Subbing for Sonny, senior Nord a starter at last

Joe Nord has spent most of his career at Minnesota as a backup; now he’s being asked to fill in for injured All-American Sonny Yohn on the nation’s No. 4 team.

Derek Wetmore

One might think that when fifth-year senior Joe Nord was tapped to replace injured All-American Sonny Yohn at 197-pounds, he would jump at the opportunity.

Not so fast.

âÄúIf I could give anything, IâÄôd have Sonny in the lineup, because itâÄôs better for the team,âÄù Nord said. âÄúBut itâÄôs not the way itâÄôs worked out.âÄù

Come again?

âÄúIt really seems like our team has a legit shot to win the national title, and I just want to be a part of that any way I can. If thatâÄôs keeping Sonny healthy [and] in the lineup, then thatâÄôs [what I want to do].âÄù

ItâÄôs not to say that Nord hasnâÄôt been grateful for the chance âÄî he has âÄî but as assistant coach Joe Russell described him, Nord is a selfless competitor who strives to make his teammates better.

ItâÄôs fitting, then, that Nord came into the season as a backup whose role was to do little besides help Yohn improve. But when Yohn was injured during the Southern Scuffle earlier in the year, Nord was thrust into a starting role.

âÄúIt’s hard when he wasn’t a starter coming into this year,âÄù Russell said. âÄúA lot of times you lose those guys because they don’t think they’ll see any time on the mat,âÄù meaning wrestlers in NordâÄôs position often quit, transfer or just mentally check out.

âÄúBut he’s been there, and with Sonny getting hurt it’s been real important, and we’ve been real fortunate to have Joe Nord out there with experience,âÄù Russell said.

Despite that experience, there is no ignoring the fact that Nord has struggled since taking over at 197.

âÄúI know IâÄôm wrestling tough guys and some of my losses are close, but IâÄôm just really happy to get the chance to compete my senior year,âÄù Nord said.

At the National Duals he went 2-2 including an 8-2 loss to this weekendâÄôs likely opponent, WisconsinâÄôs Derrick Borlie. Nord has wrestled in every Big Ten dual and lost all three bouts, one by a major decision.

Fortunately, it hasnâÄôt mattered yet. The Gophers have made a habit recently of jumping out in front of teams at the lighter weights (125, 133 and 141), so by the time the dual reaches 197 itâÄôs often been decided.

But with the No. 3 Badgers in town this weekend chances are Nord will take the mat with the dual still in the balance.

MinnesotaâÄôs three losses this season have been by a total of seven points, with the Gophers and their opponents winning five matches apiece each time. The difference has been bonus points. That being the case, Nord can be valuable even in defeat âÄî provided he doesnâÄôt yield bonus points.

âÄúLosing is never easy; IâÄôve taken my lumps. But IâÄôm just trying to do my best and wrestle as hard as I can,âÄù Nord said.

Nord came into college as a heavyweight, and though he was a two-time state champion, he claims he âÄúwas never really that great.âÄù

Nonetheless, he was recruited by J Robinson and then-assistant coach Marty Morgan to come to Minnesota. As he added weight âÄî he topped out at 245 pounds âÄî he said it became clear that Ben Berhow would earn the heavyweight spot. So he began cutting weight to get to 197 and ended up as YohnâÄôs backup.

Bouncing around to various weights and playing backup roles has hampered NordâÄôs development, Russell said.

âÄúBecause he’s been a backup for a lot of his college career, he hasn’t had a lot of matches to get [it] figured out mentally, and I think that’s where he struggles,âÄù Russell said. âÄúPhysically he’s very gifted, and it’s just that experience and not having that early on is hurting him a little bit now confidence-wise.âÄù

ItâÄôs not uncommon for wrestlers to come from wrestling-rich family backgrounds, and Nord does, but his lineage is slightly uncommon. NordâÄôs father, John, played football at Montana State and then played semi-professionally in the United States Football League, where he suffered a major knee injury.

Following the injury, John tapped some high school connections and wound up wrestling in what is now the WWE under names like Yukon John, The Viking, and Nord the Barbarian. His son Joe was always watching, already keen to help out the injured.

âÄúOne time when I was six I thought he was really hurt when he wrestled The Undertaker,âÄù Joe said. âÄúI ran down to help him out and almost got to the mat before security stopped me.âÄù