InterMat Rewind: Oklahoma State's heavyweight legacy

Putting partisan fan feelings aside, Oklahoma State can stake a claim to being the most dominant program in college wrestling history. Since the first NCAA championships in 1928, the school in Stillwater claimed 33 national team titles, 130 individual national champions, and more than 400 All-Americans.

Oklahoma State also reigns supreme in terms of the number of NCAA heavyweight champs, with ten Cowboy big guys winning the title.

Let's take a look at the accomplishments of each of these great Oklahoma State heavyweight champs, from "Moose" to "the Bear." (Note about the photos of the wrestlers: Many of these champions competed in the era before today's singlets. Up until the 1960s, Oklahoma State wrestlers wore trunks and/or tights, usually without shirts.)

Coach Ed Gallagher's Era (1928-1940)

Ed Gallagher coached what was then called the Oklahoma A&M (Agricultural & Mechanical) College from 1917 to 1940. During that long and incredibly successful career, Gallagher's Cowboys won eleven NCAA team titles -- a record unmatched by any Oklahoma State coach since -- with a 138-5-4 record and a stunning .952 winning percentage. Among the twenty-three NCAA champs during the Gallagher era, three were heavyweight champs.

Earl McCready (1928-30)

There's some disagreement as to how Earl McCready earned the nickname "Moose"; some sources attribute it to the fact he was from Canada, while others say it's because he was as big as a moose, standing 5'11" and weighing in at 238 lbs in his prime. (In a profile of McCready in the 2006 book "The History of Collegiate Wrestling", Mike Gerald and Jay Hammond claim its because he ran like a moose in the snow.) However, there's not much disagreement that Earl Gray McCready was one of the greatest heavyweights to come out of Oklahoma State in the more than 75 years of NCAA competition.

Born in June 1908 in Landsdowne, Ontario, McCready grew up in the province of Saskatchewan. Legend has it that McCready learned the sport from a book; records indicate his formal introduction to wrestling was at the YMCA in Regina. It was at a 1926 Canadian tournament that McCready caught the eye of Oklahoma State, having defeated their heavyweight in the finals. The Cowboy contingent managed to convince McCready to come to Stillwater … where he played tackle for the Oklahoma State football team, and had an incredible college mat career.

Earl McCready
Earl McCready was undefeated in his three years as the Oklahoma State heavyweight; in fact, he won all but three of his matches by pin. At the very first NCAA championships in 1928, McCready pinned Ralph Freese of the University of Kansas in just nineteen seconds -- still the fastest pins in an NCAA finals bout. The next year, the Cowboy big guy won his second title by fall -- this time, his victim was Ohio State's Russ Fairall, pinned at 1:25. In the heavyweight finals at the 1930 NCAAs, different opponent, same outcome: Illinois' Lloyd Burdick had his shoulders put to the mat at 2:17, making McCready the first three-time NCAA champ from any school, at any weight. (In addition, McCready is one of only two three-time champs to win all three finals bouts by pin; the other is Dan Hodge, 177-pound champ for University of Oklahoma 1955-57.)

While at Oklahoma State, Earl McCready represented Canada in international competition. He was the flagbearer for his native country at the 1928 Olympics and wrestled heavyweight, but did not place. Two years later, he won the freestyle heavyweight title at the British Empire Games (now called the Commonwealth Games).

Not long after graduating from Oklahoma State, Earl McCready entered the world of professional wrestling, where he had a nearly thirty-year career He died of a heart attack at age 75 in 1983. McCready is enshrined in numerous halls of fame, including the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater.

Lloyd Ricks (1937)

Lloyd Ricks
Lloyd Ricks was a two-time Oklahoma high school state champion (165 lbs in 1931, heavyweight in 1933) from Stillwater. For his college career, Ricks stayed in town, competing at Oklahoma State in the mid 1930s in two weight classes -- 175 pounds, and at heavyweight. At the 1935 NCAAs, the 175 lb sophomore lost in the semifinals to eventual champ Ralph Silverstein of the University of Illinois. Two years later, having gained a few more pounds and more experience, heavyweight senior Lloyd Ricks defeated opponents from Kent State, Illinois and Indiana to find himself in the finals against 1937 Big Ten heavyweight wrestling (and boxing) champ Clifton Gustafson of the University of Minnesota. The Cowboy beat the Golden Gopher big man with a 1:35 time advantage to win the 1937 NCAA heavyweight title. Ricks was one of four national collegiate champs for Oklahoma State that year.

