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NCAA champion Ed Ruth of Penn State puts on show with dominating display on mat

NCAA champion Ed Ruth of Penn State has won 53 straight matches. Larry Slater photo.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – You don’t even need to look to know when Ed Ruth steps onto the mat for a home dual meet.

All you have to do is listen.

The sellout crowds at Penn State’s Rec Hall aren’t booing when the electrifying NCAA champion from Harrisburg is set to compete.

They are chanting, “Ruuuuuuth!”

Ruth has become arguably the most dynamic and entertaining wrestler in the collegiate ranks. The junior 184-pounder is ranked No. 1 in the country and is on an incredible run of dominance.

He’s compiled a remarkable 87-2 career record and has won his last 53 matches. He is a bonus-point scoring machine, collecting 30 pins, 14 technical falls and 18 major decisions in three seasons on the varsity.

Not bad for a guy that isn’t even the most talked about wrestler on his own team.

“I’ve always wrestled like this,” Ruth said. “I like to open it up and score points. It’s a fun style to wrestle, and it’s fun for the fans to watch. It is a style that I feel most comfortable with.

“I practice hard and I prepare for the big stage when I’m in the room. All the work I do makes it fun when I go out and perform in a match. I expect a fight and a slugfest for seven minutes every time I step out there.”

Ruth fought back to place third as a freshman in his first NCAA tournament in 2011 in Philadelphia, scoring key team points to help Penn State win the team title.

He then decimated the opposition to go 31-0 as a sophomore, scoring bonus points in a whopping 26 matches en route to his first NCAA title at 174 pounds.

“I tweaked my knee before the NCAAs my freshman year, and that was tough,” he said. “My sophomore year, I was healthy. I could just go out and compete the way I wanted to.”

Ruth is a slick, explosive wrestler who is a threat to lock an opponent in a cradle in the blink of an eye.

“The cradle has become the main thing I do,” he said. “It’s the move I am most comfortable with. I have long arms and I can hit it from about any position. I lock it up and squeeze for dear life and hope I can end the match.”

Ruth’s exploits have caught the eye of USA Wrestling freestyle coaches.

“Ed Ruth is one of the most explosive wrestlers of all-time in college wrestling,” said U.S. Assistant National Coach Brandon Slay, an Olympic champion. “He creates angles to his counter attack and cradle position better than anyone I have seen since (Olympic and World champion) Kevin Jackson. But, what excites me the most is his medal potential in freestyle wrestling.”

Shortly after winning NCAAs, Ruth competed in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials this past April in Iowa City. He went 1-2 in the freestyle competition while being undersized at 84 kg/185 lbs.

“I’m not going to lie, I got stomped at the Olympic Trials,” Ruth said. “It was a real eye-opener for me. There is another level after college and it is something I want to pursue. I need to put on more weight and keep getting stronger.”

Ruth has trained alongside Nittany Lion Wrestling Club star Jake Varner, who won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics.

“I watched how Varner trained and how he prepared for the Olympics,” Ruth said. “You gain a lot by watching a guy like that and by seeing how hard he worked. It was great to see him win the Olympics.”

Ruth has wrestled on two NCAA championship teams and is one of the leaders on this year’s top-ranked Penn State squad.

He bumped up to 184 and has continued to dominate at the collegiate level. He beat returning NCAA champion Steve Bosak of Cornell 7-3 in the Southern Scuffle finals earlier this month.

“I felt it was a good win for me,” Ruth said. “There is always room to improve. I could’ve scored more points and wrestled better. I just have to keep working.”

Ruth moved up to 184 this season with sophomore Matt Brown stepping in at 174. Brown is ranked No. 3 nationally.

“I actually started out at 184 my redshirt year, but I wasn’t big enough so I dropped down to 174,” he said. “I lifted a lot more before this season, and I just had to adjust to wrestling bigger and stronger guys. I’ve enjoyed it. I’m not worried about cutting any weight and I have so much more energy. I feel better and I feel a lot stronger. It’s been a great move for me.”

Ruth said the influence of Penn State coach Cael Sanderson has made a big impact on him. Sanderson won four NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal as a wrestler.

“Cael sits us down before practice and gives us some words to motivate and inspire us,” Ruth said. “He told us, ‘Try to get at least one percent better today.’ That’s one of the things that really stuck with me and one of the things I try to do.

“Cael really understands each wrestler – he doesn’t try to change your style. He lets you develop and wrestle a style that works best for you. He doesn’t try to train each guy to wrestle like he did. He really understands how to coach wrestling. And he is really easy to talk to.”

Ruth also has spent time wrestling against Sanderson in the practice room.

“You basically just get beat up and your face is in the mat a lot,” Ruth said. “That’s not a lot of fun.”

As talented and successful as Ruth is, he often receives less attention than fellow Penn State junior and reigning Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor.

“I can get overshadowed, and that’s OK,” Ruth said. “I’m still doing what I love and I really enjoy it. I can’t ask for anything else. We have a great team with a lot of great wrestlers, and it’s so contagious. We compete with each other to see who can do the best and who can get the most pins and bonus points.

“My teammates are like brothers and family members to me. I want to see all of the guys on our team do really well. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of it.”

The sellout crowds at Penn State home duals certainly appreciate Ruth’s huge contributions to the team.

“The fan support we have is amazing, it’s been great,” he said. “They are really loyal fans. It’s fun to wrestle in front of them.”

Ruth is an outgoing person with an engaging, fun-loving person. But he also knows when to get serious.

“You see him smiling and having fun,” Penn State assistant coach Casey Cunningham said last season. “But he’s very competitive. He doesn’t like to give up points. He doesn’t even like to give up points in practice.”

Ruth has dyed his hair blonde and green the previous two seasons. He was asked if he has a new color in mind for this year’s NCAAs.

“I haven’t found a color that has caught my eye yet,” Ruth said with a laugh. “We will see what happens.”

For now, Ruth’s focus is on gold. He is hoping to lead Penn State to a third straight national team title as he pursues a second straight individual title.

“It’s been a great experience to be on two national championship teams,” he said. “Everyone on our team feeds off each other, and shares the same concept and same mentality. We push each other to perform our best. We have a great opportunity to win another one. It’s something special when everyone on the team is part of a national title.”
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