"Any body can wrestle."
It's a popular phrase in the wrestling world, illustrating the idea that, unlike other sports that are designed for a specific body-build, wrestling is open to athletes of all shapes, sizes, heights and weights. (One of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame's most popular exhibits is a display showing life-size images of a wide range of amateur wrestlers where visitors can compare themselves to Stephen Neal or Adeline Gray or the other three wrestling champs featured.)
A similar image could be created for NCAA heavyweight champions ... as athletes who won this prestigious title in nearly 90 years of the Nationals have stood 5'10" up to 6'6" ... and tipped the scales from 190 pounds to nearly 450. (As you can imagine, these champs had a wide range of body-builds, from shredded musculatures that made them look like Greek statues ... to something more resembling the Michelin man, Teletubbies, or the Pillsbury Doughboy ... and everything in between.)
In fact, a handful of NCAA heavyweight titlists weighed in at more than 300 pounds.
How is this possible, you ask? After all, there's an upper weight limit of 285 pounds for the top weight class. But it hasn't always been so ... as the weight class nicknamed "heavyweight" was once called "unlimited" because there was no top limit until about 30 years ago.
Kyle Snyder and Adam Coon battled in the NCAA finals (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
InterMat thought it would be fun to do some research into the actual heights and weights of the best big men of college wrestling, going back to 1928, the year of the first NCAA college wrestling championships. It's an expansion of a feature story we did back in February 2018 about the heftiest of the heavyweight champs ... after Michigan's Adam Coon handed Ohio State's Kyle Snyder his first loss in three years in a regular-season dual meet. (Much had been made of the weight difference, as the Wolverine outweighed the Buckeye by 55 pounds in that February bout. Snyder avenged that regular-season loss in the 2018 NCAA heavyweight finals.)
Note: Most of this data has been verified by the school or other reliable sources (including, in one case, the son of one of the champs). We were unable to locate pertinent information on some of the past champs; hence, the blank space at the end of some of the capsule bios. If you have this data, please email this writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1928-1942 NCAAs: Big men in the beginning
The very first NCAA wrestling championships took place at Iowa State in Ames. During the next decade-and-a-half, Oklahoma State wrestling was THE dominant program in terms of individual champs and official team titles (when awarded).
1928-1930: Earl McCready, Oklahoma State. Earl Grey McCready was a man of many firsts: first three-time NCAA champ at any weight. First to win all three titles by pinning his finals opponent (a feat equaled only by Dan Hodge of Oklahoma in the mid-1950s). First foreign-born champ (McCready was born in Canada). First NCAA heavyweight champ to go pro, with a career in the squared circle that spanned nearly three decades. The man known as "Moose" was 25-0 as a Cowboy, with all but three of those wins by pin. 5'11", 238 pounds.
1931-1932: Jack Riley, Northwestern. Riley, who grew up in a Chicago suburb on the shores of Lake Michigan just north of the Northwestern campus, hadn't wrestled until he arrived in Evanston. Famed -- and feared -- for the painful keylock/wrist lock that forced an opponent's arm up towards his shoulders, usually forcing the other guy to roll onto his back for the fall. (It was banned after he graduated.) While at Northwestern, Riley won a silver medal in freestyle at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. After graduation, Riley played in the NFL ... then dabbled in pro wrestling ... served in World War II ... then became head wrestling coach at Northwestern ... then closed out his life as a successful businessman. 6'2", 218 pounds.
1933-34: Ralph Teague, Southwestern Oklahoma State. Teague won back-to-back NCAA titles for this small public school once known as Weatherford State Teachers College located west of Oklahoma City. Teague was also an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) champ who earned a place on the 1932 U.S. Olympic team ... but, sadly, was not able to compete because on an injury. The only national wrestling champ from the school (and probably the last, as the school eliminated its mat program years ago).
1935, 1938: Charles McDaniel, Indiana University. McDaniel, a three-time Indiana state champ for what was then Bloomington High (now Bloomington South), stayed in town for his collegiate career with the Hoosiers, one of the top college programs in the nation in the 1930s. McDaniel was a three-time NCAA finalist; in addition to winning two heavyweight titles, he was runner-up at 191 pounds in 1936. Head wrestling coach at IU from 1946-1972. 6'3", 190 lbs. (according to his son Monty.)
1936: Howell Scobey, Lehigh University. Scobey was a two-time NCAA championships finalist, placing second at the 1935 NCAAs at heavyweight before winning that title at the 1936 NCAAs. Those same years he also won EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) titles, pinning every opponent in the championships, and earning EIWA Outstanding Wrestler honors in 1936. He was a two-sport athlete at Lehigh, playing tackle for the football team as well as wrestling. Scobey was also a member of the U.S. wrestling squad for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. 6'1", 205 pounds.
