With the bottom five unveiled (Honorable Mentions, 9-10, 7-8, No. 6 Robert Kokesh), it’s time to start unveiling the top-five Husker wrestlers of all time.
No. 5 Brad Vering (1996-2001)
Brad Vering was one of the best wrestlers to ever come out of the state of Nebraska, as the three-time state champion out of Howells went 148-2 during his high school career. While in high school, Vering also won two Junior National Greco-Roman titles (1995 and 1996) while also winning a Junior National Freestyle title in 1996.
Vering made a major mark on the Husker program, as he became the only Nebraska-born player to win an NCAA title for the Huskers. He finished his career with a 124-26 record, putting him in seventh place on Nebraska’s all-time win chart. A four-time Big 12 Conference finalist, Vering was at or near the top of the heap nationally for essentially his entire career while wrestling in three weight classes. He earned All-American honors three times and holds the fifth-most dual wins in Husker history with 62.
Upon arriving to Lincoln in 1996, Vering looked poised to enter the starting lineup as a freshman at 177 pounds, but an ankle injury forced him to redshirt. After recovering from his injury, Vering finished his redshirt year with an undefeated 11-0 record in open tournaments.
As a redshirt freshman, Vering stormed onto the scene, finishing with a 33-9 record (4th most ever by a Husker freshman). In the Big 12 Conference tournament, Vering stunned the top-seeded Mark Munoz of Oklahoma State 4-2 to win conference gold his first year. Vering failed to place at the NCAA Tournament, but was named the nation’s Freshman of the Year at 177 pounds.
As a sophomore, Vering went 26-9 after moving up to 184 pounds. All nine of his losses were to ranked wrestlers, with seven of them coming against guys ranked in the Top-6. At the conference tournament, Vering again defeated Munoz, this time in the semifinal round, before falling to Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson 9-5 in the championship match. Vering again lost to Sanderson at the NCAA tournament in the semifinal round when he was pinned in the first period (video below). And if anyone out there doesn’t know who Cael Sanderson is, I’ll let you in on a little secret...he was the greatest collegiate wrestler of all time. He went 159-0 in his career, the only wrestler ever to go undefeated all four years of their college career, and he won four national titles and three Hodge Trophies (like the Heisman for wrestling). So there’s not much to be ashamed of when losing to Sanderson, who also happens to be the current head coach for Penn State, which has won eight of the last nine NCAA team titles under his watch. Oh yeah, and he also won Olympic gold in 2004 in freestyle wrestling.
In the 1999-2000 season, Vering moved up to 197 pounds and dominated. His 38-3 record is the eighth-most wins ever by a Husker in a single season and the second most by a Nebraska junior. Vering’s only trouble that year came from a familiar foe in Mark Munoz. After getting the better of Munoz the previous two years, Vering struggled against the Cowboy at 197 pounds. He lost both meetings with Munoz during the regular season before losing to him again in the Big 12 final. After falling short of conference gold, Vering went on a run at the NCAA tournament, as he went on to defeat Iowa State’s Zach Thompson 2-1 in the final to win Nebraska’s seventh individual national title. Thompson defeated Munoz in the semifinal round, spoiling the prospect of another Vering-Munoz matchup.
Going into his senior season, Vering was looking to defend his title as he was staying in the same weight class for consecutive seasons for the first time in his career. However, Vering had a slight drop-off in his final collegiate season, going 27-5 on the year. Again, Vering advanced to the Big 12 title match, and again he was facing Munoz for the conference crown. And again, Munoz bested Vering in a 5-3 decision. Munoz went on to capture the NCAA title in 2001, while Vering finished in seventh place to capture All-American honors for the third-straight year.
Internationally, Vering transitioned to Greco-Roman wrestling and was one of America’s best for years. He was a U.S. World Team Member four times (2002, 2003, 2005, 2007), helping lead the U.S. to its first-ever team Greco-Roman title in 2007 when he won the silver medal at 84 kg. He also finished fifth at the 2003 World Championships. A four-time U.S. Nationals Champion, Vering also represented Team USA at the Olympics in both 2004 and 2008. Vering earned a silver medal at the 2003 Pan-Amican Games before winning gold at the Pan-Am Games in 2007.