Penn State Wrestling

No goal too big for Penn State wrestler Zain Retherford — or his journal

Penn State’s Zain Retherford wrote in his leather-bound notebook last month that his daily goal was to execute a foot sweep. Against Indiana’s Davey Tunon in December, Retherford did just that. The notebook has provided some extra accountability for the two-time national champ.
Penn State’s Zain Retherford wrote in his leather-bound notebook last month that his daily goal was to execute a foot sweep. Against Indiana’s Davey Tunon in December, Retherford did just that. The notebook has provided some extra accountability for the two-time national champ. Centre Daily Times, file

Zain Retherford takes it with him on bus trips and plane rides. It’s by his side during his morning coffee and with him while in class.

It’s just a notebook — a brown, leather-bound journal he picked up from Nittany Quill — but the two-time national champ is usually never far from it. He uses the notebook to record his daily goals and long-term goals; it’s something he finds provides a bit more accountability.

“I think visualizing is really big,” said Retherford, who’s 14-0 this season at 149 pounds. “I’ve always been one to write my goals down. My dad’s always had me do that, and I carry that forward.”

When he’s wrestling, the notebook is in his locker. When he’s in class, it’s in his backpack. And when he’s at home, it’s usually in his right hand whenever a thought springs to mind.

Retherford isn’t afraid to dream big, or set his goals even bigger. He wants to win a national championship this year. And he boasts future aspirations for the Olympics and world championships.

All that goes into the notebook he picked up over the summer. Before that, he just listed his goals in his smartphone. But after watching videos on YouTube and reading a recent book by self-help author Tim Ferriss, Retherford learned owning a tangible list of his goals would psychologically help him meet those goals. So why not give it a try?

Retherford doesn’t half-commit, so the notebook follows him most places.

Earlier this season, he made it a point to include “hitting a foot sweep” on his list of daily goals because he wanted to achieve something he hadn’t done before. He had a match later that day. The result?

“I hit a foot sweep I never hit before,” he said with a laugh. “Honestly. That was on my daily list. It was on my list before that, too — not being afraid to try different things out while competing.”

Retherford could carry around a beat-up Voodoo doll if he wanted — and nobody would question its effectiveness. Whatever Retherford is doing is working. He’s third all-time in Penn State falls with 47, just six behind tied leaders David Taylor and Josh Moore. It’s been 1,392 days since he last lost a college match — falling to No. 2 Mitchell Port of Edinboro as a true freshman. And he’s the favorite to once again bring home the title at 149.

“Zain’s one of those guys you’ve got to respect everything he does,” teammate Vincenzo Joseph said. “He just does everything right.”

Retherford isn’t shy about sharing his goals, or his brown journal. He wants to stand atop the NCAA podium again this year. But, outside of wrestling, he often turns to that same notebook. He scribbled inside that he wants to one day own a home, get married and have kids.

On exam days, he writes how he wants to perform. It seems as if those goals usually get checked off, too: The finance major is already a two-time academic All-American and a summer recipient of the Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Award.

“You hope and you guess and you try to get the right kids,” coach Cael Sanderson said, “and I think we kind of got lucky with him.”

Retherford will almost certainly take his journal with him again this week, to Michigan on Friday and Michigan State on Sunday. No goal is too big for the Penn State wrestler with 100-plus wins and counting. And, as a result, the Benton native remains intent on rewriting Penn State history — maybe with an ever-so-small assist from his journal.

Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson and Nick Nevills talk about Sunday's dual against Lehigh at the PPL Center in Allentown.

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