1937: Lloyd Ricks, Oklahoma State. Ricks was a two-time Oklahoma state champion (165 lbs. in 1931, heavyweight in 1933) for Stillwater High who stayed in town for college, wrestling for the Cowboys and legendary coach Ed Gallagher. Ricks was a two-time NCAA finalist, placing second at 175 lbs. at the 1935 NCAAs; two years later, the senior won the heavyweight crown, defeating Minnesota's Clifton Gustafson, a Big Ten boxing and wrestling champ.
1939: Johnny Harrell, Oklahoma State. Originally from Ardmore, Oklahoma -- where he won the 1935 Oklahoma high school state championship at 185 pounds -- Harrell was the primary Cowboy heavyweight at the end of the 1930s. At the 1939 NCAAs, Harrell won the unlimited title by pinning his finals rival from Illinois. After winning the title, Harrell transferred to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, where he was undefeated. Harrell was instrumental in the establishment of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater.
1940: George Downes, Ohio State. Long before "light" Buckeye heavyweights Tommy Rowlands and Kyle Snyder won a total of five titles between them, there was George Downes, the Buckeyes' first big man to win a national crown ... and, in fact, was the program's first national champ at any weight. Downes, who was team captain for two seasons, was welcomed posthumously into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012. 6'5", weight unknown (though his hometown paper said he was outweighed by most opponents).
1941: Leonard "Butch" Levy, Minnesota. Levy was a two-time Minnesota state champ for Minneapolis Marshall High who came to "the U" to play football and wrestle. Levy was the first of a number of Golden Gopher heavyweight champs (Minnesota is second only to Oklahoma State in big-man titlists). After serving in the U.S. Navy for World War II, Levy launched a pro wrestling career. 6', 240 pounds.
1942: Loyd Arms, Oklahoma State. Nicknamed "Pig" (not sure why; it's not as if he looked porky), Arms won back-to-back Oklahoma state titles for Sulphur High School in 1938-1939. Arms then enrolled at Oklahoma State, becoming the fourth Cowboy heavyweight in the first fifteen years of the NCAAs to win an individual championship. He later played left guard for the Chicago Cardinals pro football team for three seasons. 6'1", 215 pounds.
1946-1962: After World War II, through the Nifty Fifties
The NCAA championships were not held during the height of World War II, as large numbers of college athletes -- and students in general -- enlisted in the war effort. Once the war concluded in 1945, veterans enrolled in college in record numbers, fueled in part by the GI Bill which opened the door to educational and competitive opportunities which may not have been available prior to the war.
1946: George Bollas, Ohio State. Bollas was the first of the supersized heavyweight champs, nicknamed "the Dreadnaught" (as in "a huge ship") and "the Zebra Kid" (because of stretch marks visible on his bare torso). In fact, when he turned pro, one of Bollas' ring names was Zebra Kid. 5'10", 325 pounds.
1947-48, 1950: Dick Hutton, Oklahoma State. Richard Avis Herron Hutton was born in Texas but grew up in Tulsa. He wrestled at Daniel Webster High, but never won an Oklahoma state title. After serving in World War II, Hutton chose Oklahoma State because of their architecture program. As a Cowboy, Hutton came incredibly close to becoming college wrestling's first four-time NCAA champ, having won back-to-back titles in 1947 and '48. (He also placed fifth in freestyle at the '48 London Olympics.) At the 1949 NCAA finals, Hutton lost on a controversial referee's decision to Minnesota's Verne Gagne (this was before there was overtime to settle tie scores in regulation). Hutton bounced back from that only college loss to win his third title in 1950. Hutton returned to the Army after graduation, then became a professional wrestler, defeating legendary Lou Thesz for the world championship in 1957. 5'10", 245 pounds.
1949: Verne Gagne, Minnesota. LaVerne "Verne" Gagne was a two-sport star in high school and college, in football and in wrestling. He was a two-time Minnesota state mat champ for Robbinsdale High who joined the U.S. Marines as a hand-to-hand combat instructor during World War II ... then returned to the University of Minnesota, where he was a two-time NCAA wrestling champ in 1948 (at 191 pounds) and 1949 (at heavyweight). After graduation, Gagne launched a pro wrestling career that spanned the decades (up into the 1980s). 5'11", 215 pounds.
