Jason Nolf may have pulled off one of Penn State’s greatest title runs last season — wrestling coach Cael Sanderson called his 157-pound performance with an injured leg “nothing short of a miracle” — but Nolf was a lot tougher to impress this week.
The soft-spoken senior with the aw-shucks demeanor met questions about last season with the disinterest of a middle-school student asked about math class. He didn’t understand what the big deal was.
Would he call it a miracle? “No.” Just how bad was the injury? “I was good then; I was good now.” Was the injury more tough mentally or physically? “Neither.”
Nolf, who’s not one for hyperbole or talking about himself, told reporters he just did what he had to do. Nothing more, nothing less. But, luckily for the media, his coach and teammates couldn’t say enough about his accomplishment.
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“If he wasn’t 100 percent at the national championship, then guys are in trouble this year because he’s just phenomenal,” two-time national champ Vincenzo Joseph said. “He’s fun to watch.”
Added Sanderson: “He’s just one of those guys like an Ed Ruth or David Taylor or a Quentin Wright that you’re just dang happy that they came to Penn State.”
Nolf added a unique chapter to his memorable legacy last season when he suffered a serious-but-unspecified injury to his right knee Jan. 28 against Rutgers. He didn’t return until the Big Ten championships March 3 but, even then, with a large knee brace, he was pulled after just two matches.
He was seeded third in the NCAA tournament and, with questions swirling, he still somehow beat out the nation’s best for his second straight national title. He was far from 100 percent and was forced to trade his self-proclaimed “crazy,” high-flying style for a more conservative one.
And how would Nolf describe the style that won him another national title? “A little boring.”
“I was proud that I learned some things from the injury and that I was able to come back with a different mindset and a more grateful mindset,” Nolf added, saying the injury made him not take the sport for granted.
Sanderson believed the injury should actually help Nolf in the long term. And Nolf agreed. The injury forced him to be patient, to react to his opponent instead of simply attacking. To out-strategize the wrestler across from him instead of simply out-muscling him. “You watch him wrestle,” Sanderson said, “and he’s not the most patient kid.”
But Nolf did want to clarify one thing at Penn State’s annual media day: He’s back to full health. And, although his return to the fundamentals late last year helped him win a national title, fans shouldn’t expect a similar, patient style this season.
“At nationals I couldn’t wrestle as crazy, so I had to wrestle a little bit more baseline,” he said. “But I’m back to 100 percent; I’m feeling good. I had to be (conservative then).
“But I’m not anymore.”