By Logan VanDine
ON the mats of Alumni Gym, many Rider wrestlers have claimed conference titles, been named an All-American and dominated on a national level, but only one Bronc has been dubbed “The Franchise.”
Graduate student Ethan Laird, the latest in an elite Rider lineage, pinned his name in history, as decades of decision and devotion culminated in an unforgettable season.
“Wrestling has always been number one for me; the past six years of my life have been wrestling,” Laird said. “It’s been the number one thing that I have cared about, the number one thing that I have been focusing on, the number one thing I think about, so being at Rider wrestling has been my life for six years.”
Before Rider, Laird was tearing through high school athletics in three sports. Throughout his high school career, Laird gave baseball and football a try, even though it was a demanding schedule to tackle three sports all at the same time.
“In high school, the day after wrestling ended I was at baseball tryouts, and the day after baseball tryouts it would be football tryouts, and the day after football I would go to wrestling practice, so it was always 365 days a year,” Laird said.
Surprisingly, Laird did not give up football in high school to compete in wrestling full-time, becoming his high school’s best quarterback and free safety at General McLane in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
“My senior year, I was all-state in football and after that happened I was like, ‘Maybe I want to play football,’ but then I had a really good senior season of wrestling, and so I knew I was going to wrestle. Even though I knew I liked football, I knew wrestling was my sport.” said Laird. “Once you’re in a sport like wrestling that’s so individual, everything you do is on your shoulders, because once you play team sports, it’s a little different because you can do well and still lose.”
During his high school wrestling career at General McLane, Laird compiled 138 all-time career wins, the best in school history.
“My senior year, I finally had a breakout year where I pretty much dominated everyone and I took second at states. It was 138 wins but a lot of losses, more losses than what you normally would average,” the 197-pound athlete said.
Even though Laird had his share of defeats, he was still highly touted in the college selection process.
“I was talking to ten-ish schools, a lot of schools that are in our conference. … It was more similar to Rider schools that were reaching out and I had a full ride to all of them and a lot of them were closer to home,” Laird said.
Despite the full rides that he was getting from schools, Laird wanted to go to Rider, even though they did not give him a full scholarship.
When Laird first sat down and met with Head Coach John Hangey and Assistant Coach Nic Bedeloyn, he knew Rider was the place for him.
“Our coaches Nic and Hangey were just guys I knew I would get along with, they were guys that believed in me from the get-go and they made me want to compete for them,” Laird said of his recruitment. “I needed a little more money from them, they got it for me because even though I had better offers at different places, those were the two guys I wanted to wrestle for.”
Laird immediately made an impact his freshman year, ending with an impressive 17-10 record during the year. He placed second in the Eastern Wrestling League and took second place at the Princeton Open and fifth at the Keystone Classic.
“That was a crazy year,” Laird said. “The college wrestling season was long and hard. It beats you up physically and mentally so it beats you down, but Nic and Hangey gave me the right things to focus on to get through that year.”
Hangey, who just finished his sixth year coaching at Rider, spoke highly of Laird as more than just a wrestler.
“He’s a kid with just tremendous character and I want every kid in my program to embrace those qualities. [Laird] came from a really good program in high school and had a great coach and great support from his family,” the former Division I All-American said. “He made sure that our culture was correct by leading by example, by holding kids accountable, putting himself in a leadership position, by doing the right things, being a silent leader and when you get nicknamed ‘The Franchise,’ you did the right thing.”
Laird is coming off his final year as a Bronc, becoming a Mid-American Conference (MAC) Champion, placing sixth overall in the NCAA Tournament and being named All-American.
For Laird, the MAC Championship was just another match.
“To be honest, I didn’t feel a thing. It wasn’t anything different from a regular match because being a MAC champ was not my goal this year, being a MAC Champion was something I expected was going to happen along the way to being a national champion,” Laird said.
As he wraps up his Rider career, Laird, who is majoring in business administration, still sees wrestling in his career post-Rider, but this time in a different role.
“I want to coach wrestling,” the All-American said. “I keep telling everyone as they say ‘but you have an MBA and all of that.’ I’ve taken a lot of classes in my six years at Rider and none of those subjects sound quite as good to me as wrestling is and coaching.”
With the coaching mentality, he may already have an opportunity right out of college.
“Our plans are to keep him around as a coach so he can give back,” Hangey said. “He’ll be an amazing coach, because he understands wrestling at a really high level and the best thing about Ethan is that he can get it across.”