Though signing day is only two months away, and Mark Smith, the best high school wrestler in the U.S., still hasn't decided on a college, it sure is quiet in Del City, Okla. So why is Smith's mailbox empty? When the phone rings, why is it just his girlfriend calling? Why isn't the top wrestling recruit being recruited? Why bother?
"It would be dumb for schools to recruit me," says Mark. "They would be wasting their time since I'm either going to Oklahoma State or Arizona State." But Mark isn't receiving roses, valentines or hourly phone calls from the coaches at those two schools either. After all, the way the coaches at OSU and ASU see it, why wine and dine a kid who used to sit across from you at the kitchen table?
Mark's choice is between two programs run by older brothers. Lee Roy Smith, 35, is the head coach at 14th-ranked Arizona State. John Smith, 28, is the head coach at No. 1 Oklahoma State. "I don't want to hurt either brother's feelings," says Mark. "They both have a chance at getting me. When signing day [April 13] comes, it will be whatever side of the bed I wake up on."
The Smiths are the first family of wrestling. Lee Roy was a three-time All-America and national champion at OSU. John, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a six-time world champion and a two-time national champion at OSU, is regarded as the finest American wrestler of recent years. Another brother, Pat, a senior at OSU, could make wrestling history this season by becoming the first four-time NCAA champion. "Each brother seems to say, 'How do I do more?' " says Lee Roy. "Each outdoes the others. If Pat gets four NCAA titles, what's next?"
February 14, 1994
"I could become the first college wrestler not to lose a match," Mark says with confidence.
This season at Del City High, he is wrestling up a weight class at 189 and is 23-0 with 17 pins and five technical falls. With an 87-2 overall record in four years, he has won two state titles and a national junior championship. Mark is an unusual talent because he is so quick for his size. "I wrestle more like a 134-pounder," he says. "A lot of guys I face like to tie up their opponent and muscle him around. Hell, I don't like to touch them, I just give them a quick high crotch and a low leg." John, who wrestled at 134 pounds, pioneered this style, which is based on speed and low-leg attacks.
Every morning Mark drives his pickup truck to Del City High and parks outside the John Smith Field House. Inside the gym's lobby, he passes the Hall of Fame room, where portraits of his three brothers hang. In the middle of the room is a life-sized bronze statue of John, cordoned off by red velvet ropes. His parents' home is a veritable Smithsonian museum, full of artifacts from his brothers' years of athletic achievements.
But amid the expectations, Mark says he doesn't feel a knot of pressure. His brothers have taken a lighthearted approach to this unique recruiting battle. "When the windchill in Oklahoma is in the minuses, I call Mark and say, 'It sure is nice to be running outside in short sleeves,' " says Lee Roy.
"I'm on to his tricks," says John. "I tell Mark, sure, you can run in the sand if you like, but there's no coon hunting in Tempe." Coon hunting is Mark's passion, and his favorite hunting spots are near OSU's Stillwater campus.
"No matter what I do," says Mark, "I can't make a wrong decision."