for both my boys. Bam offered to take them home with him for lunch so I could either go back home or shop or whatever. It was above and beyond what I ever expected from the head coach I had never met. That’s how Clayton got to know Bam and why he knew to say he would only wrestle for Bam when his cousin passed away. He met Bam’s mom and dad and saw a lot of Bam’s trophies when he had lunch there. He talked about it non-stop on our trips home.


Of course, to go along with Bam was the Fotos brothers and Bam’s assistant coaches. John was already at college, but Lambros and Perry were there. They were a riot. When Clayton would lose and get really mad…like kick a chair or try to hit the wall (pretty funny, honestly, as he was so small) Bam, Perry, and Lam would just make it worse as I was trying to get mad at him for acting that way. They loved to see him do that stuff. I think they enjoyed his competitiveness plus, it looked comical because he was so small! Bam, Perry, and Lam, along with the whole East Moline Panther Pinners Wrestling Club were huge influences and are largely responsible for his success…and his temper! Bam was one of the first people to find us and congratulate Clayton when he won his first HS State Title. Thanks guys!!

We were a little more sneaky than I realized. We took Clayton places strictly to ingrain “motivation” in his little brain. He thought they were fun, and they were, but we ALWAYS had an ulterior motive. I honestly can’t remember how old Bub was when we took him to Bloomington. Maybe junior high, maybe a little younger. Cael Sanderson was giving a speech and signing autographs. Seriously…CAEL SANDERSON!! We went and Clayton listened. Then he stood in line with “the Amy boys” to get his autograph. They had posters and Clayton still has his framed. I think it was on his wall until just recently when I took it down and took over park of his room for my office.


We went to as many Iowa Hawkeye wrestling meets as time would allow. We actually watched John “the big O” Oostendorp wrestle. Small world, I guess. He looks pretty much the same…but he sported a mullet back in those days!! (sorry Coach!) We knew Mark Johnson. My father actually helped with a fund raiser here in Aledo when he was trying to make the Olympic Team. Mark is from Alleman, which is just a hop and skip from Aledo. Mark always took the time to talk to Clayton whenever he saw him and would send hand written cards to him from time to time with schedules and posters. We went to a couple Illini meets here and there and Mark always took the time to talk with us.

We were always firm believers in small local wrestling camps. Jayson did go to a bigger one at Iowa. Short story. We sent him with enough money for snacks and a t-shirt and maybe a hat or something, about $50 if I remember right. He called us the first night..the FIRST night. He wanted to know if we could bring him more money. We knew his meals were paid for so we couldn’t figure out where all his money had gone so fast. My then 8th grade son had learned to gamble, and apparently poker wasn’t his game!! Needless to say, we didn’t take him more money, and on a different note, that was the first time I met John Oostendorp . Anyway, back to camps. After that we just couldn’t justify spending upwards of $300-$400 dollars for 4 days of camp. Nobody will convince me a kid under the age of 14 would come out of there with $300 worth of information, so we shifted gears.

One of those smaller camps, along with UT’s was Augustana College in Rock Island. And again, it goes back to Jayson. Jayse had gone to the Augie Camps since he was in 3rd grade or so, back when Kevin Puebla was the head coach. So naturally Clayton started going when he was about 4. Coach Puebla took to Clayton as did the assistant coach, Pat Marsh. We had a ton of Augie wrestling shirts, posters, etc…We also found that the college wrestlers gravitated to the little boys who actually wrestled. In the younger age groups it’s very common for the kids to want to play more than learn. Those of you who have helped with camps know exactly what I mean. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact. Anyway, the college boys took to Clayton and his partner, who was either Tyler Clark or Ethan.


And the boys loved all the attention of the “college wrestlers”. He learned a tremendous amount and got to go swimming each day after workouts were done. We felt like we definitely got our $75 worth and since they were day camps it didn’t interfere with baseball games or practice. Clayton went to the Augie camp up unitl he was a junior in high school. By that time, Coach Puebla had retired and Coach Marsh was the head coach. The second time I talked to John Oostendorp was actually at an Augie/Coe dual at Augie and he was now COACH Oostendorp. I think Clayton was a freshman or sophmore in high school. It never hurts to keep doors open…funny how that worked out!
So, in summary, most people probably thought we were these driving parents, pushing our son, and he was going to get burned out. I know some did. They said it. And maybe we were, to an extent. But we did more of the “sneaky” stuff. And it seemed to work. If there was pressure we hoped it came from within Clayton himself. Although, I am a firm believer 2nd place IS the first loser!!!!

