STILLWATER, Okla. — Derek White doesn’t look the part.
He’s soft-spoken. He’s considered short for his weight class. He has quickness.
And he’s a heavyweight for the most historic college wrestling program ever.
If you knew White growing up, it’s likely you wouldn’t even recognize him.
When he was a freshman at Edmond North High School, the redshirt junior weighed just 119 pounds – and is now double that with Oklahoma State.
In fact, he’s hardly recognizable from just a year ago.
This offseason, with 197 pounds locked down by All-American Preston Weigel – and uncertainty at the heavyweight position with last year’s starter graduating – the Cowboy coaching staff decided to allow White to put on weight and move up to heavyweight.
“We just felt like it was something that he needed, and within a blink of an eye he was up to 235 – so that just tells you that his body is telling you, ‘I’m not a 197-pounder,’” Cowboy coach John Smith said. “So if he had popped up to 220, that would have been one thing, but wrestling at 235 you realize just how tough it was for him the last couple of years to keep that weight down.”
The move not only was essential for White’s body, but for the OSU wrestling program.
The program is constantly having to develop heavyweights – which atone for 21 of the 231 All-American wrestlers in its 100-year history. The last heavyweight to win a national championship at OSU was Steve Mocco in 2005 – who joined the Cowboy football team the following year with one year of college eligibility left. The OSU program has produced three All-Americans at heavyweight since Mocco graduated in 2006 – highlighted by three-time All-American Jared Rosholt.
“(White) is a little smaller, and shorter, but I’ll tell you man, heavyweights are hard to get. They’re not easy to get,” Smith said. “As soon as you find a good one that looks like he’ll be a superstar, he’s signing a football scholarship – which I wish some of these guys would do double sports. I don’t think we make them that way anymore, but in the old days they did them often.
“I’ve lost some heavyweights to Alabama, Texas A&M and Nebraska. … You really work on developing heavyweights today, it’s really challenging. I feel real fortunate that Derek is working out for us, and really excited about where he’s at.”
White started his college wrestling career at Nebraska, where he had a combined 23-7 record wrestling at 197 pounds before transferring to Oklahoma State.
When he arrived in Stillwater for the 2016-17 season, he was lined up to remain at that weight and competed with Weigel for the starting role – until Weigel secured the spot and eventually went on to become an All-American.
With an injury at heavyweight late in the season, he got a chance to wrestle in the last two duals for the Cowboys – and neither of them ended in his favor. He lost by 8-0 major decision to Oklahoma’s Ross Larson, and fell to Penn State’s Nick Nevills (who finished fifth at the NCAA national championships) by 10-5 decision.
But the opportunity was invaluable.
He was a 197-pounder trying to wrestle against a pair of ranked wrestlers with over 50 pounds on him.
“I was a lot smaller last year compared to this year. That experience last year definitely helped out,” White said. “It gave me a good feel for what the competition was going to be like – especially wrestling in that Penn State dual.”
In his first year trying to feel around his new weight, he has already caught the eyes of those who rank college wrestlers.
White is considered on the fringe of being an All-American – awarded to the top eight finishers of each weight class at the national championships – as he is ranked 11th in the country by InterMat Wrestling. He has a 2-2 record against ranked opponents, and was competitive in his two losses – a 1-0 decision against Hofstra’s Mike Hughes and a 6-4 sudden victory two against No. 6 Sam Stoll of Iowa. He’s also been one of Oklahoma State’s most aggressive wrestlers with 12 of his 17 victories this season having been bonus-point wins – with nine major decisions and three technical falls.
“It’s definitely a lot different. I can feel my feet under me this year a lot more than last year,” White said. “I just feel a lot healthier out there. Cutting down to 197 last year definitely took it out of me and it definitely showed up in my matches.”
Getting to move up to heavyweight came at the perfect time for White, too.
With OSU taking part in first college wrestling dual outside of North America, he was able to enjoy the delicacies abroad when the Cowboys spent the first week of the New Year in Italy.
“The food was amazing. I did definitely get to enjoy it more than my teammates,” said White, who added his favorite meal was the traditional spaghetti. “They’d be passing me their plates whenever they couldn’t eat, so I’d be having three or four meals at one time. It was great.”
White gets another opportunity to build his resume this weekend before the postseason that is set to begin in about a month.
With Edinboro visiting the Cowboys for a 7 p.m. dual Friday, the Fighting Scots bring in a heavyweight in Billy Miller who is ranked No. 14 in the country with a 12-3 record. It’s the first ranked wrestler White will have faced since his loss to Stoll nearly a month ago.
Elmquist is sports editor for Stillwater News Press, a CNHI News Service publication.