The Dan Hodge Trophy honors the top college wrestler every year. It was established in 1995 and is named after the legendary Dan Hodge, who was an NCAA champion, Olympic medalist, multiple-time NWA champion and ambassador for the sport of wrestling.
The award was established by longtime wrestling journalist and wrestling hall-of-famer Mike Chapman and presented by his WIN Magazine. The Hodge is equivalent to college football's Heisman Trophy and has been presented to 28 wrestlers in its 26-year history, though some of those wrestlers have won the award more than once. The award has only been awarded to two wrestlers in the same year twice: once in 2001 when Iowa State's Cael Sanderson split the award with Simpson College's Nick Ackerman and once in 2021 when Iowa's Spencer Lee split the award with Minnesota's Gable Steveson.
Here's a look at the history and selection process for the award, along with a complete list of the winners.
Dan Hodge Award history
The Hodge Trophy has a long history, but there are a few special facts about the trophy:
- T.J. Jaworsky, the first winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy, is the only University of North Carolina wrestler to win the Hodge. Jaworsky won his third NCAA title in 1995 and was voted the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the NCAA tournament that same year
- Only one athlete has won the Hodge Trophy three times: Cael Sanderson. The Iowa State graduate is also one of just three sophomores to have won the award and one of five juniors. He's also one of just five wrestlers to have won the award more than once. Of the other athletes who have won the award twice, Sanderson coached two of them: Zain Retherford and David Taylor. Retherford was also one of the five juniors to have won the award, while Taylor was one of the three sophomores to have taken home the Hodge. As the head coach of Penn State, Sanderson has coached a total of five Hodge Trophy winners in his first decade at State College.
- Nick Ackerman is the only DIII wrestler to win the Hodge Trophy. A senior from Simpson College, Ackerman is also the only wrestler to have won the award without having gone undefeated. Ackerman's accomplishments, however, don't end here. He's also the only double-amputee to have won the award.
- A Division I wrestler has won the Hodge Trophy every year except for two, 2001 and 2004. Ackerman won the award in 2001, and three years later, Emmett Willson of Montana State University-Northern became the first NAIA wrestler to win the award. Willson's resume included a 50-0 record the year he took home the Hodge. Twenty-four of Willson's 50 wins were pins; he also beat four Division I All-Americans during his award-winning season.
- The 2020 Hodge Trophy winner, Spencer Lee, is the only athlete who did not compete in the NCAA championship the same year he won the Hodge Trophy. The tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Lee's dominance during the season enabled him to capture the votes necessary to win the prestigious award. Lee won the 125-pound weight class at the NCAA tournament in 2018, 2019 and 2021 and is now a two-time winner of the Hodge after earning the award for a second time in 2021.
Who was Dan Hodge?
A three-time NCAA champion for Oklahoma, Dan Hodge is known as one of the greatest athletes to ever compete in the sport. He built his reputation as a pinner, and the trophy named in his honor is intended to recognize the most dominant college wrestler, someone who wins with bonus points and puts opponents on their backs. Hodge didn't lose a single match in his three-year career as a college wrestler and won Outstanding Wrestling honors twice at the NCAA championships, once in 1956 and 1957. A National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee and Olympic silver medalist, Hodge is forever remembered and honored by wrestlers in the sport as they aspire to win the award named after the champ.
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Dan Hodge facts
- Hodge finished his college career with a record of 46-0 and 36 pins and won every conference and NCAA tournament he entered as a Sooner.
- In all three of his NCAA finals appearances, he pinned his opponent; twice he pinned his way through the entire tournament
- Dan Hodge never gave up a single takedown in his college wrestling career
.@MatWriter of @InterMat looks back to 1957 when @SoonerWrestling's Dan Hodge was on the cover of @SInow. More than 60 years later, Danny remains the only amateur wrestler to appear on the cover of the iconic sports magazine. Read about it at https://t.co/RDwi9L0QdC pic.twitter.com/blD6JSCccs— NWHOF (@NWHOF) March 29, 2018
- Hodge enlisted in the U.S. Navy after high school and served for several years before wrestling in college
- After retiring from amateur wrestling, Hodge went on to have a successful career as a boxer and professional wrestler. He was a multiple-time champion in the NWA.
- Dan Hodge's reputation and strength was legendary. In 2009, at the age of 77, Hodge showed off his overwhelming physical power by crushing an apple with one hand. Yes, you read that right. Now, watch the video evidence.
