A different kind of leader
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 01:01
Ty Vinson is not your typical leader.
He’s not NFL linebacker Ray Lewis screaming and dancing before a game, or NBA guard Kobe Bryant berating teammates after mistakes.
But even though Vinson, a senior, isn’t the most vocal wrestler on the No. 13 Oregon State wrestling team, his leadership has made an impact.
So much so that the senior from Great Falls, Mont., was selected a team captain — one of five OSU wrestlers receiving the honor — by head coach Jim Zalesky before the season, and has proven to be worthy in every way.
“The biggest thing is just experience in the room,” Vinson said. “Lead by example, maybe not always vocally, but to show the younger guys the ropes, and hopefully they follow us seniors and continue to build this program.”
Still, the 184-pounder knows when his team needs a lift. A perfect example came in OSU’s opening dual of the season against No. 18 Michigan.
Trailing 21-6 with only three wrestlers remaining, Vinson stepped up.
After falling behind in what looked like a lost match, the senior pulled a lightning-quick reversal, pinning his opponent. He followed the victory with uncharacteristic screams of encouragement.
Though Oregon State’s bid for a comeback fell three points short, there’s no denying the spark Vinson provided.
“He’s been really good for us this year,” Zalesky said. “He sets a good example for the young guys and really works in here. He’s going to be big [at Pac-12 Championships] and nationals.”
His leadership extends beyond the mat. With everything that goes into the sport — strict diets to make weight, tireless practices and endless training, even outside the wrestling room — it’s no surprise the athletes develop a bond with one another.
This year’s senior class has formed relationships that are even more special than the norm.
“Me and Ty were roommates for a couple of years, we were in the dorms together and we’re best friends,” said fellow senior Mike Mangrum. “He’s hilarious, I love being around him. It’s almost like we’re brothers now.”
Though he wasn’t named a team captain until the start of the year, Vinson has been leading by example ever since the end of last year. Almost a year later, Vinson still hasn’t forgotten that his season ended abruptly after a 0-2 showing at the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
“I had a pretty bitter taste after nationals last year,” Vinson said.
But the disappointment of last year motivated him.
“We all worked really hard in the offseason, basically didn’t have an offseason because we were busting our tails the whole time,” Vinson said. “We had one goal, and that was to be national champs.”
The goal of becoming national champions isn’t unique to Oregon State, but is something that was beginning to look obtainable after the Beavers’ impressive showing at the Reno Tournament of Champions on Dec. 16.
The team finished first overall, and Vinson finished second in the competitive 184-pound weight class.
Unfortunately, Vinson sustained a hamstring injury early in the Midlands Championships and has been sidelined for the last three weeks.
“I feel like I was wrestling really well when I got injured,” Vinson said. “That was kind of upsetting because I felt like I was finally wrestling how I wanted.”
While the injury isn’t season-ending, it will keep Vinson out for at least two more weeks, and will likely linger for the remainder of the season.
“We want him back for the end of the year, but it’s important not to push him,” Zalesky said. “These duals are important, but it’s more important that [he is] ready for the end of the year.”
“Wrestling hurt is tough,” Mangrum added. “You just have to try and wrestle like nothing’s wrong, but it’s not easy.”
Despite the setback, Vinson remains optimistic with clear goals.
“[A national championship] is what we’re aiming for, both as a team and individually,” Vinson said. “You’ve got to make goals before that, to get to that point, but I just want to take it one goal at a time. The first goal on that list is getting healthy.”
The Beavers are eager for Vinson to get back on the mat for one final run at a title before he graduates.
While guys like Mangrum, Chad Hanke, RJ Pena and Scott Sakaguchi draw a lot of the attention, OSU knows how vital Vinson will be in the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships.
Vinson surprised many by finishing second at the Pac-12 Tournament — before his disappointing end at the NCAAs — and looks poised to make a run in his last chance.
“He’s going to be a lot bigger than people expect,” Mangrum said. “He’s been wrestling really well. He’s going to surprise some people.”
Andrew Kilstrom, sports reporter