Ask Oregon State wrestling coach Jim Zalesky about Mike Mangrum and he’ll tell you how far the senior 141-pounder has come in his time in Corvallis.
Mangrum has matured on and off the mat.
He has survived rough patches as he heads into the final leg of his college career.
“I think he’s really grown as a wrestler and I think he’s really grown as a person,” Zalesky said.
A gifted athlete out of Auburn, Wash., Mangrum took a redshirt year, then quickly had an impact on the Beavers the following season.
He reached the NCAA tournament in his first two seasons with OSU, then broke through for a fifth-place finish last season. He finished 38-5 and also took the Pac-12 title.
Mangrum is 32-4 this season and ranked as high as No. 3 going into today’s National Duals Regional in Gill Coliseum.
The Beavers wrestle Michigan at 1 p.m.
With 128 career wins, Mangrum needs six more to move into a tie with Les Gutches for fifth in the OSU record book.
Of course, what Mangrum really wants is a national title.
“I’m a year older, more mature than last year and the years before and I want it more this year than I have any other year,” Mangrum said.
“I’m still training hard, as hard as I did last year, if not harder. I think it’s just about me wanting it as much as I do right now.”
Growth on the mat has been ongoing.
Mangrum stubbed his toe a few times earlier in the season but is 13-0 since losing to Illinois’ B.J. Futrell in the Midlands Championships.
Losses came when Mangrum let up and didn’t push for the entire seven minutes. He often tried to sit on a lead.
“I realized that I needed to keep moving my feet and just keep pushing forward because I noticed that whenever I stopped wrestling and I just kind of stood in front of guys is when I would get taken down,” Mangrum said. “So since midseason until now, that’s been the biggest thing that I’ve been working on is continuously moving and continuously driving though my match.”
Growth off the mat was a little less subtle.
Mangrum was nearly thrown off the team for alcohol-related incidents.
All the wins, records, trips to the NCAA tournament would have been out the window.
In 2009, Mangrum was arrested and charged with second-degree disorderly conduct after he made comments to a passing group of bicyclists that resulted in a physical confrontation — described as a wrestling match in the Corvallis Gazette-Times — with one of the bicyclists, who managed to subdue him. Mangrum was intoxicated at the time.
He was sentenced to 12 months of bench probation and alcohol evaluation and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service.
The lesson didn’t stick.
Just a year later, Mangrum was arrested again. This time he decided to punch a yard lamp after a night on the town.
“I was walking past it and for some reason I just decided to take it out,” Mangrum said.
This time, Mangrum knew he could be in deep trouble.
Zalesky told him he would have to think long and hard about whether the Beavers were going to keep him on the team.
After some thought, Zalesky decided to give Mangrum another break.
“You’ve got to learn from your mistakes,” Zalesky said. “Wrestling, to me, is kind of like life. You’re going to either learn from your mistakes while you’re getting beat, and if you don’t, you’re just going to keep getting beat.”
It was an eye-opener for Mangrum.
Changes had to come.
“After the second time, I realized that I was on the chopping block,” Mangrum said. “One more of those and I was out of here. It put everything in perspective and it made me realize that going out and partying and all that stuff, that’s not what I wanted to do anymore."
Weekend drinking binges came to an abrupt end.
Mangrum said he no longer gets drunk and aside from a beer at home every now and then, stays away from alcohol altogether.
He prefers to stay home but serves as the designated driver on the rare occasions he goes out with friends.
“Just because I’m scared that if something happens, then that’s it,” he said.
“I think it’s helped me, too. It made me grow up and not be kind of an idiot anymore.”
Now, Mangrum is focused on finishing his senior season on a high note and then graduating with a degree in sociology this spring.
“It forces you to look at the things you really want, when you make a mistake,” he said. “Luckily, I got a second chance and a third chance.”