On Tuesday, Zain Retherford joined David Taylor and Kerry McCoy to become the third wrestler in Penn State history to win the Hodge Trophy.
WIN Magazine announced the two-time NCAA champion as the winner over Nittany Lion teammate Jason Nolf, Missouri’s J’Den Cox and Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder. Cox finished as the runner-up to Retherford, who was in that position last year behind Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer.
The Hodge Trophy, college wrestling’s equivalent to football’s Heisman, is named after Dan Hodge, who was a three-time NCAA champion for the University of Oklahoma — 1955, 1956, 1957. Hodge was dominant on the mat his entire career, as he didn’t allow a single takedown. He also pinned 36 of the 46 opponents he faced.
“I met Dan Hodge at a National Wrestling Hall of Fame event a few years ago,” Retherford told WIN Magazine. “To win something like this, named in his honor, is pretty awesome. This award symbolizes who he is as a person and competitor.”
Retherford could be considered as the next-closest competitor to Hodge’s level of dominance on the mat — especially this past year.
Retherford was 28-0 this season, finishing off a second straight undefeated season. He is currently riding a 63-match win streak.
The Benton native scored bonus points in 25 of his 28 wins and collected bonus points in each of his NCAA championship matches. He had 17 pins this year — “an extremely important criteria,” and one of the reasons the award was created, according to WIN Magazine. He also added seven technical falls and one major decision.
“Dominating is a lot like anything in life, like school or whatever you’re doing,” Retherford said, “you need to be giving your best and not holding back on anything. You need to keep scoring and looking for the pin. But, giving your best is the most important part of it. If you can pin or tech the guy, then do it. If 2-1 is your best result, then it’s your best.”
Retherford captured the fan vote, which automatically gave him two first-place votes. In total, he captured 33 of the 45 first-place votes — well ahead of Cox, who picked up five first-place votes. Other criteria accounted for in the award include record, dominance on the mat, quality of competition, past credentials, sportsmanship/citizenship and heart.
In the NCAA championships, the redshirt junior showed his dominance by having just six points scored against him. He technical falled his way to the 149-pound semifinals. In the semis, Retherford pinned Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen in 2:31 and went on to get a technical fall of Missouri’s Lavion Mayes in the finals, 18-2 in 6:40.
Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson was a three-time Hodge Trophy winner — 2000, 2001 and 2002 — during his 159-0 collegiate career.
Retherford will look to become a two-time Hodge Trophy winner and a three-time NCAA champion next year in his senior season. If he were to win the Hodge Trophy next season, he would join Taylor, who is the lone Penn State wrestler to twice win the award.
“Growing up on a farm, I learned to be grateful for everything I’ve been given,” Retherford said. “My whole family worked really hard, so I learned there was more to life than just wrestling and that I needed to be grateful for every opportunity.”
The rising senior will officially receive the award April 9 during the team’s wrestling banquet. During a fall Penn State football game, he will be presented the award a second time.