By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Take a look at the roster for the Penn State wrestling team, one featuring five All-Americans and two national champions, and it's easy to overlook the name of James Vollrath.
With just seven career dual meet appearances entering his senior season, Vollrath doesn't have the same name recognition as wrestlers like David Taylor and Nico Megaludis, yet he has turned himself into a key cog in the Nittany Lions lineup so far this season.
Filling in for injured 2012 All-American Dylan Alton, Vollrath has opened the season with a 7-3 record, while going 3-2 in dual meets to help the Lions keep the 157-pound weight stabilized.
"James is a very good wrestler who's very strong and very athletic," said senior All-American David Taylor. "He's really talented and I'm really happy he's been able to go out and have the opportunity to compete because he deserves it."
Having spent the majority of his career competing in open tournaments and acting as a practice partner, Vollrath has relished the opportunity to compete as a starter.
Though he knew over the summer that the team would be counting on his contributions at the start of the season, Vollrath admitted he adjusted very little of how he trained and practiced during the offseason.
"I've always been training for the opportunity (to be in the starting lineup)," said Vollrath. "My mindset is to be at my best at all times and to always prepare to be my best."
Being a part on a lineup with such an array of distinguished individuals is not something that the fifth-year senior takes lightly, though it still does feel surreal to him at times.
After four years of staying mostly under the radar, the Richboro, Pa., native still gets chills hearing his name announced along with the likes of Taylor, Megaludis, and Matt Brown.
"When I was in high school I never imagined being a part of a team with three straight national championships," said Vollrath. "It's so surreal that some of these guys are my teammates and I'm wrestling with them."
Having the experience of not only being teammates with but also wrestling with guys like Dylan Alton and Taylor in practice has also helped Vollrath minimize his nerves this season.
Though replacing a former All-American like Alton can be nerve-racking, Vollrath knows that there are few wrestlers other teams can throw at him that are better than the ones he takes on in practice.
"I don't really feel nervous because I wrestle against All-Americans and national champions every day," said Vollrath. "Going out in a dual meet is just like another day at practice."
Although he got the chance to wrestle in three dual meets last year when Dylan Alton missed time in the middle of the season, the senior remains thankful to have once again gotten the chance to showcase his skills.
Vollrath doesn't mind being the guy who takes a backseat and helps make his teammates better, but with this year being his final season as a Nittany Lion, he is making sure to savor every moment he has left on the mat in Rec Hall.
"These past four years I've been trying to battle away and get a starting spot," said Vollrath. "Getting the chance my senior year to wrestle makes me really happy."
The work ethic, perseverance, and selflessness that Vollrath displays on a regular basis has left just as big a mark on his teammates as they have left on him.
Taylor, who came to Penn State the same year as Vollrath and has often battled him in practice throughout their careers, said that he appreciates not only his teammate's ability but also the pride he takes in being a Nittany Lion.
"He could have easily thought about transferring somewhere else and yet he's stayed here the whole time," said Taylor. "He's definitely helped me get better since I've been here and he's great teammate."
His attitude in the locker room has endeared him to the rest of the Nittany Lions just as much as his tenaciousness on the mat has.
"He's a goofball," said Taylor. "He's always laughing and in a good mood and one of those guys that you're really thankful to have on your team."
With Alton set to return sometime in the next month, Vollrath knows his time in the starting lineup may be coming to an end soon, but that hasn't affected the relationship between him and his injured teammate.
However long Vollrath remains the Lions starter at the 157 spot, he will continue to work as hard as he can and do whatever it is his team asks him to do.
"Dylan and I are always drilling each other and supportive of each other," said Vollrath. "Whatever happens I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity I get."
Vollrath Takes Advantage of Opportunity
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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