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Why is This Cowboy Wrestling Team So Successful? John Smith Says It’s the Hardest-Working Team He’s Ever Had

‘We’ve had probably a group of wrestlers that train harder than any I’ve had.’



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith has led 33 teams, but he says this 2023-24 group is the hardest-working team he’s ever coached. That’s a bold statement, especially if you have any idea on what goes on in OSU’s wrestling room.

I once spent several hours while working on a story with three-time national champion Alex Dieringer, right after his OSU career had ended and he was preparing to make Team USA. I met him at the Cowboys’ wrestling room for an afternoon practice during which that corner of Gallagher-Iba Arena was crammed with Olympic medalists, national champions and All-Americans, many of whom were also pursuing international dreams. After the practice, I understood why the guys who went through the Cowboy wrestling program under Smith were so dang successful. And then Dieringer told me he’d text me when he came back if I wanted to tag along for what he called his night practice.

Somewhere around 11 p.m., I was back at GIA with Dieringer and his roommate/teammate, Joe Schumacher. For a solid hour, between sprints, takedowns, sprawls and time in the sauna, the closest Dieringer ever got to a break was when he laid on the mat to do crunches. And this was just a normal day for a guy trying to stand out in the OSU wrestling room.

I share that story as just a glimpse of what Smith has witnessed every day up in that room the last 33 years, plus those years of competing himself. So, yeah, I was taken back when he praised this team the way he did at Wednesday’s media availability.

The Cowboys are 13-0 this season after the worst finish ever under Smith last year at the NCAA Wrestling Championships. That led to an overhaul of the roster that now includes three transfers and at times five freshmen in the starting lineup.

There’s talent, yes. In fact, the No. 2 Cowboys’ best talent from last season even returned in Daton Fix and Dustin Plott. But it hasn’t been the talent that has had Smith throwing out high praises. A coach who constantly emphasizes the importance of bonus points has actually said more positive words this season about the close matches that needed sudden victory to win than the blowouts that earned extra team points.

“It’s been a great year of excitement,” Smith said at Wednesday’s media availability. “When you’ve got kids that are wrestling hard and fighting for their team, yeah, it’s great. I’ve had these years. I think I’ve had a lot more of them than I haven’t, but when you kind of sidetrack for two years, yeah, it’s a hell of a lot better. I miss it. It’s been a fun ride up to this point. Continue to just stay focused and keep these guys excited about what they’re doing.

“These guys work hard. We’ve had probably a group of wrestlers that train harder than any I’ve had. And so success comes from that.”

Sellout Crowd’s Berry Tramel even questioned Smith, “Ever?”

“Ever,” Smith assured. “Ever. I’m not talking about one individual, but as a team, yeah.

“I think they’ve come together. No complaining — 7 a.m. workouts all season, three o’clock workouts. Just not a lot of complaining. A lot of energy in the room, and I think that energy comes from some of our older guys — Daton Fix, Izzak [Olejnik], [Dustin] Plott. A few of the guys that we all recognize as some of the hardest trainers in the room that are not making the team and they got a level of commitment every day. It’s pretty impressive. That’s who you want your daughter to marry. That guy that never gets to wrestle, but he comes to work everyday and he’s trying to make someone else get better.”

Fix has been around the OSU program even longer than his seven-year college career. And he’s known in the wrestling room for not being vocal, yet still being one of the greatest leaders in the room because of the way he works.

Fix met with media only moments after his coach made the comment about this season’s team being the hardest-working group he’s ever coached.

“That’s a pretty big deal for him to say that,” Fix said. “He’s coached a lot of great teams, so to be a part of the team that he says is the hardest-training team, that’s awesome. I think it’s just a testament to who people on our team are. It’s a good group of guys. A lot of young guys, which is really good for our future. It’s gonna be exciting.”

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