Johnny Harrell (1939)

Johnny Harrell
Originally from Ardmore, Oklahoma -- where he won the 1935 Oklahoma high school state championship at 185 pounds -- long-and-lean Johnny Harrell was the primary Cowboy heavyweight at the end of the 1930s. At the 1939 NCAAs, Harrell was one of fourteen heavyweights vying for the national title. The Cowboy got a decision over Kent State's Falcone, pinned Ohio University's Adams, then earned a decision over Pickett of Yale to advance to the finals, where he faced John Sikich of the University of Illinois. In the battle of the Big Johns, Johnny Harrell pinned the Illini Sikich at 4:25 to claim the 1939 NCAA heavyweight crown. 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, and was inducted into the Ardmore Hall of Fame in 2002.

Coach Art Griffith's Era (1940-1956)

Edward Gallagher died of pneumonia in the spring of 1940. Just before his passing, he witnessed the dedication of what was called the 4-H Club and Student Activity Building, now known (with substantial upgrades) as Gallagher-Iba Arena. His successor at Oklahoma State was Art Griffith, a 1924 graduate of Oklahoma State, and long-time coach at high school mat powerhouse Tulsa Central. During his thirteen years as Cowboy head coach, Griffith built a 78-4-4 record (a .899 winning percentage), with fifteen individuals winning NCAA titles … including three heavyweights.

Loyd Arms (1942)

Loyd Arms
Loyd "Pig" Arms won two Oklahoma state heavyweight titles at Sulphur High School (1938 and 1939). His career at Oklahoma State spanned both sides of World War II. (Most collegiate programs – including Oklahoma State -- did not compete during the war; the NCAAs were not held in 1943-1945.) At the 1941 NCAAs, the hirsute Cowboy sophomore was pinned in the semifinals by Yale's Larry Pickett, but earned All-American honors by placing third. The following year was Arms' championship season: He got decisive wins over Ohio University's Fred "Superman" Schleicher and Navy's Shuford Swift before going up against rugged multi-sport star Walt Porowski of Kent State in the title bout. The Cowboy got a 7-5 decision over the Golden Flash to become Oklahoma State's fourth individual to win a heavyweight title.

After a three-year hiatus for the war, the NCAA championships resumed, hosted by Oklahoma State. Defending heavyweight champ and hometown hero Loyd Arms was knocked out of title contention in the 1946 NCAA semifinals by the eventual champ, 300+ lb George Bollas of Ohio State. Arms eventually placed fourth, becoming a three-time All-American.

Dick Hutton (1947-48, 1950)

Long before Pat Smith or Cael Sanderson were even born, Dick Hutton nearly became the first four-time NCAA champion at any weight… but was denied that place in history by one man's decision.

Richard Heron Avis Hutton was born in Amarillo, Texas in 1923, but moved to Red Fork, Oklahoma as a kid. He took up wrestling in junior high after being cut from the basketball team. After high school at Tulsa Webster (where he was a state runner-up), Hutton served in the US Army for five years, then enrolled at Oklahoma State where he was the heavyweight starter all four years at Stillwater. A big bear of a man -- standing 5'10" and weighing in at about 245 pounds -- Hutton lost only one match and was tied once in his college career.

At the 1947 NCAAs, the top-seeded Cowboy freshman drew a bye in the first round, got a 3-0 decision over Colorado's Glenn Blagg in the quarterfinals, and edged Minnesota's Verne Gagne in the semifinals. In the title match, Hutton took on unseeded Ray Gunkel of Purdue, and got a 5-3 victory in overtime to win his first NCAA heavyweight title. The following year, the NCAAs were a qualifying event for the 1948 Olympics, using Olympic wrestling rules and bracketing. Hutton claimed his second title, and went to London as the favorite to win a gold medal, but an ankle injury during a match denied that dream, and the Cowboy big man placed fifth in heavyweight competition.

