UNIVERSITY PARK — Jon Gingrich is picking up where he left off.
The Penn State junior will step in at heavyweight for the No. 1 Nittany Lions who host No. 15 Illinois on Friday. Gingrich will replace starter Jimmy Lawson who is expected to miss two to three weeks with a left knee injury, Penn State coach Cael Sanderson announced Tuesday.
Luckily its not a season-ending injury, Sanderson said. When youve got that much weight, thats a very dangerous position to be in. We werent sure what the case would be.
Lawson was hurt trying to fend of a takedown from Northwesterns Mike McMullen inside Rec Hall on Sunday. McMullen had a hold of Lawsons left leg then swept Lawsons right leg out from under him. Lawson crumpled to the mat and clutched at his left knee.
Lawson walked into Penn States practice on Tuesday with his left knee heavily wrapped with a full brace on top. Lawson was not available to reporters.
Its upsetting, Gingrich said. You never want your chance to be because somebody else got hurt. At the same time its an opportunity. Youve got to go compete for it.
Ironically, Gingrich last competed in a dual against Iowa last season and was replaced by Lawson in the next dual against Illinois.
Now, Gingrich who is 18-3 in open tournaments this season is eying a chance to make a case for himself as a starter with Lawson on the shelf.
The two heavyweights went back and forth last season, Lawsons first back on the mat after playing football for two years at Monmouth University. Gingrich beat Lawson twice in three wrestleoff matches but Lawsons 6-1 mark in dual meets trumped Gingrichs 4-3 record. Meanwhile, Lawson added 22 dual-meet points compared to Gingrichs 12.
Lawson posted an 11-8 record combined in the Nittany Lion Open, Southern Scuffle, Big Ten Championships and NCAA Championships last season while Gingrich went 6-3 in the NLO and Scuffle. Lawson was able to pick up bonus points in four of those bouts while Gingrich added one major decision.
Theyve been neck-and-neck, Sanderson said of the head-to-head battles between the two. Youre talking a one point difference. Were very confident in Jon and Jons continuing to get better. So itll give him a chance to get some matches in and well go from there.
Gingrichs final bout last season a 9-2 loss to Iowas Bobby Telford, signaled the end of his season. He was not able to travel to Des Moines, Iowa to celebrate with his teammates following Penn States third NCAA title win.
It was very difficult for me, Gingrich said of losing the starting job. I never really had to worry about that in high school. I was just always the guy. So it was definitely new to me. I think probably the biggest thing you can take from it is always be ready and always work to improve. If youre not working for this year you do have next year to look forward to so you have to keep getting better.
Gingrich has improved his tournament wrestling prowess. He wrestled seven bouts at the Southern Scuffle in early January in which he posted two major decisions outscored his opponents 37-12. A 2-1 loss to Lawson bounced Gingrich into the fifth-place bout which he forfeited due to a right arm injury.
On Tuesday, Gingrich brushed off the tape wrapping his right arm.
Its not really (bad for) flexibility, Gingrich said. But it makes your arm kind of tired since it kind of cuts off the circulation. But Ive gotten used to it by now.
For now, Lawson will get used to taking time off and allowing his knee to heal. Hes not expected to require surgery and will instead rest while Gingrich occupies the starting spot. In addition to Fridays meeting with the Illini, Penn State has duals against Michigan State and No. 12 Michigan next weekend. A dual with No. 9 Oklahoma State looms on Feb. 9.
The Big Ten tournament is set to begin on March 8th. Penn States coaching staff believes Lawson will be ready for a return by then. Seven Big Ten heavyweights, not counting Lawson, are ranked in the Top 10 nationally.
Hes a guy who, hes just such a strong, good athlete, a little unorthodox, Sanderson said. Hes going to get some time to recover. I dont see it as a bad thing. Its definitely not optimal but if you focus on the positive side of it it gives him a chance to sit back and recover. Thats a good thing going into the end of the season.
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.