1951: Brad Glass, Princeton. Born in Evanston, Ill. just outside Chicago, Glass won the heavyweight title at the 1947 Illinois state championships for New Trier High School, where he was teammates with future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Glass continued his academic and athletic career at Princeton University, an Ivy League school in New Jersey. He was a two-time EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) champ who won the unlimited title at the 1951 NCAAs, becoming the school's first (and only) national champ. Glass became an attorney and environmentalist in Wisconsin before his death in 2015.
1952, 1954: Gene Nicks, Oklahoma State. Nicks grew up in northern Oklahoma, winning two state mat titles for Ponca City High, alma mater to 1960 Olympic gold medalists Doug Blubaugh and Shelby Wilson. Nicks was a three-time Big Seven champ and NCAA heavyweight finalist, winning the crown in 1952 and '54 after losing in '53. Nicknamed "Ninety-Second Nicks" reportedly for his propensity to pin foes fast. 6' 1", 228 pounds.
1953: Dan McNair, Auburn. McNair's background might make him one of the unlikeliest college heavyweight champs ever. He grew up in New Orleans, wrestling at 165 pounds. McNair then headed east to Auburn University, where, wrestling for legendary coach "Swede" Umbach, he upset defending champ Gene Nicks in the '53 NCAA finals, becoming the first big man to win a mat title for a school in the Deep South. (Auburn axed its wrestling program decades ago.) 6' 2", 210 pounds.
1955: Bill Oberly, Penn State. This square-jawed big man was a two-time New Jersey state mat champ, wrestling for Washington High. Oberly then made a name for himself at Penn State, becoming that school's first NCAA heavyweight champ, four decades before Kerry McCoy. 6' 1", 220 pounds.
1956: Gordon Roesler, Oklahoma. The wrestler affectionately known as "Goose" reportedly wanted to play in the marching band at Perry High in Oklahoma, but there weren't enough of the instruments he wanted to play ... so he went out for the legendary Maroon wrestling program, where he was a teammate of Dan Hodge. The two ended up together again at University of Oklahoma in the mid-1950s, where the lean-and-lanky Roesler won three Big Seven/Big Eight conference crowns, and was a two-time NCAA finalist, winning the title in 1956 despite being unseeded in the unlimited bracket. 6' 2", 218 pounds.
1957-58: Bob Norman, Illinois. Norman came to the University of Illinois to play football ... but a knee injury ended his gridiron career, so he concentrated on wrestling. Norman was the Fighting Illini's first NCAA heavyweight champ, winning back-to-back titles. Bob Norman started a family affair at Illinois; his son Tim played football at Champaign-Urbana then for the Chicago Bears ... while grandson Jake Norman wrestled for the Illini. 6' 4", 225 pounds.
1959: Ted Ellis, Oklahoma State. Ellis was a two-time Oklahoma mat champ for Blackwell High School. He won his NCAA title defeating a Bob Marella of Ithaca College, a 300-pound-plus wrestler who eventually became pro wrestler and WWE announcer Gorilla Monsoon. Ellis' prime college rival was Oklahoma's Dale Lewis. The two big men clashed seven times in college; Ellis won two, Lewis came out on top four times, with one bout ending in a tie. 245-260 pounds.
1960-61: Dale Lewis, Oklahoma. Despite becoming a two-time college champ -- and earning a place on two U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman teams (1956, 1960) -- Lewis never wrestled in high school ... nor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, the first college he attended. After wrestling for the Sooners, Lewis made a name for himself in the pro wrestling ring. 6' 1", 245 pounds.
1962: Sherwyn Thorsen, Iowa. Thorsen wrestled at Fort Dodge High in north-central Iowa, but never won a state title. He enrolled at University of Iowa to play football and wrestle. In team wrestle-offs, Thorsen repeatedly defeated the guy who beat him in the state finals to earn a spot among the Hawkeye starters. Thorsen was one of the first college wrestlers to openly work out with weights (back then, most mat coaches banned weight work, saying it would make wrestlers "muscle-bound"). Later played pro football in Canada. 6' 1", 235 pounds.
1963-1985: Innovation, integration ... and era of the biggest big men
This era was a time of great change in college wrestling. It was an era of innovation, with Resilite foam-core mats, shoes specifically designed for wrestling, and synthetic-fabric uniforms (and beginning of the end of wrestlers competing bare-chested). It was also a time of integration, with the first African-American heavyweight champs, starting in 1963. (The first black college champ was Iowa's Simon Roberts, 147-pound champ at the 1957 NCAAs.)
It was also the era of the heftiest of the heavyweight champs, including Chris Taylor and Tab Thacker, each weighing more than 400 pounds.
