Oklahoma senior Andrew Howe looking strong again

By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling | Dec. 12, 2013, 2:26 p.m. (ET)

Oklahoma’s Andrew Howe owns wins this season over wrestlers who finished first, second and third at the 2013 NCAA tournament. Photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com

It’s been quite a journey for Andrew Howe.

Since he started his collegiate career at Wisconsin in the fall of 2008, Howe has placed second, first and third at the NCAA Championships while winning three Big Ten titles.

He’s finished second twice at the U.S. World Team Trials and second at the U.S. Olympic Trials. He's also won a Junior World bronze medal.

But for Howe, now ranked No. 1 nationally at 174 pounds for the Oklahoma Sooners, there are still plenty of lofty goals he is pursuing.

Howe has charged out to a strong start in his senior season. He already has defeated returning NCAA champion Chris Perry of Oklahoma State, 2013 runner-up Matt Brown of Penn State and returning third-place finisher Robert Kokesh of Nebraska.

Not bad for a guy who has battled significant injuries and hadn’t competed collegiately before this season since March 2011.

“It really wasn’t too strange or different for me,” Howe said of his return to the college mats. “I felt like I was right back in place once I got out there. It feels good to be wrestling folkstyle again.”

Howe took an Olympic redshirt in 2012 and battled eventual Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs tough in the first match of their best-of-3 finals series at the Olympic Trials.

Burroughs earned a hard-fought, 4-2, 1-2, 1-0 win over Howe in the first freestyle bout. Howe injured his knee late in the match and had to default the next bout.

Howe transferred to Oklahoma and took a redshirt during the 2012-13 season while rehabbing his injured knee.

Howe returned to the mat this past spring, winning a University Nationals title before placing fourth at the U.S. Senior World Team Trials at 74 kg/163 lbs.

Howe is part of a powerful Oklahoma team that is ranked No. 4 in the nation. The Sooners knocked off then-No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Bedlam dual in Norman, and followed by winning the team title this past weekend at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas.

Howe is joined in the Oklahoma lineup by Travis Rutt, another transfer from Wisconsin. Rutt is ranked No. 2 nationally at 197 pounds. OU assistant coach Jared Frayer previously coached Howe and Rutt at Wisconsin.

Frayer, a 2012 Olympian, also is one of Howe’s workout partners.

“Everything’s been great at Oklahoma – it’s been really good,” Howe said. “It really helps having Jared Frayer and Travis Rutt down here. Those are two guys I have a long relationship with. It’s made the transition pretty seamless.”

Like Howe, Rutt also has bumped up a weight class this season.

“Travis is definitely on a roll right now,” Howe said. “He’s beaten some good guys. Hopefully, he keeps improving and gets on top of the podium in March.”

The Bedlam win over perennial power and in-state rival Oklahoma State provided an early springboard for Oklahoma.

“It was awesome,” Howe said. “It was a really exciting dual and a really exciting atmosphere. It makes it more fun when it’s a rivalry dual like that.”

Howe downed Perry 4-2 in the featured bout between NCAA champions.

“I think it’s important to have a chance to see the best people at the weight,” he said. “It definitely helps wrestling some of the top guys early in the season.”

The 24-year-old Howe isn’t the only NCAA champion on the OU roster. Oklahoma’s Kendric Maple won an NCAA title last season at 141 before bumping up to 149 this season.

“Maple’s obviously a very good wrestler,” Howe said. “It’s good to be around a guy like that. He brings the competition in the room to another level.”

The powerful, hard-nosed Howe also has adjusted well after moving up to 174 this season. He previously competed at 165 in college.

“It’s definitely been nice moving up a weight class,” he said. “It’s a natural weight for me. I feel strong and healthy and ready to go every match.”

Howe is looking strong after being hampered by injuries in 2011 and 2012.

“It’s kind of unfortunate, but it’s part of the sport,” he said. “You have to deal with what you are dealt and move on. I’m feeling healthy again.”

Howe has joined an Oklahoma program that is thriving under the leadership of Coach Mark Cody, who has mentored top stars like Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner, Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland, World silver medalist Brad Vering and NCAA champion Mark Munoz.

“Coach Cody is a great coach,” Howe said. “He has so much experience and so much knowledge. He helps everyone a lot with their wrestling and training, and with living a good lifestyle off the mat.”

Cody said Howe made an immediate impression on him the first time he watched him work out.

“Everyone in our sport works hard, so when you see somebody work at a high level like Andrew does it’s very impressive,” Cody said. “He’s one of the hardest-working athletes I’ve ever been around. The way he attacks his warmup, his drilling and his live wrestling, that is what sets him apart. He does everything 100 percent. You look at him during practice and he’s soaked in sweat from head to toe because he works so hard.

“He’s very focused on coming into the room every day and getting better. It’s pretty impressive. He doesn’t waste any time when he’s in the practice room. He sets a great example with how he trains and he’s very coachable.”

Howe earned his bachelor’s degree this past summer and he just completed his first semester of graduate school.

“Andrew is a really good student – he’s had a 4.0 grade-point average since he came down here,” Cody said. “He’s a great young man with tremendous character. He’s one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met. He’s fit in great with our guys. You see him shaking everybody’s hand and giving them encouragement. He’s a very kind and considerate person. The way he represents our wrestling program is incredible.”

Once the college season concludes, Howe will turn his attention to wrestling full-time internationally on the Senior level in freestyle.

Howe has competed in a stacked 74 kilos weight class in the U.S. that includes Burroughs, who just won his second World title, along with young stars Kyle Dake and David Taylor. Howe dropped a marathon overtime bout against Dake in the World Team Trials before falling to Taylor in the match for third place.

Howe has proven he can excel on the Senior level. He already owns two tournament wins in Canada and he finished second in an event in the Ukraine last year. He won the 2010 U.S. Open and was second at the Olympic Test Event in London in 2011.

“I’m really looking forward to competing again in freestyle,” he said. “I want to win World and Olympic championships. That’s what I want to do and that’s what I’m planning on doing.”

Before Howe pursues those goals, his sights are set high for the NCAA Championships this March in nearby Oklahoma City.

“We have a really strong team,” Howe said. “We just need to keep improving throughout the season, and make a good run in March and look to walk away with the title.”