Freshman year - Part 1 by Andre’ Morgan

Freshman year at Mt. Carmel was a whole new learning experience for both Mario and the family. While not being devout Catholics meant learning would take place from a religious perspective we welcomed the challenge. Life in our family is often about the experience of learning and growing. Mt. Carmel would definitely fit in this category.

The first day of football practice Mario looked tiny next to the big catholic players. Since the football coaches that knew the most about him were at the other end of the giant Jackson park field with the sophomore football team Mario would have to prove himself to the new coaches. I remember thinking no problem, when do the defensive drills start. For Mario they did not start as he is placed on offense on day one. At wide receiver no less. I think the coaches thought he was fast. Hahaha. Little do they know he is not fast and never has been fast?

One thing that did stand out is that of the 100 plus freshmen players almost all of them knew how to play football. There were very few kids that had not played in junior high and if they were new they were very big kids that could not meet the lower weight restrictions of pop Warner type youth football. Another amazing thing was by the middle of the first practice Mt. Carmel coaches had all of the kids running plays out of the huddle. No messing around. Mario played in every game and became a starter. Once he got in the lineup he worked his way over to defense as well. I remember the defensive co ordinator being very surprised that Mario was such a big htter to be so small. When the wrestling season started and this same coach came to a home meet and saw Mario wrestle, he told me he had made a mistake sending Mario to the offense. He said he would never judge a player again by his small size. As Gail Rush said earlier, it is not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog that matters. Or something close to that.

The football ended as undefeated conference champs and right on schedule wrestling season began one week later. Mt. Carmel varsity had ended the 2002 season as the state runner-ups. I had taken Mario to the state finals back in March. I believe they were at Lyons Township and we had hustled over there after the Twisters practice. Got there in time to see Mt. Carmel lose to Providence but the crowd was over flowing. Coach Weick upon seeing Mario had motioned him over to sit on the bench with the team. On the way home I asked Mario if he though he could perform on that type of stage and he responded, “I have been waiting for this all of my career. I can’t wait Dad.”

Mt. Carmel was undergoing renovation and we practiced in the multi purpose room that also served as a cafeteria and theater. It was big and drafty. Coach Weick would let the parents come to practice so almost daily several fathers and would gather in one corner and quietly observe or armchair quarterback the practices. The team itself was pretty decent with several stars lead by state champs Charles Lloyd, Bryan Harney plus All Staters Justin Curran and Kenny Jordan. Lloyd was the best team captain I had ever seen. He took Mario under his wing and really taught him how to be a good high school wrestler. Mario was expected to hold down the 103 spot and he did. But that journey was not without it’s test.

As the early season went by Mario received several challenge matches from another undersized sophomore Matt McNaughton. Mario was well aware that McNaughton was very skilled. Mario had eliminated him in the summer at the Reno Worlds in a tough match. At the very least Mario had size on McNaughton who weighed a muscular 90 pounds to Mario's 105. Coach Weick explained that the winner of two out of three would be the starter for the out of state trip in early December to Ohio. Mario would soon learn about wrestle offs and how to wrestle for his spot.

Mario’s first match was a dozy. It was on a early sunny Saturday morning at Mt. Carmel against Bishop Mac, a Chicago Catholic League cross over match. In addition, true to Mario’s style he had to draw a tough assignment. Waiting in the circle was the future class A state champ, Mike Ryan. Mario had not wrestled him in previous years in the IKWF but this was different. This was high school. For that matter high school was different. Instead of going to practice at 5:30 practice after getting out of junior high and going to the Twister practices, you get out of class at 3:10 and by 3:25 you are on the mat. Another difference was a schedule full of duals and just four tournaments. The only dual practice Mario or for that matter most IKWF kids get is at the Middle School duals. The Twisters did not dual too much as most teams would not dual them. And the weigh in process was different as well. Instead of weighing in at 7:00 a.m. like in the IKWF, high school wrestlers weigh in at 5:00 p.m. for a 6:00 dual. That meant holding your weight all day including lunch. Watching 750 males eat when you can't was very tough and different.

