RUTLEDGE_KNOX.JPGKnox College photo

Knox College wrestler Jaran Rutledge has earned the NCAA Division III's No. 1 ranking at heavyweight.

Knox's Rutledge No. 1 in Division III

All-American status has him working hard

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Carl Sandburg College

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

GALESBURG - Whenever Tony Islas put Jaran Rutledge through running drills last season, he wouldn't accept halfhearted effort.

"All-Americans don't jog," Islas would say. That was the theme that the Knox College wrestling coach continually pounded into the heavyweight's psyche.

"Coach said his goal for me last year was to be an All-American," Rutledge said. "He'd say, 'All-Americans don't do this' or 'All-Americans don't do that.' Basically if I outworked everyone, they couldn't beat me."

The psychology paid off. The Mundelein native took third place at the Division III national championships and became the first All-American wrestler in school history.

But Rutledge isn't satisfied yet. The Knox senior is aiming even higher this year as the top-ranked heavyweight in Division III.

The first match of the year is fast approaching on Nov. 9, but Rutledge isn't worried about his conditioning. He keeps in shape as defensive end for the Prairie Fire football team, where he's amassed 29 tackles, 6.5 tackles for losses and five sacks.

"The last couple weeks, I've been doing both," Rutledge said. "They're both hard in different ways. I've been doing it since high school for the last eight years, so it doesn't phase me."

The 6-foot-3 senior usually loses 10 pounds during the course of football season and maintains his wrestling weight at 250 pounds. Whether he's lifting in the weight room or outside running his training regimen, Rutledge has a single-minded dedication to his craft.

His high school coach taught him to never back up in a match. The Carmel High School alum adopted the continuous offense strategy on the mat in a sport where the heavyweights are the most prone to lose steam as the match progresses.

"I train to be the strongest," Rutledge said. "I lift and run hard. Coach Islas says anyone can be strong for three minutes. The key is to be strong for seven or 11 minutes. I want to have the best endurance."

One of his defining season moments came in the consolation quarterfinals at nationals against Wade Hammen from Buena Vista University. The match went into overtime and Islas told Rutledge to leave everything on the mat and that he would carry the heavyweight off if he had to afterwards. Rutledge emerged with a 3-2 decision and almost took up his coach's offer as he collapsed right afterwards.

His third-place showing at nationals made him the first Knox wrestler to compete at nationals in 27 years. Tom MacMillan was the last to do so in 1979 and 1980.

Now Rutledge has a target on his back. Following his 36-5 All-American season, he's the No. 1 heavyweight in National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Division III Brute-Adidas individual preseason rankings. Ranked right behind him is Oneonta State's Trevor Hiffa, who Rutledge pinned in the third-place match at nationals.

The honor isn't going to his head. He's focusing more than ever and expects another All-American campaign this season.

The increased commitment required to succeed in college wrestling has been the biggest area of improvement for the senior over the last several years.

"I've definitely improved on my discipline and work ethic," Rutledge said. "That's the great thing about wrestling. It allows you to break mental barriers. I push myself harder and harder every year. It's a nice growing experience."

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