UNIVERSITY PARK — Jordan Conaway is a long-term thinker.
Although the Penn State sophomore came out of nowhere last season, seized the starting spot at 133 pounds and was a win away from being an All-American at the NCAA tournament, he returned to campus this past fall to find himself as the odd man out with redshirt freshman Jimmy Gulibon wrestling the majority of matches at 133.
Conaway hasn’t taken it personally.
“Maybe you view it kind of like a redshirt year again,” Conaway said. “Maybe I won’t be competing at Big Tens, but just getting better for next year the,n or doing everything I can to get better even though I’m not starting.”
He got that opportunity again this past weekend, making a three-week cut down to 125 pounds in order to wrestle bouts against Michigan State and No. 11 Michigan. In those matches, Conaway looked dominant as he hammered Michigan State’s Brenan Lyon 15-4, and pulled away from Michigan’s Conor Youtsey 9-4.
It could be a hint as to what the future may hold for Conaway, who is 15-5 overall this season and 4-1 in duals.
Penn State’s coaching staff has repeatedly professed their want to insert Conaway into future lineups. While Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson appears comfortable with Gulibon as the team’s 133-pounder this season, there are multiple scenarios that could play out over the next two seasons where Sanderson sees a spot opening up for Conaway.
“We wanted to see Jordan (at 125) because we have options,” Cael Sanderson said. “We’re looking down the road whether he goes 125 for us next year or not, or at 133. Nico (Megaludis) still has a redshirt year. We’re just playing around. You’re always planning ahead and that’s what we’re doing.”
The coaching staff has had conversations with Conaway about what his role will be in the future, too. Megaludis is in his junior year and has not used a redshirt year. The team’s 141-pounder, Zain Retherford, is wrestling as a true freshman and also has a redshirt year.
Sanderson has said he thinks Gulibon could make 141 pounds down the road.
“They don’t really know how or when or what weight yet, but they’re trying to get me in the lineup wherever they can and I was greatful to wrestle this weekend,” Conaway said. “Even though I was at 125, it was different, but it was nice.”
Conaway, who won a PIAA title at 112 pounds for the Colonials, said Tuesday he never thought he’d be big enough to have to cut weight to make 125 pounds in college. But with just over 2 1/2 seasons — including a redshirt year — wrestling at Penn State under his belt, Conaway has added plenty of weight and strength.
Meanwhile, he insisted the cut to 125 wasn’t a big deal and wrestling Lyon and Youtsey was made easier by wrestling bigger, stronger foes all of last year up at 133 pounds.
Conaway’s availability also gave Megaludis the weekend off. While Penn State officially reported that Megaludis was held out of the weekend duals with an illness, Sanderson revealed that he planned to give Megaludis the weekend off in order to rest up with the postseason looming.
“Conaway is one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever been around,” Cody Sanderson said. “He comes in here every day with the attitude if he’s not the guy out there, he’s going to do what he can to make sure the guy out there that’s in front of him has the chance to be a national champion or an All-American or whatever his goals are.”
Originally, Conaway’s goal was to succeed at Liberty where he originially committed to wrestle on scholarship. But Liberty dropped its wrestling program, forcing Conaway to look for other options at the last minute. The Sandersons saw Conaway wrestle well at the 2011 Dapper Dan tournament and invited him to walk-on at Penn State where he eventually earned a scholarship.
After his redshirt season, Conaway earned a number of high-profile wins as a freshman. Come-from-behind victories against Wisconsin’s highly ranked Tyler Graff and Pittsburgh’s Shelton Mack endeared Conaway to Penn State fans. Overall, Conaway went 5-7 against ranked wrestlers last seasons including three losses to Logan Stieber and Tony Ramos, who were ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively last season.
“He wants to be competing,” Cody Sanderson said. “There are some different things we can do down the road or in upcoming years with our lineup because he’s a guy we want in there. He’s exciting to watch. He’s got a lot of attitude out there. He just never stops wrestling. He’s a guy with a huge heart and the crowd loves it and we love coaching that.”
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.