UNIVERSITY PARK — The last two years have been troublesome for Penn State wrestler Nate Morgan.
For now, that trend continues for the 133-pound sophomore.
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson confirmed Tuesday that Morgan will miss the remainder of the 2012-13 season with an unspecified knee injury he suffered during the team’s dual against West Virginia on Nov. 18. It will be the second season in as many years Morgan will miss with an injury.
“He understands that this isn’t the end of the world and it’s another setback and just something that he’s got to get the most out of and come back stronger,” Sanderson said.
Morgan missed all of last season as he recovered from a broken leg and torn left ACL suffered in a freak accident on campus toward the end of his true freshman season. Morgan, who was getting off a bus with intent to board another one across the street, stepped out to cross the street and was struck by a car. He suffered breaks of both his tibia and fibula and tore the knee ligament. Although Sanderson did not plan to redshirt Morgan as a sophomore, he had to after Morgan was severely hurt.
Tragically, Morgan’s older brother was killed in a car accident last January.
Morgan, who was able to return to full wrestling this summer, was expected to compete with Jordan Conaway for a starting spot at 133 pounds this season. As a result of what he’s been through off the mat, Morgan has been an inspiration to his teammates, Sanderson said.
“Not many kids get hit by cars. And for him to be able to bounce back in short amount of time, and his optimism and good spirit — he’s still smiling,” Sanderson said. “He’s extremely competitive and he wanted to be on the team and he was battling there for that spot.”
Now, Morgan will battle to return to the lineup for next season. Sanderson said Morgan will apply for a medical redshirt which is granted to an athlete who misses 70 percent or more of his team’s events as long as they don’t come after the midway point of the season. Morgan only wrestled the one dual bout — against West Virginia’s Colin Johnston — this season.
Morgan’s positive demeanor was on full display as the team prepared to begin its practice on Tuesday. Without any cast or wrap on either of his knees, Morgan talked about his previous rehab before hopping on an exercise bike as practice started.
“It turned out to be a really long rehab,” Morgan said. “I had to do six weeks for the bone. They put two screws in my tibia so they could do ACL reconstruction. It ended up getting infected so I ended up having four surgeries before it was all said and done.”
As a freshman in 2010-11, Morgan went 15-9. He’s already looking forward to a return next fall.
“It was a little rough at first,” Morgan said of missing last season. “But I’m definitely happy and blessed to be here, just to be a part of this program is so awesome.”
Beasts of the East
Add Sanderson to the list of those excited by Rutgers and Maryland joining the Big Ten.
“I think they’re both great wrestling programs and I think they’re both a great fit for the conference,” Sanderson said. “Obviously the Big Ten is already a super conference and it just got even stronger.”
Maryland, a program on the rise since former Penn State All-American Kerry McCoy took over in 2008, has had six wrestlers achieve All-America status since McCoy’s arrival.
Rutgers, located in New Jersey, one of the more well-stocked states for highly-coveted wrestling recruits, gives Penn State another rival in the east. Both schools offer Penn State an opportunity to travel lesser distances for away duals and give Nittany Lion fans more realistic options should they want to follow their team on the road.
Although Penn State has routinely wrestled in-state teams like Pittsburgh, Lehigh and Lock Haven, previously the Nittany Lions’ closest Big Ten foes were still more than five hours away in Columbus, Ohio.
Rutgers and Maryland are both less than 4 1/2 hours away.
“We do a lot of traveling and we’re kind of out here by ourselves for the most part,” Sanderson said. “It’s nice to have some other eastern schools in the conference.”
Penn State wrestles at Rutgers on Feb. 24. Both schools are slated to begin Big Ten membership in 2014.
Lawson wins title
Jimmy Lawson capped his weekend with a Mat-Town Open championship at Lock Haven.
The way he did it was pretty spectacular.
Lawson went 4-0 with a pin, a technical fall over Virginia Tech’s 6-foot-8 Dawson Peck. Lawson only surrendered two points throughout the tournament and beat Lock Haven’s Henry Turner 4-1 in the finals.
“I just wanted to keep the matches in my control, do the things I wanted to work on, get certain takedowns that I need to work on,” Lawson said. “I think from a standpoint, I did that.”
The athletic Lawson, who spent the last two years playing football at Monmouth University, has shown Sanderson and the rest of the coaching staff his conditioning is satisfactory after having been away from wrestling for two years.
“Getting the matches in and getting the confidence, when you’re off the mat for two years, that’s a big deal to get a feel and kind of realize that you do remember how to wrestle and you are good,” Sanderson said.
He’ll continue to battle sophomore Jon Gingrich for the Nittany Lions’ starting spot at 285 pounds. Both wrestlers will enter this weekend’s Nittany Lion Open.
Taylor finally gets his Hodge
It was announced this past summer that David Taylor, who went undefeated and scored bonus points in all but two of his 32 bouts last season en route to a national title win at 165 pounds, won the Hodge Trophy.
He didn’t receive the actual award until Saturday when he was recognized for his accomplishment before the announced 93,505 at Beaver Stadium.
When his name was called, Taylor pumped the Hodge Trophy — college wrestling’s equivalent to the Heisman — up into the air.
“It’s just an extraordinary accomplishment,” Sanderson said. “To win the Hodge, it’s kind of the award everyone wants in college wrestling right now and he earned it. I’m real happy for him and it’s a great place for him to receive it.”
Cloudy with a chance of Alton
Sophomore Andrew Alton has waited patiently for his chance to return to the Penn State lineup following a redshirt year last season.
An ankle injury suffered during a preseason practice has kept him from the lineup and Sanderson didn’t sound optimistic that Alton would make his debut at an all-day, grueling tournament like Sunday’s Nittany Lion Open.
Although Alton was listed as an entrant in the tournament’s registration database as late as Tuesday evening, that list is not finalized and brackets have not yet been put together.
“I don’t know. Maybe,” Sanderson said. “That’s going to be a decision we make Friday.”