1963, 1965: Jim Nance, Syracuse. A two-time PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) state champ from Indiana, Pa., Nance was the first African-American NCAA heavyweight champ. He was also a three-time EIWA champ at the upstate New York university where he was perhaps even better known for his exploits on the football field. After graduation, Nance signed with the Boston Patriots of the AFL (American Football League, later merged with the NFL), where he had a successful decade-long career that spanned a number of teams. 6'1", 260 pounds.
1964: Joe James, Oklahoma State. James was the first African-American to wrestle for the storied Oklahoma State mat program ... but ask most fans of the early 1960s about him and they'll mention his ripped physique. One wrestler of the era said James had the broadest shoulders and tiniest waist of any collegian he'd seen. A product of Chicago's Tilden Tech, James was a two-time NCAA finalist, losing the 191-pound title bout at the 1962 NCAAs in his home gym ... but two years later, won the unlimited title. 6'3", 223 pounds.
1966, 1968: Dave Porter, Michigan. A product of Lansing, Mich., Porter was a two-time NCAA heavyweight champ and two-time football letter winner for the Wolverines and long-tie coach Cliff Keen. After turning down an opportunity to compete in 1968 Olympics, Porter was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the NFL draft. He taught and coached at Grand Ledge High in Michigan for 30 years after his pro gridiron career was cut short by injury. 6'3", 231 pounds.
1967: Curley Culp, Arizona State. At Yuma (Arizona) High, Culp was a football star who also excelled at wrestling, winning two state titles before heading to wrestle and play football for the Sun Devils. He won his heavyweight title win a pin less than a minute into the finals. After graduation, Culp built an enduring NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Houston Oilers and the Detroit Lions spanning fourteen seasons. He was welcomed into the National Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in 2013. 6'2", 265 pounds.
1969-70: Jess Lewis, Oregon State. Yet another football/wrestling star. The Beaver big man was a three-time NCAA heavyweight finalist, twice winning the title after placing second in 1968 (his only loss in college), the year he earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman squad. 6' 3", 214 pounds.
1971: Greg Wojciechowski, University of Toledo. A native of Toledo, the wrestler nicknamed "Wojo" was twice an Ohio state heavyweight champ at Toledo Whitmer High in 1967 and 1968. He was a three-time NCAA heavyweight finalist, winning the title at the 1971 Nationals. He also earned a place on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team but did not get to compete, thanks to the American boycott of the Moscow Games. Wojo was yet another amateur wrestler who spent some time in the pro wrestling ring after college. 6', 260 pounds.
Chris Taylor (Photo/NWHOF)
1972-73: Chris Taylor, Iowa State. A native of Dowagiac, Michigan known as the "Gentle Giant", Taylor was a larger-than-life figure in the sport who was loved by fans well beyond the state of Iowa. Wrestling for long-time coach Harold Nichols, Taylor owned one of the all-time highest pining percentages of any college wrestler. He earned a bronze medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. After college, Taylor had a brief career in pro wrestling ... but, sadly, passed away at age 29 from complications caused by a blood clot. 6'5", 410-450 pounds.
1974: Jim Woods, Western Illinois University. Woods was a four-year letterwinner at Bloom Township High in Chicago Heights who stayed in state to wrestle at the public university in Macomb, Ill. He was the first heavyweight champ to win both NCAA Division II and Division I titles (back when D2 and D3 champs automatically qualified to compete at the Division I championships). The first and only mat champ for WIU (which no longer has the sport). 6'5", 270 pounds.
1975: Larry Bielenberg, Oregon State. A four-time NCAA All-American and two-time championships finalist, Bielenberg won the title in 1975. 6'2", 220 pounds.
Jimmy Jackson (Photo/NWHOF)
1976-78: Jimmy Jackson, Oklahoma State. This Michigander had a larger-than-life mat career at Oklahoma State in the late 1970s, compiling an 88-9-2 overall record (with 44 falls) with three Big Eight titles and three national crowns. Among the tallest and heaviest of all heavyweight champs, Jackson died in 2008 at age 51 of diabetes and congestive heart failure. 6'6", 370 pounds.
1979: Fred Bohna, UCLA. Bohna, UCLA's only national wrestling champion, closed out his collegiate career with a number of senior-year accomplishments, including an undefeated record, winning the 1979 NCAA and Pac-10 heavyweight titles, and being named Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year. He won the national title defeating a wrestler who outweighed him by 90 pounds, Eastern Illinois' 318-pound Dave Klemm. After graduation, Bohna competed internationally, winning a gold medal at the 1979 Pan American Games. He died in July 2010 after a long battle with cancer. 228 pounds.
