UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State Nittany Lion wrestler Zain Retherford has won the WIN Magazine/Culture House Dan Hodge Trophy, presented annually to the top collegiate wrestler in the nation by ASICS. The Hodge Trophy has been awarded since 1995.

Retherford becomes the third Penn State individual to win the honor. Kerry McCoy won the award in 1997 and David Taylor is one of only three two-time winners, having on in 2012 and 2014 (Nittany Lion head coach Cael Sanderson won three times and Missouri standout Ben Askren twice).

“I met Dan Hodge at a National Wrestling Hall of Fame event a few years ago. To win something like this named in his honor is pretty awesome,” Retherford said. “This award symbolizes who he is as a person and competitor.” The award, created by Culture House’s Mike Chapman, is named after Hodge, who was a three-time NCAA champion for the University of Oklahoma from 1955 to 1957, was undefeated over those three years at 46-0 and pinned an amazing 36 of those opponents.

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In a day and age when increased parity seems to rule the day in college wrestling, the manner in which Retherford tore through opponents mirrored the culture and approach that Penn State took in winning six of the last seven national team titles: a culture focused on the output of extreme effort by each wrestler to do their absolute best the entire seven minutes of the each college match as opposed to wins and losses.

Retherford’s explanation of his approach to the sport reveals more about how he’s able to dominate to the level that he does. “Dominating is a lot like anything in life, like school or whatever you’re doing… you need to be giving your best and not holding back on anything,” he said. “You need to keep scoring and looking for the pin. But, giving your best is the most important part of it. If you can pin or tech the guy, then do it. If 2-1 is your best result, then it’s your best.” Only two opponents all winter kept Retherford from scoring bonus points. Iowa’s 2016 runner-up Brandon Sorenson took the Nittany Lion into the second set of tiebreakers in January before Retherford won 9-8. And one month later, in the National Duals final, Retherford defeated Oklahoma State’s Anthony Collica, 2-1. Otherwise, the Benton, Pa., native pinned 17 of 28 opponents for a .610 pinning percentage while also getting seven technical falls and one major decision. At the NCAA Championships, Retherford was a scoring machine. He had tech falls in his first three matches, avenged his loss to Sorenson with a pin in the semis, then teched Missouri’s No. 3-seed Lavion Mayes, 18-2 in the final. For this NCAA tourney run he was also named Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament. 

MORE: Retherford finishes as most dominant | Penn State wins sixth title in seven years

Retherford finished second to Oklahoma State’s three-time champ Alex Dieringer in the 2016 Hodge race. Now winning the Hodge as a junior with a year left, he’ll start next season as the favorite to repeat as the 2018 Hodge winner. However, two of the other three finalists will be back as well. Snyder, also a junior, will be going for this third straight title and Nolf has two years left in State College.

Growing up on a small Pennsylvania farm, Retherford said his perspective on life and wrestling goes back to his parents Sarah and Allen and what he learned through long days of physical labor working as a family on that farm. “Growing up on a farm, I learned to be grateful for everything I’ve been given. My whole family worked really hard so I learned there was more to life than just wrestling, and that I needed to be grateful for every opportunity,” Retherford said. “So I looked at it like this year was the second opportunity I had to win a title. My mindset was to be grateful for the experience, that it was another chance I had to win a title rather than something I had to defend.”

As in past years, Retherford will be officially awarded the Hodge Trophy at the team’s wrestling banquet on April 9. He then will be publically presented the award a second time at a fall football game in the same Beaver Stadium where Taylor was presented his two Hodges in front of over 100,000 people sometime this fall. The honor is the latest for Retherford who concluded one of Penn State’s most dominant individual seasons ever with his NCAA title run in St. Louis on March 16-18. Retherford’s season accolades now include: the 2017 Hodge Award winner as the nation’s top wrestler; 2017 NCAA Champion (149); 2017 NCAA Championships Outstanding Wrestler; 2017 NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler (season-long); 2017 Big Ten Champion (149); 2017 Big Ten Championship Outstanding Wrestler; 2017 First Team All-Big Ten; 2017 Academic All-Big Ten.

Retherford, Penn State’s 26th three-time All-American, is now tied for 17th on Penn State’s all-time NCAA wins list with 14 and heads into next year having won 63 straight bouts. He is the seventh two-time NCAA Champion in school history. The Lion went 5-0 with four technical falls and a pin at the tournament and ends the season with a 28-0 mark with 17 pins, seven techs and a major. Retherford was named the 2017 NCAA Championships Outstanding Wrestler for his effort. The junior was also honored for his season long dominance as the 2017 NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler. He heads into his season with a 95-3 career record that includes 36 pins, 17 technical falls and 17 majors. He was won the last two NCAA and Big Ten Championships during his 63-match streak.

Penn State won its sixth NCAA national championship in the last seven years in St. Louis earlier this month and Retherford played a huge role in that victory. The Nittany Lion junior was one of five Penn State individuals to win NCAA titles during the Championship Finals on Saturday night, March 18. Penn State also won the 2017 Big Ten Regular season crown and the NWCA Dual Championship Series title, going 14-0 overall with a 9-0 mark in conference action. Penn State returns nine of starters, eight of nine NCAA qualifiers and all six of its 2017 All-Americans for next the 2017-18 season.

Portion of release, including quotes, courtesy Bryan Van Kley, WIN Magazine