Ed Ruth has a colorful imagination. It surfaces during his interactions with the media, in which the Penn State 184-pounder holds court like a king.
In Ruth’s kingdom, he’s also his own jester.
Recently, Ruth — who will undoubtedly look to add a bonus-point victory to Penn State’s team total when the No. 1 Nittany Lions travel to No. 3 Iowa for a nationally-televised dual on Friday — likened his ego to that of a bubble.
“Our egos are so fragile,” Ruth said. “It’s like a bubble. When you touch it, it pops and you just freak out and just see nothing but red.”
Ruth was talking about giving up the opening takedown to Nebraska’s No. 8 Josh Ihnen in their bout last weekend. The droning chant that has become a staple at Rec Hall when Ruth wrestles — “Ruuuuuuth!” — died out quickly when Ihnen got in deep on a shot and took Ruth to the mat. Ruth, who wasn’t taken down one time in a dual during his 31-0 run to a 174-pound national championship last season, wasn’t shaken.
He never is. His sense of humor and amiable personality seem to disqualify him from feeling backed into corners. Take into account that before last season’s Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, Ruth was wrestling with practice opponents while laboring over what was to him a crucial decision: Die his hair bleach blonde or not?
He went blonde for Big Tens then surprised everyone by dying it back to black while turning half of it green for NCAAs.
“I’m at my best when I’m smiling,” Ruth has said over and over again.
Despite bumping up a weight for his junior year and immediately having the No. 1 ranking bestowed upon him, Ruth rarely feels pressure. That was was evident when he stormed back to beat Ihnen by technical fall, 18-3.
“It’s more of a relief. Depends on how you want to look at it,” Ruth said. “Some guys are like, 'Oh he’s No. 1. He probably feels like he has a target on his back.' I don’t feel like it’s on my back. I feel more like the target is on the other guy because it’s him who has to (think), ‘I’m wrestling No.1., I should probably step it up.’”
It hasn’t worked for his opponents yet.
Ruth hasn’t lost since March 18, 2011. Since then, the former Susquehanna Twp. and Blair (N.J.) Academy star has hammered nearly every opponent who’s stepped on the mat with him. Ruth has earned bonus points in 43 of 54 bouts.
Against Ihnen, Ruth showed off his prowess to score points in bunches. With his long arms, Ruth was able to twist Ihnen to his back for a tilt three different times from a standing position. There have been a few times this season where Ruth has been warned for stalling while trying to work a standing tilt.
It hasn’t deterred him.
“He has exceptional strength,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “He just has to be careful because even though he’s looking for a turn up there and he’s active, the way they call stalling, he seems to get called for stalling every once in a while even though he’s probably got more turns from that position than anyone in the country.”
Of his bonus-point wins since his last loss, 18 have come by fall. The majority of those have come by cradle, a move Ruth’s opponents know is coming, but haven’t been able to stop.
Because it is still working for him, Ruth will keep going for his trademark move, even though he insists his offense can be as variable as his sense of humor.
“There’s a lot of other things that I can do on top,” Ruth said. “When I’m out in the match, for some reason it always just clicks, ‘Cradle, cradle, cradle.’ I’m just hearing it all the time. It’s just what I go for.”
Ruth knows he’ll have to look for consistent chances to put up big points against or pin Iowa’s No. 14 Ethen Lofthouse on Friday. In a dual that is expected to be hotly contested with nearly even matchups at every weight, Ruth’s ability to earn extra team points could be vital if the Nittany Lions wish to remain unbeaten.
Friday’s dual will mark a return to the arena where Ruth learned a lot about himself this past spring. He was among a quartet of Nittany Lions to make the trip to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to try his hand at making the U.S. Olympic Team.
But Ruth’s Olympic dreams were cut short when he went 1-2 in freestyle action wrestling at 84 kilograms (185 pounds).
“As far as the venue, my whole mindset going into it, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, Olympic Trials, it’s going to be a completely different level.’ Which it was,” Ruth said. “You think you’re supposed to go in there, hit the guys hard. But these guys, they’re more meditated, they’re more concentrated. Their moves are more specific. Everything, you have to decide on it, you’ve got to do it just like that. You just can’t be like, ‘Oh, I just took this shot real sloppy.’ Then come back and do it again. You take one bad shot and you’re completely shut down for the rest of that period.”
Returning to a realm he’s more comfortable in has helped Ruth realize he has plenty of time to improve his game before making another Olympic run. For now, he’s trying to carve out another path to a second national title.
Ruth’s the man at the top of the 184-pound foodchain, and to the Penn State grappler, Lofthouse is the next wrestler with a target on his back.
“For me, the pressure is more on the other guy,” Ruth said.