1980: Howard Harris, Oregon State. The third Beaver big man to win a national heavyweight title in a decade, Harris won the unlimited bracket at the 1980 NCAAs, and was voted the event's Outstanding Wrestler. He was a four-time NCAA All-American. 6'3", 220 pounds.
1981, 1983: Lou Banach, Iowa. Twin brother of teammate Ed Banach, Lou made a name for himself in college and freestyle competition. Lou was a three-time NCAA All-American, winning heavyweight titles in 191 and 1983, and placing third at the 1982 NCAAs ... despite being one of the lightest wrestlers to ever wrestle in that weight class. He concluded his Hawkeye mat career with an overall record of 90-14-2 ... then went on to win a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. 6'0", 209 pounds.
1982: Bruce Baumgartner, Indiana State. This New Jersey native made it to the NJHSAA state finals but did not win a title ... but that didn't stop Baumgartner from great things on the mat. A three-time NCAA All-American at Indiana State in Terre Haute, Baumgartner was a three-time finalist who won the heavyweight crown at the 1982 NCAAs. His true calling was freestyle, where he won four Olympic medals (two gold, one silver, one bronze), nine World championship medals (including three gold), and three golds at Pan American Games. Baumgartner is now athletic director at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. 6'2", 287 pounds.
Tab Thacker (Photo/NWHOF)
1984: Tab Thacker, North Carolina State. The native of Winston-Salem, N.C. never won a state title in high school, but certainly made a name for himself in college, as a three-time NCAA All-American in what was then called the unlimited bracket, placing eighth and sixth at the 1982 and 1983 NCAAs, then concluding his collegiate career with the title in 1984. He was also a four-time ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) champ. After hanging up his singlet, Talmadge Layne Thacker discovered Hollywood, or, more accurately, Hollywood discovered him, as he had roles in a number of films including the comedies "Wildcats" and the "Police Academy" series. Thacker battled a number of serious health issues, passing away in December 2007 after a stroke. 6'5", 447.5 pounds (according to the New York Times)
1985-2000: New weight limits don't limit the possibilities
Tab Thacker was the last of the "supersize" 300+ pound heavyweight champs. By the mid-1980s, the NCAA installed new top weight limits for what had been officially called the "unlimited" weight class ... starting with a top limit of 265 pounds, later increased to 285. Even with these new requirements, heavyweight champs of the past 30+ years have remained a diverse group of athletes of widely varying weights and heights.
1985: Bill Hyman, Temple. Hyman won a New Jersey state title for Saddle Brook High School in 1981. He then went on to Temple University in Philadelphia, where he was twice an EIWA champ and a two-time NCAA All-American, placing fourth in 1984, and winning the heavyweight title in 1985. , Bill won the New Jersey high school state championship. He went on to become, arguably, the most outstanding wrestler in the history of Temple University, twice winning the EIWA league championship and then winning the NCAA heavyweight championship as a senior in 1985.
1986: Kirk Trost, Michigan. A four-year Michigan letterwinner (1983-86), Trost compiled a 139-48 career mark. He capped an outstanding collegiate career by winning the 1986 NCAA heavyweight title. A two-time NCAA All-American, Trost was the heavyweight runner-up in 1985. Trost joined the Wolverine coaching staff in 1987, serving as an assistant coach for nearly a quarter-century. 5'11", 224 pounds.
1987-89: Carlton Haselrig, Pitt-Johnstown. Haselrig holds the distinction of being the only individual to win six NCAA titles in wrestling, claiming three consecutive championships in NCAA Division II (where University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown normally competed), then three times in Division I those same years. (Back then, Division II and III champs automatically qualified to compete at the D1 championships that same year.) After graduation, Haselrig spent five years in the NFL, four of those with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also had a one-year career in mixed martial arts. In 2005, Haselrig was one of fifteen named to the NCAA 75th Anniversary as one of the greatest college wrestlers since 1928; in 2016, he was welcomed into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. 6'2". 263 pounds.
1990, 1992: Kurt Angle, Clarion. As a wrestler at Mt. Lebanon High outside Pittsburgh, Angle won a state title at the 1987 Pennsylvania state championships. He then headed to Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where he was a three-time NCAA All-American and finalist, placing second at the 1991 NCAAs, and winning the heavyweight title in 1990 and 1992. Angle also competed in freestyle, culminating with winning a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Angle has had a long and successful career in pro wrestling. 6', 237 pounds.