Mike Ryan seemed like he was a year older and since he was a state champ to be (he would win class A state that year), confidence was oozing out his veins. Early in that first match, Mario fell behind big time. Actually he was getting his butt kicked giving up 5 takedowns and five intentional cuts through two periods. Ryan was beating Mario with his own version of Twister style wrestling. Mario looked so tiny out there to me. Ryan looked very big but really was 103 on the dot that day. Going into the 3rd period and down by 5. He was getting rode pretty hard, was feeling sorry for himself and my wife of all people stood up and began to holler, “Get up Mario, you can do it Mario, believe in yourself.” Nicole is usually pretty quiet but not this day. He told me later that the only voice in the gym he heard that day was his mothers. When Mama speaks you better listen.

If you have ever seen Mario wrestle then you know when I am there. I am vocal and constantly coaching him from the stands. I tried filming but that didn’t works, I just end up missing key parts of the match and yelling wrestling instructions directed into the camera. Mario was very defensive this day for some unknown reason. Ryan took a shot, Mario caught him in a front headlock, went to the side and locked up a cradle for the win. Suddenly as the final period horn blew Mario had found a way to win. He had his first high school win. 165 more would follow but that first one was in the books. As a reward, we took Mario out to lunch. He was trying to gain weight not cut. One of the few 103’s that year that was not cutting weight. More on that later.

The older wrestlers had a game they played at home meets. They would put a small piece of tape on the mat andd collect a locker room pool of money. Who ever would get a pin closest to the tape would get the money after the dual. The coaches had no clue about this little game. The one time Mario got close to winning the pool I remember Lloyd picking his kid up in a cradle, walking half way around the circle and setting him directley on the tape (smiling and looking at the bench) to win the pool. Boy was Mario mad. The games kids will play.

The Monday after the big Bishop Mac win Mario had his first wrestle off with McNaughton. He won it by 5 points. He was also named Mt. Carmel Student of the Month. All was well in his world, for now.

NEXT: Pt. 2 Freshman year, CCL’s, sectionals and state the first time
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Last edited by MR TWISTER; 12-24-2010 at 11:35 AM.
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Old 12-24-2010
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A few changes to that story Twist. When Mike and Mario wrestled at Mt Carmel that Saturday morning it was both their freshman year. Mike was not cutting any weight as he came in that year weighing right at 103. Mike never wrestled Mario in IKWF as Mario was always smaller. We knew Mario was an IWF state champ and Mike was up for the match. Mike dominated the first 2 periods and was winning 10-5 (5 takedowns to 5 intentional escapes). All Mike needed to do was cruise the 3rd period and he had a win against a very good opponent but at the start of the 3rd Mike shot in and Mario caught him in a front head lock, got to the side and in true to his Twister form locked up a nice tight cradle and turned him for a pin. Mike went on to win state that year in large part due to the competition he wrestled in the CCL.
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Old 12-24-2010
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Thanks for jarring this old memory. I will adjust the story to read correct as you stated it happened. What weight was Mike at IKWF state? Mario won state at 79 and I dont remember Mike that year so thats why I thought he was older. I thought for sure we wrestled Mike at Bradley in the Brawlers tournament. That photo I posted was from the third period so that must be the beginning the front headlock before the cradle.

I do remember Mike was kicking Mario's butt...I have to get that tape out, 5 takedowns huh AND 5 cuts...pretty sure we had a long film session after that then. I dont think they met again? I know at CCL 103 and 112 they didnt meet. I remember Mike having terrible brackets at CCL drawing Kyle Hutter 2-3 times. I will be writing about Mike and Mario playing football against each other sophomore year at MC. That was a war too.

Fun times that will soon end. Happy Holidays to the Ryan family from the Morgans
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