Well, aside from the fact he’s a really good wrestler.
But hey, finishing in the top four in each of the last three NCAA Championships tend to be a fairly decent indicator.
Three-time All-Americans don’t grow on trees and it’s safe to say the Nittany Lions have added yet another special athlete into their wrestling room.
With that, let’s hit the Penn State faithful with some knowledge and five things to know about incoming transfer Bernie Truax.
No. 1 – Wrestled in six different weight classes in college
This one absolutely blew me away.
It’s fairly common in collegiate wrestling to see guys jump around two or even three weight classes. Penn State legend Bo Nickal started his career at 174 before bumping up to 184 and then 197 his senior campaign.
Former Northwestern and Rutgers standout Sebastian Rivera followed a similar path when he entered college at 125. From there he was an All-American two times before moving up to 133 and 141 where he added two more top four finishes.
Clearly the unicorn of the all-time “Guys who jump around weight classes” is Cornell’s Kyle Dake. Dake won four NCAA titles at four different weight classes (141, 149, 157, 165) and is the only wrestler to ever accomplish this in college history. I’m not going to sit here and say no one else in the history of D1 college wrestling will match this feat, because it’s possible. But no one’s doing it.
Anyway, back to Bernie and his journey through the weight classes during his time at Cal Poly.
Truax started out his Mustang career wrestling a handful of matches at 149 before moving up to 157 his true freshman year. He then tried 165 pounds his redshirt freshman campaign but nothing seems to click on the mat as he only compiled a record of 29-17 his first two years.
But, Bernie really got the ball rolling his sophomore year when he went out at 174 pounds. He put together a 13-3 record, won his first Pac-12 title, and finished fourth in the 2021 NCAA Championships to claim his first All-American status.
Truax continued down the patented “Learn to gain 8+ pounds every single year – by Chris Snyder” eating plan and went up to 184 his junior season.
There he continued to impress on the mat and he finished runner-up in the 2022 Pac-12 Championships and his second straight fourth place finish in the 2022 NCAA Championships.
And in the spring and summer between his junior and senior years, Truax must have added Big Macs to his diet as he made his largest leap yet in college. And arguably the hardest leap as going from 184 to 197 tends to add completely different body types and strength to the equation.
But to his credit, Bernie Truax was able to navigate the wrestling waters with relative ease as he took home his second Pac-12 title and his third straight top four finish at the 2023 NCAA Championships.
However I believe Truax isn’t finished moving around weight classes. Possibly more on this later.
No. 2 – Beat Michael Beard, Max Dean, and Ethan Laird in three straight matches
In the aforementioned 2023 NCAA Championships, Truax was faced with an absolute gauntlet after falling in the championship bracket to eventual runner-up finisher Tanner Sloan.
Bernie’s parting gift in the consolation bracket was a matchup against Lehigh’s Michael Beard.
Penn State Wrestling fans certainly remember Beard as he was a former Nittany Lion who had an All-American finish his redshirt year in Happy Valley and he dealt Max Dean his second straight loss in the Penn State/Lehigh dual meet this past season.
So, needless to say, this matchup wasn’t going to be easy.
But Bernie was able to hold on and he pulled out the 4-3 decision to further his ride in the wrestlebacks. And his next opponent was none other than the 2022 NCAA champ, Max Dean.
In a crazy back and forth match, Truax took command with two first period takedowns. Dean then countered with an escape and a takedown of his own in the second period to take the lead, 5-4.
Then in the third period, Bernie turned the tables on Dean by pulling off a late reversal to notch the score 6-5 in his favor. However Max had already secured the riding time point and the match was tied 6-6 and headed into sudden victory.
Sudden victory was not kind to Truax earlier in the tournament as his lone loss was due to his opponent taking him down early in SV.
This had to be in the back of Bernie’s mind as he stood toe to toe with Max Dean.
Either way, Truax kept his focus and landed an early shot to Dean’s left leg. He then powered through to finish the takedown and keep his 2023 NCAA tournament alive.