1991: Jon Llewellyn, Illinois. This native of Illinois became the first three-time NCAA All- American in the history of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, winning the heavyweight title at the 1991 NCAAs. At the Big Ten Championships, Llewellyn placed third in 1989 and 1990, going on to become the 1991 conference champion. In addition to his collegiate career, Llewellyn wrestled freestyle, placing third in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic wrestling trials. 6'3", 220 pounds.
1993: Sylvester Terkay, North Carolina State. A native of Pennsylvania, Terkay was a walk-on for the Wolfpack wrestling team. By the conclusion of his collegiate mat career at N.C. State, Terkay qualified for the wrestling team, earned a scholarship, won four straight ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) crowns, and the 1993 NCAA heavyweight title. He was also a three-time first-team Academic All-American. Like a number of collegiate big men, Terkay became a professional wrestler and also fought in MMA. In 2013, Terkay was welcomed into the N.C. State Athletic Hall of Fame. 6'6", 265 pounds.
1994, 1997: Kerry McCoy, Penn State. McCoy launched his wrestling career at Longwood High on Long Island, N.Y. He then went on to Penn State, where he was a three-time Big Ten champ, three-time NCAA All-American, and twice a national heavyweight champion in 1994 and 1997. As a Nittany Lion, McCoy compiled an overall record of 150-18 (including an 88-match win streak), and received the Hodge Award as top collegiate wrestler of 1997. McCoy was a major force in U.S. freestyle wrestling, as a Pan American Games gold medalist, and two-time Olympic qualifier, taking fifth place at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and seventh at the 2004 Athens Games. McCoy is now head coach at the University of Maryland, having previously coached at Lehigh and Stanford. 6'2", 220 pounds.
1995: Tolly Thompson, Nebraska. Born in Janesville, Iowa, Tolland Thompson wrestled for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, tallying a 157-21 overall record. He was a three-time Big Eight/Big 12 conference champ and three-time NCAA All-American, winning the national title at the 1995 NCAAs. Thompson has served as an assistant coach at University of Northern Iowa for a dozen seasons. 6'4", 265 pounds.
1996: Jeff Walter, Wisconsin. A two-time Pennsylvania Class AAA state champ at 189 pounds for Shikellamy High, Walter headed west to Madison to wrestle for the Badgers, where he twice earned NCAA All-American honors, placing fourth as a junior, and crowned champ at as senior, becoming Wisconsin's first heavyweight champ, and the program's fourth NCAA champ overall. 225 pounds.
1998-99: Stephen Neal, Cal State Bakersfield. Neal attended San Diego High, where he participated in wrestling, football, swimming, tennis, and track and field. He placed fourth in the California state championships at 189 pounds. At California State University, Bakersfield, Neal was a four-time Pac-10 conference champ, four-time NCAA All-American, three-time NCAA finalist, and twice crowned heavyweight champ in his junior and senior years. He was also a major force in freestyle, winning the World Championship in 1999. Neal played guard for the New England Patriots for a decade, earning three Super Bowl rings. 6'4", 265 pounds.
Brock Lesnar wrestled Stephen Neal in the NCAA finals
2000: Brock Lesnar, Minnesota. The guy who became The Next Big Thing in pro wrestling and MMA grew up on a farm near Webster, S.D. Lesnar launched his college career at Bismarck Junior College in North Dakota where he won the 1998 NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) heavyweight title ... and the attention of Minnesota head coach J Robinson. As a Golden Gopher, Lesnar and his massive musculature "turned more heads than Cindy Crawford in a thong" (to quote Dan Gable during a college wrestling telecast), winning two Big Ten titles and becoming a two-time NCAA finalist, winning the title in 2000. After college, Lesnar started in the WWE, switched to MMA in 2004, retired in 2011, then returned to the pro ring ... only to consider a return to the UFC at the time of this writing. 6'3", 265 pounds.
2001-present: The best big men of the new century
At the dawn of the 21st century, NCAA Division I heavyweight champs came in all shapes and sizes, from lean-muscled guys who competed around 225 pounds ... to some big men who barely made it under the 285-pound top limit.
2001: John Lockhart, Illinois. The Fighting Illini's third NCAA heavyweight champ played football, baseball and wrestled at Mahomet High, winning an Illinois state title as a senior. Lockhart caught the attention of Mark Johnson, then head coach at nearby University of Illinois, where he was a two-time NCAA All-American, winning the national title in 2001, as well as the Big Ten Medal of Honor. The wrestler once nicknamed "Farmboy" is now a pediatrician. 6'1", 260 pounds.