Dick Hutton was the top seed -- and favorite -- to earn his third title at the 1949 NCAAs. In his opening-round match, the defending champ pinned Moroni Schwab of Utah State at 4:45... then, in the quarterfinals, got the fall at 4:35 over Georgia Tech's Clay Matthews… and, in the semifinals, secured a 5-2 win over Bob Maldegan of Michigan State. In the finals, Hutton faced familiar foe Verne Gagne of Minnesota. At the very end of the match, with the score tied 1-1, the Cowboy got a takedown … or did he? The officials determined that it was scored after the final whistle. In 1949, the rules did not allow for overtime to break a tie, so the outcome was in the hands of the referee, Finn Erikson, who awarded the victory -- and the title -- to Gagne because of his small advantage in riding time. It was Hutton's only loss in college, and eliminated any chance of being the first four-time NCAA champ.

Dick Hutton
Senior year, Dick Hutton was again the odds-on favorite to win the heavyweight title. The top-seeded Cowboy had only one point scored upon him in his first two matches against Wyoming and Lock Haven wrestlers... then shut out Richard Simmons (no, not the diet-and-exercise guru) of Wheaton College 3-0 in the semifinals. In his fourth heavyweight finals, Hutton went up against Fred Stoeker of the host school Iowa State Teachers College (now Northern Iowa) … and must have felt a sinking feeling of déjà vu when the match ended in regulation with a 1-1 tie. This time the referee raised the hand of Hutton, awarding the Cowboy his third heavyweight title.

After graduation from Oklahoma State, Dick Hutton entered the professional wrestling ring, following in the successful footsteps of other college heavyweights of his era like Verne Gagne and Ray Gunkel. The former Cowboy had a pro career that lasted more than a decade, culminating in a world championship in the late 1950s. Hutton was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1995. He passed away in Tulsa in November 2003 at age 80.

Gene Nicks (1952, 1954)

On the heels of Dick Hutton came Gene Nicks, Oklahoma State's next great heavyweight champ in the early 1950s.

A two-time Oklahoma high school state champion (1948, 1950) at heavyweight from Ponca City, Gene Nicks was also a football star in high school. For college, Nicks stayed in the northern part of the state by enrolling at Oklahoma State. The 228-pound, broad-shouldered, boyish-faced Cowboy quickly earned the nicknamed "Ninety-Second Nicks" because so many of his college bouts ended quickly with the opponents' shoulders to the mat.

By the early 1950s, the rule prohibiting freshmen from competing as varsity team members had been reinstated (after a break following World War II), so Gene Nicks first made his splash as a sophomore. Top-seeded Nicks drew a bye in the first round of the 1952 NCAAs, then, beat Waynesburg's Ed Valtoney 6-1 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Gene defeated Wyoming's Bob Schildgen 4-2 to advance to the finals, where he faced unseeded Oregon State grappler/gridiron star John Witte, who had upset the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds on his way to the finals. However, "Ninety-Second Nicks" was true to his nickname … though it took 4:19 to pin Witte. With that fall, Gene Nicks became the sixth Cowboy to win an NCAA title.

At the 1953 NCAAs at Penn State, Gene Nicks was the favorite to win a second straight championship…and pretty much sailed through the bracket. However, in the finals, Dan McNair -- 6'2" and 210 pounds -- managed to take the title by referee decision. After the match ended tied in regulation, the official awarded the lanky Auburn wrestler the title because he had ridden -- and nearly turned -- Nicks in the third period.

Gene Nicks
Gene Nicks' senior year ended on a much brighter note. At the 1954 NCAAs, the top-seeded Cowboy drew a bye in the first round, then pinned Michigan State's Larry Fowler at 7:00 in the quarterfinals. In the semis, Nicks shut out Nebraska's Max Ketzelman 6-0. Nicks found himself in his third straight finals, this time against Big Ten heavyweight champ Bob Konovsky of the University of Wisconsin. The Cowboy held the big Badger scoreless, winning the 1954 NCAA heavyweight title 7-0. After graduating from Oklahoma State, Gene Nicks had a long career as a chemist at Conoco. He died of a heart attack in 1985.

