As the breakout star of the latter half of Penn State’s wrestling season, Shakur Rasheed has burst onto the scene, racking up bonus points — including 12 pins — in 16 of his 19 matches.
The junior’s signature move — the cross-face cradle — has been causing his opponents pain all season long.
Despite the cross-face having been Rasheed’s go-to move since at least high school, his opponents still find themselves wrapped up in it. Coach Cael Sanderson has said it’s Rasheed’s versatility and ability to turn guys other ways — such as with strong tilts and in scrambles — that has contributed to his continued success with the move.
“I think I’d keep hitting them, too, if no one’s going to stop them,” teammate Bo Nickal said after Minnesota’s Brandon Krone had just become the latest victim on Jan. 26.
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But what is it about Rasheed that makes his cross-face cradle so lethal?
His teammates gave some insight at practice Wednesday in Rec Hall’s Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
“I don’t know if you guys have ever noticed, but if you look at his left forearm, he has a massive left forearm muscle,” Penn State heavyweight Nick Nevills said.
According to Nevills, it’s that “massive left forearm” that helps Rasheed lock in cradles from “all these weird, different positions” and causes him all sorts of trouble in the practice room.
And it’s not just Nevills who has noticed Rasheed’s freakish arm strength.
“His true freshman year, I remember we went over to south campus, I didn’t really know him too well, and there’s this big fence right by the volleyball courts. We played volleyball together as a team, and he just had surgery on his one shoulder, I remember, and he climbed it — he scaled the fence with one arm,” senior Zain Retherford said. “It was impressive, it was like, ‘I can’t believe he just did that.’”
When Rasheed’s not scaling fences or turning opponents on their backs, he’s keeping things interesting for his teammates in the practice room. Having wrestled in Penn State’s lineup anywhere from 165 to 197 pounds, Rasheed has rolled around with many of the Nittany Lions’ starters.
“He’s a really good training partner,” Nickal said. “It’s a different feel from anybody I’ve wrestled in the regular season, so it’s exciting and fun to wrestle him and I think we make each other better.”
The reigning national champ at 174 pounds, Mark Hall has first-hand experience with the pain of a Rasheed battle.
“The first time I wrestled him this year, he beat me down pretty good,” Hall said. “So then after, I kind of realized I got to get my head out of my butt and wrestle a lot smarter than what I did. It’s a lot better now, but that first time, he’s got a weird style. ... He’s just really good at wrestling.”
For Nevills, practicing with Rasheed and trying to roll out of his cradles is all about having fun.
“It’s an interesting style matchup because I can shoot in and get on his leg, and his chest and his arms are wrapped around me like a spider, so it’s really fun to wrestle with him,” he said. “He’s awkwardly strong.”
Rasheed hasn’t spent a lot of time on the mat this season, with six of his 12 pins coming in less than a minute — the quickest was 27 seconds. But locking cradles, and locking them in fast, is nothing new for the Coram, N.Y., native.
Sanderson on Wednesday recalled a time he drove up to the far side of Long Island to watch Rasheed wrestle in high school.
“It was a six-hour drive,” Sanderson said, “and I got there and he went out and pinned his guy in about seven seconds and I stayed just kind of to see how he interacted with the team, and I was thinking, ‘That’s 12 hours of driving for seven seconds of wresting,’ but that’s just what he does. He’s been a cradle master his whole life.”
Wrestling at 197 — considered to be one of the most wide open in the country — Rasheed has just as much of a chance as anybody at bringing home a national title.
“I think he’s shown that he can compete with anybody. I think there’s some very good wrestlers in the weight class, but I think Shakur’s planning on winning, and he’s got a great chance at doing that,” Sanderson said.
For all opponents who might find themselves facing Rasheed in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, Nickal has some words of advice: “I would say, don’t get cradled. That would be the main thing.
“But you see, too, people get so worried about all that stuff, he goes out there and gets a bunch of takedowns on guys, and he can ride them and score a bunch of points, so, I mean …”