2002, 2004: Tommy Rowlands, Ohio State. A two-time Ohio high school state champ for Bishop Ready in Columbus, Rowlands stayed in town to continue his academic and athletic career at Ohio State, where he was a four-time NCAA All-American, a three-time finalist, and twice an NCAA champ and Big Ten titlewinner. Rowlands also competed in freestyle, where he was a University World Champion and Pan-Am champ. 6'4", 220 pounds.
2003, 2005: Steve Mocco, Iowa/Oklahoma State. Mocco grew up in New Jersey and wrestled at Blair Academy, where he was a four-time prep school champ. He started his college career at University of Iowa, where he won the 2003 Big Ten and NCAA heavyweight titles. After taking an Olympic redshirt during the 2003-04 season, Mocco stunned the wrestling world by transferring to Oklahoma State, where, in his first season, won 2005 Big 12 and NCAA championships. In 2006, Mocco claimed his second Big 12 title but failed to win the national title. The only NCAA heavyweight champ to win titles at two different schools. 6', 265 pounds.
2006-07: Cole Konrad, Minnesota. The man from Freedom won a Wisconsin state title, then came to the University of Minnesota, where he became the school's fourth heavyweight champ. Konrad won back-to-back NCAA big man titles, and three Big Ten conference crowns. Konrad then launched a successful pro MMA career, winning the Bellator heavyweight belt before entering the world of commodities trading. 6'5", 285 pounds.
2008: Dustin Fox, Northwestern. A native of Galion, Ohio, Fox was a four-time NCAA qualifier, and two-time NCAA All-American. Everything came together for the Wildcat big man in 2008 when he won the Big Ten heavyweight title, followed two weeks later by the NCAA championship, becoming only the second Northwestern heavyweight to win the Nationals, 76 years after Jack Riley did it. 6'2", 285 pounds.
2009: Mark Ellis, Missouri. Ellis grew up in suburban Kansas City, Mo. and continued his academic and athletic career at the University of Missouri. Ellis was a two-time NCAA All-American, winning the heavyweight crown at the 2009 NCAAs, becoming only the second national mat champ for Mizzou (the other being Ben Askren). Ellis has served on the coaching staffs at Tennessee-Chattanooga, Grand Canyon, and University of Virginia. 6'3", 247 pounds.
2010: David Zabriskie, Iowa State. Zabriskie got his first taste of titlewinning in 2005 when he won the 215-pound New Jersey state championship for High Point High School. Five years later, Zabriskie won the heavyweight title for Iowa State at the 2010 NCAAs, only the second Cyclone big man to do (following in the formidable footsteps of Chris Taylor). Zabriskie is now part of the Lehigh Wrestling Club. 6'1", 228 pounds.
2011: Zack Rey, Lehigh. A two-time New Jersey state champ for Hopatcong High (2006, 2007), Rey was a four-time NCAA qualifier and three-time NCAA All-American, culminating with the heavyweight title at the 2011 NCAAs, 75 years after Howell Scobey did it for Lehigh. Rey also wrestled freestyle, earning a gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games. 6'1", 265 pounds.
2012-13: Tony Nelson, Minnesota. This two-time Minnesota state mat champ was a three-time NCAA All-American, winning back-to-back national crowns in 2012 and 2013 to become only the second Gopher to win two national heavyweight titles. A lean-muscled big man who was considerably less bulky and lighter on his feet than his 21st century predecessors Brock Lesnar or Cole Konrad. 6'2", 245 pounds.
Nick Gwiazdowski wrestling Kyle Snyder in the NCAA finals (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
2014-15: Nick Gwiazdowski, North Carolina State. Gwiazdowski was twice a New York state champ for Duanesburg High. He started his college career at Binghamton, where he won the Colonial Athletic Association title in 2012, and earned his first NCAA All-American honor. Gwiz followed his head coach Pat Popolizio to North Carolina State, where he was twice crowned Atlantic Coast Conference champ, and twice an NCAA heavyweight champ, following in the footsteps of past Wolfpack champs Sylvester Terkay and Tab Thacker. 6'1", 256 pounds.
2016-18: Kyle Snyder, Ohio State. Snyder is the only American matman to have won three NCAA heavyweight titles, two World freestyle championships, and an Olympic gold medal (at the 2016 Rio Games). The Maryland native has piled up the titles ... and honors: 2017 and 2018 Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year, 2018 AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Sullivan Award as the most outstanding amateur athlete in the U.S., and nominated for the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. 5'11", 225 pounds.
