Nov. 27, 2008
By Larry Watts
Nikko Triggas brought home two gold medals. Reece Humphrey scored a silver.
So why is Triggas jealous of his Ohio State wrestling teammate? Especially since Triggas got a chance to eat some guinea pig on his trip to Ecuador.
"Reece got to go to Greece!" says Triggas, a Greek descendent. "And he never let me forget it. He was always rubbing that in my face and made it very difficult to live with him."
The summer sojourns of Triggas and Humphrey are two of the big reasons the Buckeyes have their eyes on plenty of hardware in the 2008-09 wrestling campaign. Six of Ohio State's seven qualifiers, including champions Mike Pucillo (184) and J Jaggers (141), return from last year's NCAA Championships, where the Buckeyes took runner-up honors to Big Ten powerhouse Iowa.
Triggas, a sophomore at 125 pounds, tuned up for the upcoming season by claiming gold medals in both freestyle and Greco-Roman at the Pan American championships in Cuenca, Ecuador. Humphrey, the son of National Wrestling and Ohio State hall of famer Jim Humphrey, claimed a silver medal at 132 pounds for the U.S. freestyle team at the University World Championships in Thessoloniki, Greece.
"Ecuador turned out to be a blast," says Triggas, who won gold in Greco and bronze in freestyle the previous summer at the Pan American championships in Venezuela. "Unlike the previous year, when we just flew in and flew right back out, we actually got some sightseeing time. We went out to the market the first night and people were always telling us not to eat the guinea pig, but I ate it and it wasn't bad."
Although the NCAA focuses on freestyle, Triggas says Greco-Roman is his strongpoint. He was fifth at the Olympic Trials this past summer in Greco.
"I plan to move up four places the next time," he says confidently. "I favor Greco because I'm much better with my upper body and my legs are my weakness. We're working on my legs right now because people are getting to them too easily."
A native of Morago, Calif., Triggas got his start in wrestling in sixth grade, due mainly to hearing about the fun his older brother was having in the sport.
"It was a case of monkey see, monkey do," he says. "He was having such a great time, so I decided to join in. I won my first match, but I really wasn't very successful that first year. But the summer after eighth grade I went to a national tournament and everything just seemed to click."
During his four-year run on the Campolindo High School mats, he posted a 207-14 record with the all-time pin record (141). He placed in the top three at the state meet three times, winning the individual title as a junior.
In his first season with the Buckeyes, Triggas compiled a 20-19 record. Although he qualified for the NCAA Championships, he left St. Louis with a bittersweet feeling.
"It was great that I qualified, but I wasn't happy with winning only one match," he says. "I know that was what I was projected to do, but I expected more. My goal this year is to make that platform as one of the top five and then I want to win the title the next two years."
"I was just following my brother Jordin's footsteps," the younger Humphrey says. "He joined a wrestling team and, when he came home, we started wrestling in the living room. We probably did a little damage to some things.
"I started wrestling in middle school and my dad tried to help me out, but it's never easy getting coached by your father and you don't always listen. Then I started hearing about some of his credentials and I saw him in a whole new light. I thought this guy really does know what he's talking about."
In his first season at Ohio State, Reece's 26 wins tied for team best and he led the team with 78 takedowns, but he says his record was very deceiving.
"I started out 24-4, but then I finished 2-10," he says. "I was defeated mentally and when I heard I had received an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships, I told my coach to give it back. But I went and I was mentally defeated before I even took the mat.
"As I look back, I probably should have red-shirted my first year and got a better understanding of what it took to be a college wrestler, but the team needed me. In high school I was used to getting off the mat quickly, but now I had to go the distance and be satisfied with a 4-1 victory."
Humphrey got that chance to take the year off the following season and came back in a sharper frame of mind last year. He posted a 26-11 record and again qualified for the NCAA Championships, claiming three wins but falling one round short of All-America status. Then everything really started to fall in place during the past summer.
"I started beating a lot of guys I had lost to before," he says. "Then at the University World Championships, I had (eventual Olympic bronze medalist) Kenichi Yumoto (of Japan) beat on scoring, but I lost to him on technical points.
"It was an awesome experience (going to Greece). I thought I wrestled real well."
Now with a fresher frame of mind and his summer success, Humphrey knows where he wants to be this season.
"I'm 100 percent going for that NCAA title," he says. "I've been averaging 10 more hours of work per week with my training and I'm a more disciplined wrestler now."
But the first priority for both wrestlers is to make an impact in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes finished second in dual meets last season but dipped to fifth at the Big Ten Championships. They have not finished higher than third since a three-year run of third-place finishes ended in 1993.
"I think we're ready to bring the glory days back to Ohio State," Triggas says. "This place used to have such a strong tradition. We have a lot of young guys with a lot of heart."