Morgan Smith, a fourth-year wrestler and one of the captains of the men’s wrestling team, has improved every year he’s wrestled. It’s been a long road for him to arrive where he is now. Just last season, he became only the fourth Clan athlete to break 40 wins in the NCAA era.
“I started wrestling in seventh grade, but didn’t really commit to it until the eighth grade. My dad wrestled and I loved WWE, so I tried it out,” Smith said, regarding his start in the sport in his hometown of Lynnwood, Washington.
Despite the difference between WWE wrestling and the amateur wrestling practiced in schools, Smith stuck with the sport. He gradually improved, eventually getting good enough that he was able to win a state championship in his last year of high school. It was also during that year that he started realizing he might be able to wrestle at a post-secondary institution.
“I never even thought about trying to wrestle in college before [my senior year of high school]. I didn’t think that far ahead until my coaches and my dad started putting it in my head. Back then, it seemed more like an opportunity to receive an education than anything else.”
Once the idea was in his head, Smith knew he had to at least try to make it into a college program. His work ethic and talent attracted attention from several different schools. Ultimately, SFU was the school that stuck out to him.
“I decided I wanted to go to SFU because of the coaches, Justin Abdou and Mike Jones,” Smith said. “Also, it was only three hours away from my home in Lynnwood, and it’s well-known academically.”
Smith knew the transition between high school and wrestling at SFU would be tough, and tried to adjust accordingly. “I had to get a lot stronger and faster. To prepare, I spent a lot of time on the track and on the field,” he said of his preparation for his first year of collegiate wrestling.
“Looking back, I should have focused more on technique and mat time, because the strength came over time, whereas learning technique is a lifelong process for me.”
Despite the amount of training done to prepare, student athletes still usually find themselves overwhelmed in their first season. For Smith, it was no different.
“My first year was brutal, but I think that’s because I was so upset that I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be,” he said. “If I could go back, I’d tell myself it’s a long road ahead, and that I should just take it one day at a time.”
The lessons learned in his first year have stuck with him every year since, as Smith has improved his record each year at SFU. After failing to secure a spot at the NCAA national tournament last year, Smith rebounded with his strongest season to date after moving up to the 197lb weight class. Just recently, he placed fourth at the prestigious Reno Tournament of Champions, which is populated by many of the top wrestling teams in Division I. Before that, he won three consecutive tournaments and had dominated most of his opponents.
“If I could go back, I’d tell myself it’s a long road ahead, and that I should just take it one day at a time.”
When asked how he’s been able to make such major leaps in his wrestling, Smith responded, “I seriously take things one day and one match at a time. Of course, I plan ahead to give myself structure, but in practice and especially in competition, I just focus on the task at hand. I don’t even look ahead in the brackets anymore or at online rankings. Focusing on the objective at hand really helps me, that’s how my brain works best.”
One of the toughest, and often most overlooked, aspects of a student-athlete’s life is the balancing act they must perform to manage their athletics along with their academics. This is doubly true for sports such as wrestling, which requires athletes to maintain a specific weight class to compete.
Smith, a model student who often helps younger members of the team, said, “the balancing act is difficult, but it’s a challenge I really enjoy. I love wrestling and I love learning, but school is the hardest thing for me. I study daily, at least two or three hours. That’s a rule that has helped me a lot. When I say I study, I mean no email, no social media, no texting, [and] no distractions.”
Even better than improving himself each year, Smith has also been a part of an ever-improving SFU wrestling team as a whole.
“The team has improved, but it’s an ongoing process. It’s been a strong showing for our guys so far, we just have to stay mentally and physically strong in this second half of the season. It’s a tough sport, and the season is full of ups and downs. As a captain, I show up focused and ready to wrestle, learn, and work my butt off everyday. I owe it to myself, and to my teammates, to maximize my time every time I step into practice or into competition.”
In practice, Smith leads by example on and off the mat. He is a political science major, and hopes to continue to wrestle even after he graduates from SFU.
“I will continue to wrestle after university, wherever I have the best opportunity to improve myself and sustain my living.”
Keep an eye out for the rest of the season to see how Smith and the rest of the men’s wrestling team does as they prepare for the second half of the season. Don’t be surprised if you see their names pop up in the paper. The team has grown so much that success is now expected for them, and they are confident that they will find it moving forward.
Fun Fact: Favourite Food?
“I believe there’s no such thing as too many bananas! They’re my super food. I eat about six per day when I’m at a wrestling tournament.”