Heavyweight fun facts
Heftiest heavyweight champs:
Chris Taylor, Iowa State, 450 pounds
Tab Thacker, North Carolina State, 447 pounds
Jimmy Jackson, Oklahoma State, 370 pounds
George Bollas, Ohio State, 325 pounds
Bruce Baumgartner, Indiana State, 287 pounds
Lightest heavyweight champs:
Charles McDaniel, Indiana, 190 pounds
Howell Scobey, Lehigh, 205 pounds
Lou Banach, Iowa, 209 pounds
Dan McNair, Auburn, 210 pounds
Jess Lewis, Oregon State, 214 pounds
(A good number of champs tipped the scales at 215-225 pounds)
Tallest heavyweight champs:
Jimmy Jackson, Oklahoma State, 6'6"
Sylvester Terkay, North Carolina State, 6'6"
George Downes, Ohio State, 6'5"
Chris Taylor, Iowa State, 6'5"
Jim Woods, Western Illinois, 6'5"
Tab Thacker, North Carolina State, 6'5"
Cole Konrad, Minnesota, 6'5"
Shortest heavyweight champs:
George Bollas, Ohio State, 5'10"
Dick Hutton, Oklahoma State, 5'10"
Earl McCready, Oklahoma State, 5'11"
Verne Gagne, Minnesota, 5'11"
Kirk Trost, Michigan, 5'11"
Kyle Snyder, Ohio State, 5'11"
Most titles: Five NCAA Division I heavyweight champs have earned three individual titles in that weight class:
Earl McCready (Oklahoma State, 1928-30)
Dick Hutton (Oklahoma State, 1947-48; 1950)
Jimmy Jackson (Oklahoma State, 1976-78)
Carlton Haselrig (Pitt-Johnstown, 1987-89 -- three Div. I titles after winning three D2 championships)
Kyle Snyder (Ohio State, 2016-18)
Note: This weight class has the fewest three-time NCAA champs of all weight classes
Two-timers: Nearly two dozen NCAA champs won exactly two heavyweight titles:
Jack Riley, Northwestern (1931-32)
Ralph Teague, Southwestern State (1933-34)
Charles McDaniel, Indiana (1935, 1938)
Gene Nicks, Oklahoma State (1952, 1954)
Bob Norman, Illinois (1957-58)
Dale Lewis, Oklahoma (1960-61)
Jim Nance, Syracuse (1963, 1965)
Dave Porter, Michigan (1966, 1968)
Jess Lewis, Oregon State (1969-70)
Chris Taylor, Iowa State (1972-73)
Lou Banach, Iowa (1981, 1983)
Kurt Angle, Clarion (1990, 1992)
Kerry McCoy, Penn State (1994, 1997)
Stephen Neal, Cal State Bakersfield (1998-99)
Tommy Rowlands, Ohio State (2002, 2004)
Steve Mocco, Iowa/Oklahoma State (2003, 2005)
Cole Konrad, Minnesota (2006-07)
Tony Nelson, Minnesota (2012-13)
Nick Gwiazdowski, North Carolina State (2014-15)
Multiplier effect: Schools with the multiple Division I heavyweight champs:
Oklahoma State -- 10: Earl McCready ... Lloyd Ricks ... Johnny Harrell ... Loyd Arms .... Dick Hutton ... Gene Nicks ... Ted Ellis ... Joe James ... Jimmy Jackson ... Steve Mocco (one title while at Oklahoma State, one while at Iowa)
Minnesota -- 5: Butch Levy ... Verne Gagne ... Brock Lesnar ... Cole Konrad ... Tony Nelson
Ohio State -- 4: George Downes ... George Bollas ... Tommy Rowlands ... Kyle Snyder
Illinois -- 3: Bob Norman ... Jon Llewellyn ... John Lockhart
Iowa -- 3: Sherwyn Thorsen ... Lou Banach ... Steve Mocco (one at Iowa, one at Oklahoma State)
North Carolina State -- 3: Tab Thacker .... Sylvester Terkay ... Nick Gwaizdowski
Oregon State -- 3: Jess Lewis ... Larry Bielenberg ... Howard Harris
Iowa State -- 2: Chris Taylor ... David Zabriskie
Lehigh -- 2: Howell Scobey ... Zack Rey
Michigan -- 2: Dave Porter ... Kirk Trost
Northwestern -- 2: Jack Riley ... Dustin Fox
Oklahoma -- 2: Gordon Roesler ... Dale Lewis
Penn State -- 2: Bill Oberly… Kerry McCoy
Orphans: Heavyweight champs from schools that no longer have intercollegiate wrestling:
Ralph Teague, Southwest Oklahoma State
Dan McNair, Auburn
Jim Nance, Syracuse
Greg Wojociechowski, Toledo
Jim Woods, Western Illinois
Fred Bohna, UCLA
Bill Hyman, Temple