It’s the type of match many wrestling fans don’t stick around to see or even care to pay attention to.
But as the first day of the 27th annual Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational came to a close, Indiana’s Nate Everhart’s victory over Western State College’s Charlie Alexander wasn’t notable, didn’t impact the rankings and was hardly an upset.
For Alexander, being back on the mat is notable; as he wrestled in Las Vegas, it was just three weeks after he’d finished up playing football for Western State. The alternative could have been not wrestling at all.
Alexander became a refugee. When Oregon announced it would be dropping wrestling in July of 2007, it rattled everyone in the wrestling community, especially Oregon natives like Alexander.
When the efforts to save Oregon’s programs went ignored by a non-degree holding member of the Ducks athletic department, wrestlers like Alexander had decisions to make. Stay in Eugene and continue your education or transfer out with the hopes of still wrestling.
Coming out of Crater High, a well-known program in Central Point, Ore., Alexander was a Junior Freestyle All-American and ranked among the nation’s best prep upperweights.
He chose Oregon due to its proximity to his hometown, but was recruited by several Division I and Division II programs.
Western State College in Gunnison, Colo., was one of the early schools which made a pitch for Alexander’s services coming out of high school.
Three years after the recruiting process, Western State coach Miles Van Hee now has Alexander on his team, but not the way he’d intended.
“We never want to see a program gone and we never want to pick up a kid and be glad a program was dropped so we can get someone in,” said Van Hee. “We’re not vultures flying around, that’s not fair.
“I’m sure (Charlie) knew that and understood that because we’d recruited him,” said Van Hee. “We love having Charlie on our team, it’s a blessing for us, but we’d rather see him still be at Oregon wrestling there.”
The decision to leave Oregon could have been tougher had Alexander been further along in his studies.
“A lot of guys were going to lose a lot of credits in school, so they couldn’t transfer,” said Alexander. That was the main reason the majority of the guys stayed.”
Kyle Bounds also left Eugene and is wrestling at Michigan State. Alexander wanted to wrestle. He’d rather transfer away and wrestle than stay and not compete.
“I wanted to wrestle, so I knew I was going to have to go somewhere,” he said. “It sucked having to leave my teammates and friends.”
When asked if Alexander had anything to say about Kilkenny, he chuckled: “Probably nothing you can print.”
But arriving at Western State had its perks and its familiarity – including the opportunity for the stout Alexander to get another shot at playing football.
“I got the opportunity to play and be successful and try it out,” he said. “It’s a good place to be. I was looking for a place where I could be successful and be comfortable. They recruited me out of high school and I liked it, but I decided to go to Oregon.”
Van Hee’s pitch was pretty simple.
“(Western) has what you are really looking for in the total package and co-educational experience and that was our push here.
“You can hunt, fish, enjoy the great outdoors and still wrestle as well – and play football,” he said. “I know Charlie looked at schools from all Divisions. He always said he was pretty sure he was going to go to Western.”
Van Hee and other wrestling coaches kept their distance, rather than trying to pillage the Oregon program before its impending demise.
“A lot of (coaches) waited until after the season was over – it was more of a respect thing,” said Alexander. “We were still trying to save (Oregon) last year and I just wanted to finish out all the time that I had there.”
As expected, Alexander was less than pleased with the decisions made by the Oregon heads in the Athletics Department.
“I was pretty upset, you make a decision to go somewhere and you think that’s where you’re going to spend your college career,” explained Alexander. “I was only three hours away from home – now I’m not.”
But as a Division I NCAA qualifier a year ago, Alexander struggled in Las Vegas – but with an obvious reason. Football.
“I wish I could have done better,” he said. “I’m still trying to get into shape.”
Success should come to Alexander, but the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference boasts four of the top nine teams in Division II, including returning team champions Nebraska-Kearney.
Van Hee hopes he’ll get some added fans because of Alexander’s presence in Gunnison.
“He’s getting another chance to compete,” said Van Hee. “I think it will be exciting for the Oregon people. He’s still their boy even though he’s now wearing a red singlet at Western State, they’ll be pulling for him representing Western in Oregon fashion.”
Article published for W.I.N. Magazine