Coach Myron Roderick's Era (1956-1969)

When Art Griffith announced his retirement at the end of the 1955-56 season, no one seemed to be more surprised to be offered the head coaching position at Oklahoma State than Myron Roderick, who had just graduated from the school. At age 21, the three-time NCAA champ (1954 at 137 pounds; 1955 and 1956 at 130) took control of the Cowboys. (It was about this time that Oklahoma A&M became Oklahoma State, and joined what is now the Big Twelve conference.) In his thirteen years as head wrestling coach, Roderick compiled a 140-10-7 record, translating to a .914 winning percentage, with fifteen individuals winning at least one NCAA title … two of them being heavyweights.

Ted Ellis (1959)

Originally from Blackwell -- another wrestling powerhouse within the state of Oklahoma -- Ted Ellis won back-to-back Oklahoma high school heavyweight state titles in 1956 and 1957.

Ted Ellis
Ellis' sophomore season was arguably his brightest. He won the 1959 Big Eight conference heavyweight championship by getting the fall over Iowa State's Jan Schwitters at 2:15. At the 1959 NCAAs, the top-seeded Cowboy pinned his way through his first four bouts in the heavyweight bracket … making it into the finals where he faced off against Ithaca College's 300+ pounder, Bob Marella. After the match ended in regulation tied 1-1, in overtime Ellis shut out the man who would later become professional wrestler Gorilla Monsoon 2-0 to claim the heavyweight championship.

Ted Ellis' next appearance at the NCAAs was in 1961, where he was seeded second to his cross-state nemesis, Dale Lewis of Oklahoma, who was the defending champ. Ellis pinned two of his opponents and shut out ISU's Schwitters to face off against familiar foe Lewis for the title. The two had wrestled each other numerous times in their college careers, most recently at the 1961 Big Eight heavyweight finals, where the Sooner got an overtime victory over the Cowboy. Ellis may have had revenge on his mind … but Dale Lewis got the 3-2 victory to deny the Oklahoma State heavyweight a second national title.

Joe James (1964)

Joe James was the first African-American to wrestle varsity at any weight for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. History aside, ask wrestling fans of the early 1960s what was most memorable about James, and they'd probably mention his muscular physique.

Joe James
James was among the last college wrestlers to usually compete stripped to the waist (shirts were required by the NCAA in 1965)… so fans and opponents had plenty of opportunity to see his ripped torso. At the 1964 NCAAs – the first to be nationally televised -- ABC reportedly asked each champ to put on his warm-ups before going in front of the camera for his post-match interview. However, the story goes, ABC asked the 6'3", 220-pound James to take off his warm-ups, so the folks at home could see his championship form. James was asked on-camera if he lifted weights. "No, I just do push-ups and one-hand chin-ups."

A graduate of Chicago's Tilden Tech, James placed third as heavyweight at the 1960 Illinois high school state tournament. In his first season of varsity competition (1961-62), James competed in the 191-pound weight class, losing only one regular-season bout -- to Iowa State's Keith Johnstone. At the 1962 NCAAs at Stillwater, the cut Cowboy wrestled his way to the finals, where he lost 2-1 to cross-state rival Wayne Baughman of the Oklahoma Sooners.

The following year, Joe James moved up to heavyweight, and claimed his first Big Eight conference title. At Kent State for the 1963 NCAAs, the Cowboy big guy was seeded first, and pinned his first opponent, Ed Scharer of Rutgers … but lost on a referee's decision to fourth-seeded Larry Kristoff of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in the semifinals, and eventually placed fourth, earning his second All-American honors.

