By Boots Gifford
When youre the best at what you do, people take notice.
They take notice even if you are tucked away at a small NAIA university in northcentral Montana just a few miles from the Canadian border.
For Montana State-Northern wrestler Turk Lords, that means being ranked the top overall wrestler in the country at 197 pounds.
Lords, a two-time NAIA champion and only a junior this year, was selected by Wrestling USA magazine as the No. 1 ranked grappler at 197 pounds the first time in the 14-year history of the magazine that a non-Division I wrestler was selected as top-ranked in the Preseason 200 Top College Wrestlers.
I was surprised and glad, really happy, Lords said, who added the recognition is nice, but rankings arent his primary goal.
Carrying a quiet demeanor, Lords doesnt display the usual bravado of many college grapplers. When asked about his success on the mat, hed rather talk about his teammates. I have great workout partners, hell tell you. When asked about his back-to-back national titles, hed rather talk about his coach. David Ray. Hes the best coach, by far, Ive been around. He teaches so much, hell explain.
But the gentleness fades away quickly as you watch the 6-foot-1 grappler stoically pace behind his teams bench as he warms up for a match. His friendly smile disappears and his gaze turns to an icy stare. At that moment there is no doubt about the strength and technique about to be unleashed on the mat.
Lords accomplishments prove that if you have the heart and desire, coupled with the right work ethic and competition, you can achieve the highest goals, Lights coach David Ray said. Our program speaks for itself.
Lords, with a 40-4 record last year, helped earn his status with impressive wins over nationally ranked NCAA-Div. I wrestlers at several tournaments last season, including twice defeating number two-ranked and returning NCAA-Div. I third-place finisher Nick Muzashivili of Michigan State.
While Lords doesnt particularly want the spotlight for himself, hes proud to have it shine on his Northern Lights team.
Im glad to bring Northern some recognition, he said. Being the only school in Montana with college wrestling, and having to travel so far, its tough.
The honor will give other young recruits another view of Northern and the NAIA schools, Lords said.
Whats nice about this recognition is it proves we can compete with the toughest competition, Ray said. We dont dodge it.
While some wrestlers might find the No. 1 ranking a bit daunting, Lords is taking it in stride.
I dont take it as added pressure, Lords said. but its something Im going to have to work to maintain.
With such dedication and talent, it may seem surprising that Lords hasnt landed at some Division I school more notable than Northern.
Im dedicated to both the state of Montana and I love David Ray. Hes a great coach, Lords said, explaining his desire to remain a Northern Light.
There were people who tried to convince Lords he would never reach this point at an NAIA school, Ray said. Thats neat for him, that he could reach that pedestal, especially when people told him he couldnt do it at a small school. But hes proven it.
Lords has been wrestling since the third grade when his dad, Ron, was his coach.
I never did freestyle or Greco until my freshman year (of high school), Lords said.
A Belt native, Lords competed at C.M. Russell High School in Great Falls and was a two-time Montana champion.
His dad and mom, Lou, were always supportive of his dedication to the support, Lords said, but they never pushed him either. They let me make my own choices.
Another major factor in Lords success has been his new bride, Quincie.
Shes been great, he said. Its been an interesting first year.
But the newlyweds have found a way to balance marriage, Lords wrestling career, and college.
They say that the first two or three years of marriage are supposed to be the worst, Lords said. Well, if this is the worst, Ill have a hell of a life.
Having someone who understands you, is supportive, and trusts you, Lords said, makes things just a little easier. When you love someone, it just keeps growing.
Lords tries to stay focused on the present, but keeps an eye on the future at the same time.
You always have to look to the future, said Lords, who is a diesel engineer major. I plan to go back to the (family) farm and hopefully be a wrestling coach. I hate to think about having to quit (wrestling) someday.
But for now, Lords said, he is going to concentrate on enjoying the time he has left in the sport he loves.
And there are still two national titles to be won.