- He was born May 13, 1932, and died on Dec. 25, 2020, at 88.
The Dan Hodge Award
The Dan Hodge Trophy has changed shape and design over the last two decades, but the current model includes a two-tiered pedestal block with four wrester carvings on each corner of the bottom tier. Each tier includes a placard with the top placard listing the name of the wrester and his respective school. Resting on top of the pedestal block is a golden cup with a long, straight handle and a golden wrestler sitting on top.
How wrestlers are selected for the award
Originally created to celebrate the pin in college wrestling, the Dan Hodge Trophy is based on seven criteria including record, number of pins, dominance, past credentials, quality of competition, sportsmanship/citizenship and heart. The trophy is based primarily on the results of a single season, but past accomplishments are considered as well, particularly in years where the competition is tighter.
The winner of the Hodge Trophy is determined based on a voting process that includes previous Hodge members, national media members, retired college coaches from each region of the United States and a representative of the national wrestling organizations in the country. Each voter is given one ballot containing the finalists, typically a group of approximately four undefeated wrestlers from the previous season, though the 2021 season included six finalists. Fans also have a chance to vote for the Hodge winner, and the athlete with the most fan votes will receive two first-place votes in the count. Voting is typically conducted after the conclusion of the NCAA tournament, and the winner is announced in April. Schools traditionally honor the Hodge winner during a fall football game as well.
Dan Hodge Trophy winners
Of the 28 Dan Hodge winners, Spencer Lee, the most recent co-Dan Hodge Trophy recipient, is the first and only 125-pounder to ever win the award.
Four wrestlers have won the Dan Hodge Trophy at 165 pounds, the most popular weight class for Hodge winners. Of those four winners at 165 pounds, Penn State's David Taylor won the award twice.
The only weight class where an athlete has won a Hodge Trophy in the same weight as his coach is 197 pounds where Penn State's Bo Nickal took home the Trophy, as did his coach Cael Sanderson 16 years prior.
Three of college wrestling's four, four-time NCAA champions have won the award including Sanderson, Logan Stieber of Ohio State and Kyle Dake of Cornell. Stieber is the only Ohio State wrestler to have won the award. The year Dake won the Hodge and his fourth NCAA title, he beat David Taylor, who had won the Hodge the previous year and would go on to win the trophy the following year.
Here is every winner of the award:
|2021||Spencer Lee & Gable Steveson||125, 285||Senior, Junior||Iowa, Minnesota|
|2019||Bo Nickal||197||Senior||Penn State|
|2018||Zain Retherford||149||Senior||Penn State|
|2017||Zain Retherford||149||Junior||Penn State|
|2016||Alex Dieringer||165||Senior||Oklahoma State|
|2015||Logan Stieber||141||Senior||Ohio State|
|2014||David Taylor||165||Senior||Penn State|
|2012||David Taylor||165||Sophomore||Penn State|
|2005||Steve Mocco||285||Junior||Oklahoma State|
|2004||Emmett Willson||197||Senior||Mont. State-Northern|
|2003||Eric Larkin||149||Senior||Arizona State|
|2002||Cael Sanderson||197||Senior||Iowa State|
|2001||Cael Sanderson & Nick Ackerman||184, 174||Junior, Senior||Iowa State, Simpson College|
|2000||Cael Sanderson||184||Sophomore||Iowa State|
|1999||Stephen Neal||285||Senior||CSU Bakersfield|
|1997||Kerry McCoy||285||Senior||Penn State|
|1996||Les Gutches||177||Senior||Oregon State|
|1995||T.J. Jaworsky||134||Senior||North Carolina|
Colleges with the most Hodge winners
Only four schools have won more than one Hodge Trophy: Penn State, Iowa, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. All three of Iowa State's came from the accomplishments of Cael Sanderson. He's the only wrestler to have won more than two Hodge Trophies in a career, and he has more Hodge Trophies individually than all but one school, the school where he now coaches and has won eight NCAA team titles.
|SCHOOL||NUMBER OF WINNERS||WINNERS|
|Penn State||6||Bo Nickal, Zain Retherford (x2), David Taylor (x2), Kerry McCoy|
|Iowa||4||Spencer Lee (x2), Brent Metcalf, Mark Ironside|
|Iowa State||3||Cael Sanderson (x3)|
|Oklahoma State||2||Alex Dieringer, Steve Mocco|
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