DES MOINES, Iowa – Saturday night marked the end of an era for five members of the Campbellsville University wrestling program. It also opened my eyes for the first time in my professional career to the experience of knowing what it is like to graduate a group of seniors after four years.
Josh Ashbrook, Jarvis Elam, Allen Scruggs and Conor Young each have now attended their final wrestling tournament as a collegiate student-athlete. So has four-year manager Brittany Lask.
I had the pleasure of getting to know all but Jarvis during my first NAIA Tournament trip in 2010.
Since first beginning to work around sports media, I had yet to experience covering a group of individuals for each of their four years in high school or college athletics. I was always off by a year or two either on the front or back end of their career from being with them four years. While I have not been with these individuals daily as a coach or professor, they are still one of the first groups I got to know during 2009-10, my first year and their first year at CU.
That is what makes this final 2013 diary entry so special, as I take a look at each of our five wrestling seniors, where they've been and what they hope to do next.
Three of these five have been nearly inseparable during the past four seasons. The other two are both five-year seniors who have been through their deal of adversity. Both of those will have their name forever etched in CU wrestling history as a Champion of Character (Ashbrook 2010, Elam 2013).
Josh Ashbrook is a fifth-year senior from Cynthiana, Ky. My first memory of Josh is riding to Oklahoma City University during the 2010 National Tournament and hearing him educate someone about a question they'd asked. His heart to be a teacher and coach were evident. Ashbrook first came to CU in 2008-09 and had a good enough season to qualify for the national tournament but was not included in the Tigers' Top 12. I've had a chance to watch him compete each of the last three seasons during the national tournament in Iowa. Each of the three, he came up short and did not achieve the goals he set out to meet. While I know he is disappointed for not reaching All-America status he is an individual that has already made the program better because of his attitude and being an ambassador across the state.
Sitting at lunch on Sunday, Coach Franky James finally admitted to Ashbrook that he had received multiple calls and emails about asking if Ashbrook would be willing and interested in coaching this program or that one. He will be a commodity in the coaching ranks in the years to come. Having graduated in December 2012 with a degree in health and physical education, Ashbrook has already started his work on a master's in special education. He is currently weighing options for the fall, which include a possible role as a CU graduate assistant coach. Before that though, he is engaged to be married this summer to his girlfriend of more than five years, Laura.
Jarvis Elam is the other Champion of Character, and one you have to have come to love over the past four to five years. After redshirting as a freshman, we saw little of Jarvis on the mat during his first few years here. The first time I can recall seeing him compete was in Lebanon, Tenn., at the Mid-South Conference Tournament in 2011. Each year, Jarvis (Jar-Jar to some of his teammates) worked for competition time at a weight loaded with talent on his own team. He came to CU as a small 103 pounder after helping Union County build a dynasty with two state titles in 2007 and 2008. UCHS won the Kentucky title again in 2010. The most I've really taken the time to get to know Jarvis was on this year's trip, beginning with the Champion of Character visit to the Veterans Affairs Central Living Center in Des Moines. Jarvis, though unknowing what he was about to do, took the event in stride and made others feel good about his visit because of his wide smile. I look back on the few days and wish I'd been able to know him more during the four years.
Following his graduation in May with a degree in business, Jarvis hopes to join fellow Tiger wrestling alum Jacob Murton and start their own landscaping company. Both have worked with Rob Roberts on campus the past few years and already have jobs lined up for the coming spring and summer. In addition to this, Jarvis says he will likely get involved in coaching at least as a volunteer assistant.
The three individuals that have been hard to separate are Allen Scruggs, Conor Young and Brittany Lask. These three are the true four-year seniors on this year's team and have been together since nearly day one.
Scruggs and Young, both from Georgia, had a mutual friend on the team when they got here in Chris Rowland. Both asked to room with him, but only one got the chance (Allen). Because of this the Georgia boys became good friends and that was obvious by the time the trip to Oklahoma City rolled around in February 2010. My first memories of these two were riding in the back of the van leaving the gym one day and the two of them cutting up with one another and cracking on others. Scruggs was even complaining about me getting photos of him going 0-2 at nationals and getting pinned (something we still joke about).
This moment was relived on our drive home this past Sunday when I was in the van with freshmen Kyle Terry and Shawn McGhee, who were both in the back of the van cutting up in almost an identical way. I watched Coach James as he watched them and it was clear a passing of the torch has taken place among this year's seniors and freshmen.
Brittany came into their inner circle as a freshman, hanging around the wrestling room and getting roped into the role of manager, team video, babysitter, etc. A Michigan native, she often would hang out as friends with Young and Scruggs, going home on break with the two. I think it's safe to say that the wrestling program would not know what it would have done these last four years without Brittany's help. I know the same goes for me from my office when it comes to covering the program. She will be missed. She will graduate in May and is considering a career as a veterinarian.
Young will return to CU in the fall after graduating in May with a degree in biology. He will take some additional math and science classes as tries to raise his in-major GPA for application to graduate school. With a father and mother who both work in science, Young knows he wants to also. He is currently considering a career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife division, working in food science like his father, pharmacy, veterinarian, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant. There's still plenty of time to decide. He will also hope to begin his coaching career with CU as he completes some extra course work.
It has been a pleasure watching him compete as one of the winningest wrestlers in program history, and possibly the most consistent when it comes to win percentage and winning streaks. He has 42 wins by pin at CU and nearly 100 combined in his last eight years of wrestling. He also had 18 major decisions (wins by 8-14 points) and 12 tech falls (wins by 15 or more points) during his career. His motivation began as the little safety pins his high school coach gave him for each pin, an interesting tidbit he revealed while being interviewed live on national radio Saturday by Takedown Wrestling Radio (Listen to the archived interview).
Scruggs … oh boy … you can say a lot about Allen Scruggs. The joke of his freshman experience at nationals helped fuel my getting to know him. He has served as an intern in my office this year in addition to singing in the gospel choir on campus. A sports management major, he hopes to become an athletic director and coach one day. He plans to work this summer with the his high school wrestling team in Valdosta, Ga., and with the AD at another local school.
While I asked each senior for advice or moments that they learned over four years, I think Scruggs' is the one that sums things up the best. While everyone touched on their thanks to Coach James, former assistant coach James Hicks, their teammates, etc., Scruggs pointed out that what made his experience the best was simply committing to come back for that second season at CU after a freshman year.
CU often will draw student-athletes in from all over the nation. Many will have never experienced a small town or rural setting. Others have never been near a Christian institution. And while despite best efforts by all involved, sometimes students leave after that freshman year because of being home sick, not knowing anyone or simply not realizing that it's hard work to be a student-athlete competing at a national level in any sport. Scruggs' advice – stick it out. No matter the freshman experience, come back ready to work and reach your goals. For Scruggs, that paid off by being a two-time All-American and finishing runner-up last season.
This is a special group. A group that will be missed, but also one that we may hang around in one way or another for at least a year or two. Spending time talking with them about their future and hearing others give thanks to the group made for the perfect ending to a long trip.
In addition to tournament coverage, CU Sports Information Director Chris Megginson, a Tiger travel companion, will keep fans updated from behind the scenes of the NAIA Wrestling National Tournament with his daily diary.
Complete coverage of Campbellsville University Wrestling from the NAIA Wrestling National Tournament, can be found here.