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First time Yough wrestler Oden catches on quickly

| Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012

Sometimes there is simply no explanation.

In the third game of the football season Yough senior Markus Oden dove for a ball as he had done hundreds of times in his career as receiver and defensive back. But the results were different this time.

Instead of jogging back to join his teammates in the huddle, he was helped off the field, victim of a broken collar bone.

His season was over almost before it began.

But Jeremy Zufall, Oden's history teacher, thought otherwise.

"Markus was out for the season, but I knew he did not want his high school sports career to end that way," said Zufall, who also is the Cougars' wrestling coach. "After he was injured in football season, I talked to him about wrestling. He thought about it and was willing to try."

In the weight room several days later, Zufall saw Oden as being ready the moment he stepped on the wrestling mat.

Despite having no wrestling background, what Zufall saw in his newest wrestler would make up for inexperience.

"Markus came into the program with a remarkable work ethic and was willing to do whatever it took to be successful," Zufall said. "This was all new to him, but he works extremely hard and he wants to learn. He is willing to learn, he listens, and does exactly what we tell him to do. He is in the weight room every day and is becoming a student of the sport."

Obviously disappointed following the football mishap, Oden, although an outfielder on the Cougars' baseball team, was not willing to refrain from competitive sports until spring.

"Even though was unable to play football any longer, I wanted something to do athletically," Oden said. "I had never wrestled and after I spoke with coach, I decided to give it a try."

Zufall, whose Cougars have been to the WPIAL playoffs the last three seasons, is more than pleased with Oden's decision.

"For a beginning wrestler not knowing the finer points of the sport, he has the skill to win a majority of his matches," Zufall said. "He is in a lower weight class (138 pounds) and his strength is an asset. In our practices he is either beating or splitting matches with lower- or middle weight wrestlers who have more experience."

Stepping on the mat for the first time, Oden, who plans on becoming an English teacher, refrained from setting the bar too high.

"Especially since I had no experience, I really didn't have any personal goals," Oden said. "I'm just trying to do the best I can. Wrestling is harder and more demanding physically than other sports. Wrestling can be very intense and more endurance is required, so I'm focusing on the basics.

"I'm learning the different holds and various positions and what to do in different situations. I appear to be catching on quickly. I'm enjoying it so far and I am glad I decided to wrestle and become a member of the team."

In Oden's first two matches, however, the odds were considerably stacked against him. In the first, against a returning section champion, Oden held his own until suffering a second-period pin. In his second match, against a returning southwest region qualifier, Oden again offered stiff resistance until inexperience spelled his downfall in another second-period pin.

"Markus was up against two good, experienced wrestlers," Zufall said. "Considering his opposition and lack of experience, he did pretty well and I could see his improvement in each match."

Despite the early setbacks, Zufall had words of praise for his newest find.

"Markus is a true inspiration," Zufall said. "He is someone who overcame adversity following his injury, while some kids would have given up. He broke his collar bone but is out there pushing himself every day. There is no excuse for others to not do the same."

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