The 1963-64 season was Joe James' year. He won another Big Eight title, but was seeded third in the heavyweight bracket at the 1964 NCAAs at Cornell University, behind defending champ Jim Nance of Syracuse, and SIU's Kristoff. In his first match, after a 1-1 tie at the end of overtime, James was awarded a referee's decision over Tim Stein of Miami University (Ohio). Next, he shut out Penn's Bruce Jacobsohn 5-0; in the quarterfinals, James defeated No. 6 Ed Scharer of Rutgers 9-5. The Cowboy scored a 5-4 decision over Purdue's Bob Hopp in the semifinals to propel himself into the finals, where he defeated unseeded Bob Billberg of Moorhead State (Minnesota) 4-2 to win the heavyweight title.

Coach Tommy Chesbro's Era (1970-1984

Just like Myron Roderick before him, Tommy Chesbro was an Oklahoma State wrestler who became head coach of the Cowboys. In his fifteen years in the driver's seat, Chesbro built up a 227-26-0 record for a .897 winning percentage. Thirteen individual Cowboys lassoed at least one NCAA trophy … with one of them -- Jimmy Jackson -- becoming a three-time heavyweight champ.

Jimmy Jackson (1976-78)

There's a story in the book "Cowboys Ride Again!" by Bob and Doris Dellinger that paints a picture of Jimmy Jackson's size, agility and determination: As he was changing planes at Chicago O'Hare -- returning to Stillwater after spending Christmas at home in Michigan -- his wallet was lifted from his back pocket. The 6'6", 370-pound Cowboy big man chased and tackled the pickpocket. Police swooped in, guns drawn, handcuffing Jackson … until they learned he was the victim.

Jimmy Jackson
While still in high school, Jimmy Jackson won the 1973 U.S. Wrestling Federation's Junior National freestyle heavyweight title, as well as the 1974 Michigan high school heavyweight title for Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills High … signs of big things to come in his college career. And big is the word. Jackson was one of the "supersized" heavyweights who competed in the era when the weight class was accurately called "unlimited," when heavyweight champs like 400+ lb Chris Taylor and Tab Thacker didn't have to worry about getting down to 285.

As an Oklahoma State sophomore, Jackson won the 1976 Big Eight heavyweight title by defeating Iowa State's Bob Fouts 2-1 in the finals. At the 1976 NCAAs, the fifth-seeded Cowboy pinned his first two opponents, topped Clarion's fourth-ranked Chuck Coryea 7-4 in the quarterfinals, and, in the semifinals, upset the defending heavyweight champ Larry Bielenberg of Oregon State 9-2. In the finals, Jackson got a 5-3 victory over the significantly smaller Greg Gibson of Oregon, winning his first national title.

Junior year was much the same, with Jimmy Jackson claimed his second Big Eight title. Despite being the defending champ, he was seeded third at the 1977 NCAAs… but he had the last laugh by defeating the two men ranked ahead of him. In the semifinals, Jackson got an 8-5 win over second-seeded Harold Smith of Kentucky … and, in the finals, got a referee's decision over top-ranked Larry Bielenberg in overtime, based on a four-second riding time advantage.

Jimmy Jackson's senior season was a sweet conclusion to his college career. His third Big Eight title win was perhaps the easiest, pinning Iowa State's Tom Waldon in just 22 seconds! At the 1978 NCAAs, the top-seeded Jackson dispatched a couple famous-name opponents -- future Olympic gold medallist and wrestling commentator Jeff Blatnick of Springfield College, and future NFL star Bob Golic, wrestling for Notre Dame. In the finals, Jackson took on sixth-seeded John Sefter of Princeton, who, about a minute into the match, attempted a takedown… and was pinned for his troubles. Jimmy Jackson concluded his college career with an 88-9-2 record, joining Earl McCready and Dick Hutton as Oklahoma State's only three-time NCAA heavyweight champs.

Fast-forward nearly three decades: in spring 2007, Jimmy Jackson was one of five Cowboy athletes to be inducted into the Oklahoma State Athletics Hall of Honor. Sadly, just one year later, Jackson died in East Lansing, Michigan of complications caused by heart disease and diabetes. He was just 51 years old.