Truax’s next opponent was Rider’s immensely talented grappler, Ethan Laird.
Laird entered the 2023 NCAA Championships sporting a 25-1 record and he had his sights set on some hardware.
And after a loss to the eventual champion, Nino Bonaccorsi, Ethan was dropped down into the consolation bracket where his first match was against Bernie Truax.
A win against Truax would give Laird a good shot at finishing on the podium and fulfilling his expectations of a high finish.
Bernie had other thoughts though.
Truax was all over Laird and he almost pinned him in the first period following the initial takedown of the match. From there the match was all Bernie and he cruised to win the 5-2 decision.
When the dust finally settled from this torrent three match stretch, Bernie Truax was the victor against a four-time All-American and NCAA Champion and two other NCAA All-Americans.
So yeah, Bernie Truax is pretty good.
No. 3 – Second grappler in Cal Poly history to earn three All-American awards
Cal Poly isn’t exactly known as a wrestling powerhouse but they’ve had their fair share of outstanding wrestlers over the years.
The 2022 version of the Mustangs had six ranked grapplers and held their first top 10 ranking since the 1982-1983 team. The 2023 team was also ranked in the top 25 but they didn’t possess quite the same firepower as the previous year.
In the history of Cal Poly wrestling, only two wrestlers have ever hoisted an NCAA title. Tom Kline was the king of the land in 1969 and Mark DiGirolamo bested the nation in 1976.
And no one other than Boris Novachkov had three All-American finishes.
That is, until Bernie Truax matriculated to San Luis Obispo in 2019.
Truax’s Cal Poly wrestling career puts him in line with some of the best ever to don the Mustang singlet. His three top four NCAA finishes, two Pac-12 titles, and 49-10 record over the past three years speaks for itself.
Bernie was also named the Cal Poly Male Athlete of the Year during the 2020-2021 season.
The only thing missing from his trophy case is an NCAA individual title.
No. 4 – Will be the Penn State Wrestling starter at 184 pounds
Speaking of NCAA individual titles, rumor has it that the coaching staff at Penn State is fairly proficient at turning outstanding wrestlers into champions.
It’s what they do.
So I guess it’s a good thing for Bernie Truax and his trophy case that he’s now a Nittany Lion.
And this a bad thing for the Big Ten and the rest of the nation at 184 pounds because this is where Truax will be competing this coming season.
Three-time NCAA champion Aaron Brooks struggled for much of last season making weight at 184 pounds. And in a recent interview Brooks indicated he had wrestled his final collegiate match at 184.
I believe the drop down to 184 will potentially benefit Bernie as the overall field at that weight class isn’t as daunting. Three of the top five finishers from last season won’t be wrestling at 184 pounds as one of them will bump up and the other two have run out of eligibility.
As for Aaron Brooks moving up to 197 pounds? Will there be any growing pains or issues?
Fear not Nittany Lion nation, something tells me Aaron Brooks will be just fine.
No. 5 – Truax will be an immediate NCAA championship contender
As I just mentioned, the 184 pound group nationally is solid, but they aren’t going to be top heavy.
Three-time All-Americans, Parker Keckeisen and Trent Hidlay, will most likely be the favorites going into the season. But with an entire off season under his belt in Happy Valley and with the access to some of the best wrestlers in the world and the best coaching staff in the nation, Bernie Truax is going to improve.
Truax has never faced Hidlay and he’s 1-1 against Keckeisen with both matches occurring at the end of the 2022 season.
Bernie Truax did not fly all of the way across the country and uproot his California home just to be good. He had one year left in his college career and he chose what any top level wrestler would choose every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
The opportunity and privilege to work with past and present NCAA champions and Olympic medalist is what dreams are made of. It was a childhood dream of Truax’s to wrestle for Cael Sanderson and Penn State.
And when he takes to the mat in mid November, he’s going to be singularly focused on one thing.
And that’s to win the whole f*** thing.