Long van rides through nowhere in particular. Humid gyms that are long on stink and short on crowd counts. Hungry men with cauliflower ears sucking on kiwis for lunch.
Fresno State wrestling is undead, at last, after spending 11 years and 4 months in carbonite, just waiting for a school administrator to hit the unfreeze button.
“We’re ready to load the van up and get this engine going,” said Troy Steiner, the head coach charged with resuscitation duties.
What better place to reach back from the grave than a gym called The Swamp to wrestle host San Francisco State (a 35-12 win) and a team called Nebraska-Kearney (19-17 defeat) on Saturday in front of friends and family and former wrestlers who refuse to die?
Never miss a local story.
So begins the second take of Fresno State wrestling, which refused to take program elimination in 2006 as an acceptable answer.
Of course many weren’t paying attention: the total lack of public observation is why Bulldogs wrestling got scotched in the first place. Maybe this time, enough people will come to enough wrestling matches to make all of this worth Fresno State’s while.
Because, Fresno State wrestling can’t live on road matches and portable practice rooms alone. If the Bulldogs are going to make it, this is going to take some of you showing up at Save Mart Center to watch takedowns on the elevated stage under the wash of the Par Can lights.
This isn’t about buying tickets to balance the books. Wrestling and every sport not called football and men’s basketball bathes in the financial red, here and everywhere else.
This is about certifying that school President Joseph Castro’s mind hasn’t gone to mush from drinking all that Hanford water as a lad. This was his idea to undo the ax work of his predecessor, John Welty. The only metric that proves him right is seats in the seats.
(And yeah, one of us already got tickets for the kids … hoping you’ll watch them until the press deadline passes).
Steiner knows it. Everyone on Bulldog Lane knows it. If this plays out in an empty arena, where the box office doesn’t cover so much as the energy bill for the day, the next athletic director is going to wonder out loud if he can’t just fill those Bulldog Stadium cracks with all those blue singlets and ear patches.
“There’s been a lot of people who fought to bring this back,” Steiner said. “We need people now more than ever to show Dr. Castro did the right thing. He had a lot of people tell him he’s crazy for doing this.
“Maybe I’m delusional, but I think this team is going to compete.”
Well, of course they are. Wrestlers never do this for the orange slices and participation ribbons.
Clovis High state champion A.J. Nevills didn’t abscond from national-champion Penn State to swim the backstroke on a Fresno State mat.
Fresno State fullback Josh Hokit has no intention of going from a college football bowl game to the consolation bracket at 197 pounds.
And 15th-ranked Emilio Saavedra certainly did not forfeit his roster spot at Old Dominion to learn how to finish second in 133-pound dual matches.
Steiner is going to make All-Americans out of above-average high school wrestlers, and a few national champions out of All-Americans. All he needs is a whistle, a roster and a gassed-up van.
If you’re going to join the ride, this would be a great time to call shotgun.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are hungry to get back on the mat,” Steiner said. “I hope we give everyone something to cheer about.”
Fresno State wrestling schedule
11 at San Francisco State, W, 35-12
11 vs. Nebraska-Kearney, L, 19-17
17 vs. Illinois, 7 p.m.
19 at Roadrunner Open, all day, in Bakersfield
21 vs. Air Force, 7 p.m., in San Diego
1-2 at Cliff Keen Invitational, all day, in Las Vegas
8 vs. Bakersfield, 7 p.m.
10 at Minnesota, 11 a.m.
17 at Reno Tournament of Champions, all day
4 vs. Cal Poly, 7 p.m.
12-13 at Virginia Duals, all day, in Hampton, Va.
19 vs. Utah Valley, 7 p.m.
26 at Northern Colorado, 6 p.m., in Greeley, Colo.
27 at Wyoming, tba, in Laramie, Wyo.
3 vs. Stanford, 7 p.m.
5 at Oregon State, 7 p.m., in Corvallis, Ore.
9 at Iowa State, 5 p.m., in Ames, Iowa
18 vs. Oklahoma State, 1 p.m.
3-4 at Big 12 Championships, all day, in Tulsa, Okla.
15-17 at NCAA Championships, all day, in Cleveland
1. Here’s hoping the next Fresno State athletic director has a major in economics, and a minor in engineering, because the cracks at Bulldog Stadium are one hard hat of a headache. We do know this: he or she will inherit a better deck than the one handed to outgoing AD Jim Bartko – and when’s the last time that’s happened?
2. There’s only so much NFL controversy we can take, so here’s to another month of top-five upsets in college football, because nothing will touch the earth’s void quite like making the playoff committee choose between three-loss teams. Best wishes getting that off the carpet.
3. Hung the American flag outside with the kids for Veterans Day weekend. My 10-year-old boy said it makes him sad the NFL doesn’t honor the flag. He didn’t hear that from me, which makes you wonder how this anthem kneeling is working out for the cause.
– David White