OSU wrestling: Derek White blossomed from 119-pounder at Edmond North to dominant heavyweight for the Cowboys
EDMOND — When Andy Schneider is coaching his young wrestlers at Edmond North High School, and sometimes even the older ones, he regularly finds himself using former Husky standout Derek White as an example for something.
Proof that wrestling technique can be valuable, even necessary, for heavier wrestlers? Schneider points to White.
Proof that you don’t have to be constantly cutting weight to be a successful wrestler? He points to White.
Proof of what hard work can do? He points to White, the kid who walked into Edmond North’s wrestling room a gangly 119-pound freshman nearly nine years ago, but on Thursday, will take the mat as the top-seeded heavyweight at the NCAA championships at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
White has won 27 consecutive matches and is one of two No. 1 seeds in the Oklahoma State lineup as the second-ranked Cowboys try to disrupt the dynasty of Penn State over the next three days.
As recently as two years ago, heavyweight didn’t seem to be the ultimate destination for White, who now weighs twice what he did as a high school freshman.
“He was a state runner-up for us at 119 as a freshman,” Schneider said. “He finished at 195. We knew he was gonna get bigger, but I never would have thought he’d be a heavyweight.”
White never envisioned it, either.
He signed with Nebraska out of high school, redshirted his first year and wrestled in 11 matches at 197 pounds the next season before transferring to OSU for the 2016-17 school year.
That season, he fought to get in the lineup at 197, but Preston Weigel had established himself in that spot on his way to becoming an All-American.
And the Cowboys needed help at heavyweight, so White took on the challenge, even though he was only slightly over 200 pounds — at least 40 pounds lighter than most of his opponents.
Last year, he had gotten up to around 240 pounds and went 24-5 for the Cowboys.
“I didn’t expect this, but the way things went, staying at 197 became quite the weight cut,” said White, who is 28-1 this season. “Spending a summer to bulk up and go heavyweight was the best decision.
“I was a little bit undersized, but this year, I’ve really learned how to wrestle and adjust to the weight.”
White calls himself a late bloomer, but he’s only talking about his body’s physical growth into his current rock-solid frame.
From a wrestling perspective, he was gifted from the start, and that’s part of what has contributed to his unique skillset for a heavyweight now.
“He’s big, but he still wrestles like a little guy with his technique,” Schneider said. “When you get to those upper weights, usually it’s just a pushing match. But he ends up changing his level, getting single-legs and doing moves like you’d see the 119-pounders do.”
White brought his technique from the lighter weights and has spent the last two-plus seasons adding the knowledge of how to wrestle guys who are still often bigger than him, and rely on a different style.
“You can’t just dive under big kids all the time,” White said. “You’ve got to learn hand-fighting and how to use your speed against bigger guys.”
With six of nine wrestlers seeded No. 7 or better this week, OSU has its sights set on contending for a national championship. White, who was one win short of All-American status a year ago, will have plenty of fans from Edmond supporting his pursuit of a title as well.
“We were blessed to have him as part of our program,” Schneider said. “A lot of it is attributed to his hard work.
“We’re super-proud of him, to see him representing Edmond North.”
NCAA WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
When: Thursday through Saturday
Where: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh
TV: ESPNU (Cox 253)
Radio: KSPI-FM 93.7