The coach-to-wrestler relationship is tight. It's a bond forged by sweat, competition and love for one of the world's most traditional sports. But for Oklahoma's Mark Cody and Bubby Graham, that connection runs even deeper.
Cody, the second-year Sooners' coach, and Graham, the No. 5-ranked 165-pounder, began their connection on the American University wrestling team four years ago. When Cody had the opportunity to take over at OU, Graham followed suit and became a Sooner himself.
The Big 12 Duals and Championships this Friday and Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena will mark the duo's final regular-season action together.
“He's not just close to me; he's close to my whole family,” Cody said. “That really helped in the transition coming out here. He was one of the pioneers for that program at American University. To have him come here and take on that same role, trying to get to where we want to be, he's just really helped us build a great foundation and a great future for this program.”
The foundation Cody referenced is something that's not built by just wins. It's about branding a program that represents what's right about college athletes. Something Cody believes is embodied by Graham.
“He's everything a coach would want in an athlete,” Cody said. “He's a 4.0 student, he's a great person and he does whatever you ask of him. He buys 100 percent into what our staff is trying to get across every day.”
But don't let his off-the-mat traits distract from Graham's legitimate individual title hopes in a stacked division at 165-pounds. Graham finished third last season in the Big 12 Championships. He is 20-3 this season and one of two top-five ranked OU wrestlers on the roster, despite the Sooners' five-match losing streak entering this weekend's competition.
“I'm near the top competing for a Big 12 title,” Graham said. “That's where I expected to be.”
Even with a Bedlam environment in Stillwater, and the prospect of facing former OU and current Cowboy wrestler Tyler Caldwell, Cody is very optimistic about Graham's chances at an individual title.
“(Graham) is very relaxed at this point, more than anyone I've ever taken into the conference tournament,” Cody said. “I think that's going to be a big plus for him going forward. I don't think there's anybody in his weight class that he's not very capable of beating because he wrestles so hard.”
Graham understands that his tenure as a Sooner wrestler is counting down. It's all the more reason to compete at the highest level.
“It's been a blessing,” Graham said. “I'm just trying to enjoy every match.”