Assistant coach Mark Perry told Jake Strayer the next 28 days are the most important time of his life.
He wants to see Strayer become a national champion in the final year of his career. Perry said Strayer has the talent to win the 133-pound NCAA championship and he has put in the work, but now is the time to earn it.
"I know in his head it's, 'Win the national title or failure,' " Perry said. "You don't want to necessarily say failure, but it has to be that way. This is his last shot."
Before he starts training for a Big Ten championship and an NCAA title, Strayer will wrestle in his final dual meet of his career at 7 p.m. tonight at Rec Hall against the No. 25-ranked Pennsylvania Quakers. The senior All-American said he is not overlooking his opponent Friday night because he keeps every match he wrestles close.
Throughout his career, this has always been Strayer's philosophy.
"He's one of those guys that gets the big picture and the 'down the road' kind of idea," head coach Troy Sunderland. "He's what you want for all of your kids and what you want the freshmen to look up to and emulate when they come into the program."
Redshirt sophomore Mike Eagan said he would like to model his work ethic around Strayer's, because his teammate is always training 100 percent, with the same expression on his face, and determination in the practice room.
If he had to pick a wrestling partner, junior Bubba Jenkins said he would always pick Strayer, because "he could outlast anybody" and always challenges his conditioning.
"I love how he comes in here everyday with the same attitude," Eagan said. "When I'm watching him wrestle, he just scraps hard. He never gives up on a situation. He doesn't give up just because it's in practice. He fights until the end for everything."
When another wrestler might think 'I'm sore, or I'm hurt,' Strayer goes "above and beyond the things an average athlete would do", Sunderland said. These are the qualities that separate Strayer and put him on an elite status.
These are also the same characteristics that make Strayer a legitimate contender to become the national champion at the 133-pound weight class.
"People that have wrestled their whole life at this level understand how important it is to a kid like him," Perry said. "He has put in the time. He deserves to win it and he's got to go take it because it's not going to be given to him."
Strayer is used to having to earn his way through wrestling, though. When he was five years old, Jake lost the first match of his novice career by a score of 15-0, his mother Marianne said. She said she wasn't sure if her son was going to stick with wrestling, but that loss motivated him to excel. Ever since he was six, Marianne and her husband Larry took her son to watch Penn State wrestle at Rec Hall and he's always dreamed about wearing a blue-and-white singlet.
"I don't even know what goes through my mind," Marianne said about watching her son wrestle. "I'm usually too nervous and I'm usually yelling too much to know what is going on."
Despite wrestling for the last time in his home gym, the South Fork, Pa. said he won't think about this match being his last while he's wrestling. Afterwards, however, he said he would probably sit on the edge of the match and reflect about how great his career has been as a Nittany Lion.
"I'm just thankful for all the times I got to wrestle at Rec Hall," Strayer said. "I thank God for giving me that opportunity because I wanted it my whole life, and I got through five years and it's been great so I want to thank God for all that."