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Best Husker Wrestlers Ever: No. 4 Tolly Thompson

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The Nebraska heavyweight won three conference crowns and an NCAA title for the Huskers in the 90s

1995 NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Championships
Tolly Thompson, see here (top right) posing with the other 1995 NCAA champions, is the greatest heavyweight to ever wear a Husker singlet.
Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

After unveiling No. 5 Brad Vering (also Honorable Mentions, 9-10, 7-8, No. 6 Robert Kokesh), it’s time to get into a very fluid top-four. I can’t remember how many times I’ve decided to change this order, but this is what I settled on:

No. 4 Tolly Thompson (1992-97)

The heavyweight from Janesville, Iowa took over after the graduation of Rulon Gardner and didn’t disappoint. In fact, Tolly Thompson turned in one of the greatest careers Nebraska wrestling has ever seen. A two-time runner-up in high school, Thompson flourished in college for the Huskers, earning an NCAA title and three conference championships. The three-time All-American is Nebraska’s all-time leader in career wins with a 157-21 record, topping No. 2 Robert Kokesh (144) by 13 victories. Boasting the fourth-best win percentage all-time at Nebraska (.882), Thompson also holds the career record for wins by fall with 72 (53 pins, 19 tech falls).

After redshirting his first year on campus and earning Husker Redshirt of the Year honors with an 18-5 record, Thompson rewrote the record books from the beginning.

As a redshirt freshman in 1993-94, Thompson secured the most wins ever by a Husker freshman with his 38-13 record. After finishing third at the Big 8 Championships, Thompson fell one win shy of All-American status at nationals.

Thompson put together one of the best seasons ever for Nebraska as a sophomore, as he finished with a 36-2 record with a Big 8 title and an NCAA Championship. Thompson won both his matches at the conference meet by a combined score of 31-9 before capturing the 1995 Heavyweight Championship at the NCAA tournament with an 8-0 major decision over Northern Iowa’s Justin Greenlee. Video seen below.

In 1995-96, Thompson won the most matches ever by a Husker junior with his 42-2 record (4th most ever in a single season in Nebraska history). The Husker heavyweight blew through the competition on the way to his second-straight Big 8 title with a pin and a 9-3 win. At the NCAA tournament, Thompson dropped a narrow 6-5 decision in the semifinal round before wrestling back for third place, securing All-American honors for the second straight year.

Thompson became Nebraska’s all-time leader in wins during his senior season with his 41-4 record. His school record of 157 career wins will likely never be beaten considering the fact that wrestlers don’t wrestle as many matches as they did in the 90s.

The team’s leader in wins (41), dual wins (17), dual points (84), pins (14) and tech falls (6); Thompson ran away with his third-straight conference title. In the first season as the Big 12, Thompson outscored his two opponents 30-4 on the way to a third conference championship. At the NCAA meet, Thompson pinned his first three opponents before losing another close one in the semifinal round. Thompson won two more through the consolation bracket to again finish third, earning All-American honors for the third time. Thompson earned the Manuel Gorrarian Award, given to the wrestler that records the most pins in the least amount of time at the NCAA meet.

Internationally, Thompson went on to win three U.S. Open Freestyle Championships and represented the U.S. on two world teams, taking home the bronze medal in 2005. Here’s a video of Thompson winning the 2005 U.S. Open.

And here’s Thompson again defeating Steve Mocco in 2005 at the U.S. World Team Trials.