Coach John Smith's Era

John Smith -- arguably the most accomplished wrestler ever to come out of the Oklahoma State program, with two NCAA championships, four world freestyle titles and two Olympic gold medals – took sole control of the Cowboy wrestling program in 1992. In his fourteen seasons as Oklahoma State's head coach, thirteen individuals have brought home at least one NCAA title … with one of them -- Steve Mocco -- being a heavyweight.

Steve Mocco (2005)

One look at Steve Mocco -- in action or at rest -- and it's easy to see how he earned the nickname "the Bear." Built like a bear at 6' and 285 pounds, Mocco was also known for his relentless, hard-charging style of attack and heavy hands that "feel like they weigh 100 pounds" according to Ohio State college rival Tommy Rowlands.

Steve Mocco
Steve Mocco was born in December 1981 in New Jersey, where he ruled the mats at Blair Academy, earning four state prep titles and four national prep championships, and winning three Junior National titles. Colleges battled to have the top high school recruit in the nation on their team, but the North Bergen native chose the University of Iowa, where, in two years, he compiled a 71-3 record, winning the 2003 Big Ten and 2003 NCAA heavyweight titles.

After taking an Olympic redshirt year his 2003-2004 season, Steve Mocco decided it was time for a change, and transferred to Oklahoma State for his last two years of college wrestling eligibility His first season in Stillwater was stellar; the new Cowboy big guy was 37-0, with 17 of those wins by pin. He defeated Iowa State's Scott Coleman to win the 2005 Big 12 heavyweight title. Two weeks later, at the 2005 NCAAs in St. Louis, the top-seeded Mocco dominated American's Adam LoPiccolo 14-3, pinned Eastern Illinois' Peter Ziminski at 1:13, shut out his successor at Iowa, the muscular Matt Fields, 4-0 in the quarterfinals, and got the same score over Indiana's fourth-seeded Pat DeGain in the semis. The title match was a thriller, with Steve Mocco using his "patented" footsweep to bring down second-seeded Cole Konrad of Minnesota 3-1 in overtime. Not only did Mocco win his second NCAA title, but a few weeks later, was also awarded the Dan Hodge trophy as best collegiate wrestler of the year.

Steve Mocco's senior season did not get off to an encouraging start. At the 2005 NWCA All-Star event held at Gallagher-Iba Arena at Oklahoma State, Cole Konrad got a 4-1 victory over the home-crowd favorite Mocco. Although the All-Star results did not count on a wrestler's record, they may have been a portent of more troubles for the Cowboy heavyweight. In January 2006, Mocco met up with his Minnesota mat rival at the National Duals finals … and, at 5:22 of the match, Cole Konrad secured a bodylock, threw Mocco to the mat, and got the pin. It was the first time Mocco had been pinned since high school. Despite the loss, Mocco made short work of the rest of his regular-season opponents, and won his second Big Twelve heavyweight title.

At the 2006 NCAAs held in Oklahoma City, second-seeded Steve Mocco pinned his first two opponents, got a 9-3 victory over Oklahoma's Jake Hager, and, in the semifinals, edged third-seeded Greg Wagner of the University of Michigan 2-1. In the finals, the defending champ faced top-seeded Cole Konrad yet again. It was an epic-length match that was tied in regulation and still knotted at the end of the two sudden victory periods. In the first 30-second tiebreaker, Mocco was unable to escape from bottom; in the second, Konrad escaped, then took down the champ to win the match -- and the title -- 5-2 TB.

Although his college wrestling eligibility was finished, in the fall of 2006, Steve Mocco went out for the Oklahoma State football team, where he played five games as a defensive lineman. He continues to compete in freestyle. After having been runner-up at the U.S. World Team Trials for three straight years (2005-2007), in June 2008 Mocco defeated defending U.S. Nationals champ Tommy Rowlands to win the heavyweight slot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestling team.

Want to see more about these Cowboy champs?

For more information and photos on Oklahoma State heavyweight titlewinners from Earl McCready through Jimmy Jackson, check out the Yahoo group NCAA Heavyweight Champs that covers the best of the big men in college wrestling in the 20th century:

For photos and features on Steve Mocco, visit the NCAA Heavyweight Champs 2 Yahoo group:


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