Sunday marked the first time Zain Retherford was able to get his hands on the Hodge Trophy — the wrestling world’s “Heisman” that he won two weeks ago.
It wasn’t the only hardware Retherford collected, either, during the Penn State Wrestling Club’s season-ending banquet at the Penn Stater Conference Center and Hotel. He also received a plaque for the most team points scored in a year (158.5), a plaque for the most bonus points scored (57.5), and he shared the Bill Koll Award — given to the wrestler with the most pins — with Bo Nickal.
But the Hodge Trophy was still the highlight of the afternoon, and a grateful Retherford recalled in front of a crowd of 725 meeting the trophy’s namesake for the first time.
“I’ve known some stories about Dan,” Retherford said on Sunday. “I met Dan a couple of years ago at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. The biggest thing I noticed about him was how grateful he was. That’s really kind of apparent about his dominance through his competition. He exemplified gratitude and his gratefulness toward the sport.
“Through my experience here at Penn State, I think that’s really a big thing I picked up along the way. When I first got here, I thought winning was a bigger thing than wrestling with gratitude. These past two seasons I’ve kind of focused more on being grateful and the opportunity to compete.”
Retherford even managed to collect a non-wrestling award, too. He was honored with the Academic Excellence Award for a fourth-year student with a GPA of 3.72. But he played down all of his awards, even the Hodge.
“It’s the same as yesterday, I guess,” Retherford said of getting the Hodge. “It’s pretty cool. To win something, that’s named after a guy that’s lived his whole life with gratitude is pretty awesome.”
Like Retherford, Nickal was also invited to the podium to get his hands on another national award for the first time since being named the winner.
The reigning 184-pound NCAA champion was given Amateur Wrestling News’ The Hammer Award — yes, it was an actual hammer — which is presented annually to the nation’s wrestler who won in the most competitive weight class.
“He was talking about that award yesterday,” Nittany Lion coach Cael Sanderson said, joking. “He was hoping he would actually get a hammer. It looked like a nice hammer.”
All of the Nittany Lions wrestlers that finished as All-Americans — Nickal, Retherford, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall and Nick Nevills — were handed miniature replicas of the Lion Shrine. Matt McCutcheon won the community service award and Brien Friery, Dominic Giannangeli, Devon Van Cura and Geno Morelli all got academic awards. Van Cura had the highest Penn State GPA with a perfect 4.0. And Nolf collected the Charlie Speidel Award for the most takedowns in a season with 156.
“Truly an incredible year,” Sanderson said. “What do you say? We eliminated a lot of our awards this year because how do you say who is the team MVP? Or how do you say who is the different awards, because we had five national champions this year? We truly have legends, guys who are going to be talked about forever. This is truly a special team.”
The event wasn’t all about just handing out awards.
Penn State Wrestling Club President Allen Smith noted that the club boasts 3,288 members representing 44 different states, the District of Columbia and even Australia. They raised $105,000 this past year and donated it to the university for the wrestling team.
“We can’t do what we do if we don’t have a lot of support,” Sanderson said. “I want to thank the Penn State Wrestling Club. You guys do an awesome job. You put a lot of work in, and we just try to stay out of your way. Thank you very much. As a staff, we want to thank our fans and alumni. We are all on the same team. You’re helping us with our recruiting and to stay motivated and inspired. The passion is incredible and very special.”