LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Out of high school, Wyoming assistant wrestling coach Teyon (Tee-on) Ware had his choice of universities.
One of the most highly-sought-after recruits in the country in 2003, his options included wrestling powerhouses Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Penn.
A native of Edmond, Okla., Ware narrowed his choices to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (where Wyoming Head Coach Mark Branch was an assistant coach at the time and recruiting him). The pressure-packed decision went in favor of Oklahoma. Some 12 years later he is coaching with Branch and getting the Wyoming Cowboys ready to take on 12th-ranked Oklahoma tomorrow night at 7 p.m. MT in the UniWyo Sports Complex.
"It was scary calling John Smith (Oklahoma State head coach) and telling him that Oklahoma State was not the place," says the man affectionately known as `T'. "I told him you WANT me, but you don't NEED me. He asked me to hang up and think about it, which I did. The decision was still the same, where would I be happiest. During my time at OU, every time we faced Coach Smith, he would say, `you should have been a Cowboy'. But I never regretted my decision."
That would be an understatement. As a Sooner, all Ware did was win two national championships at 141 pounds, place second once, and become a four-time All-American. He then excelled on the international level earning a bronze medal at the 2011 Pan-Am Games. He also was the United States National Champion, earned a spot on the US team at the World Championships, and was a member of the World Cup team.
An amazing resume, but as impressive as that is, he's an even better person. A God-fearing man with tremendous moral fiber, he's the kind of guy who seems like a good friend the first time you meet him. But make no mistake, his intensity is like no other, and he has the heart of a lion!
Ware will never forget his first experience in the Sooner wrestling room as a freshman. "I thought I was pretty good, but I got in there and saw things I had never seen before," he recalls. "They were grown men with tremendous intensity. It opened my eyes. In high school I pretty much did what I wanted. Lots of young guys want to be flashy. That might be 10 percent of what it's all about. Basic fundamentals and intensity is 90 percent of it. I said to myself, `are you going to adjust or are you going to be done?' Lot of guys might be longer, might be quicker, but if you don't have the fundamentals and a tremendous level of intensity you won't win at the highest level."
Ware expected to redshirt his first year. A returning All-American and a senior was ahead of him. "My mindset was to take a year and then follow him after he graduated," Ware says. "But in our Red and White meet to start the year, I beat him. His name was Nate Parker and he eventually was forced to leave the team. But he is a special guy, and we are close friends. One of the things I respected him for was the fact he was never bitter about what happened there. He moved on, ended up in Hollywood and has been in some big movies."
Ware's freshman year was special, to say the least. Not only did he earn a starting spot, he went on to win the national title at 141. A neck injury, which required surgery and a seven-month rehab, prevented him from winning the title again as a sophomore--he still made it to the semifinals and lost by a penalty point.
"I remember standing up there on the podium as a sixth-place finisher looking at the national champion. I felt so terrible, but I told myself I will never feel this way again. In fact I saw a picture of us standing on the podium, and I saw the look on my face. That picture, and the criticism I heard that I had been a fluke as a freshman, motivated me. I fed off the criticism."
By April of 2004 Ware was back wrestling. He made sure he took things slowly while all the while training to return as a national champion. "There was one thing I fortunately realized," he says, "you have to train far differently defending the title, than you did when chasing it."
He won the national title again as a junior, and then lost in the championship as a senior to finish as the national runner up. "Losing my final match was extremely hard to accept," Ware says. "But as I got older I began to see the big picture and that despite the last loss, I accomplished a lot."
"T" was raised by his grandmother, Millie Cross. "She raised my brother, my sister and me, as well as a lot of our family members," he says. "She put me in wrestling through the YMCA to get me involved in an activity. To this day she doesn't know the first thing about the sport, but she has always been my biggest fan. She never went to a championship, but she watched me win the national title on television. She told me she didn't need to know anything about wrestling, she just wanted to hear the stories. She is quite a lady."
Although his degree was in mass communications, Ware knew that coaching would be his career, and that career began at Binghamton (New York) University where he coached for three years prior to Wyoming. "I'm a God-fearing man and I wanted to bring glory to his name when I was done competing," he says. "Coaching allows me to do that."
When Branch called him about Wyoming's open assistant position, he, "threw me off guard, but I decided to come out and take a look at it. I said, `wow, it's pretty out here, even though I'm not a Mountain Dude'. But I could see the program had a lot of tough competitors and that it was on the rise. It was important that my wife, Shea (high school sweethearts who have been married a year-and-a-half), liked it. She jumped right in and has opened a gym here. As a city boy from a warm climate, I'd say I've adjusted to the cold, the elevation, and even those colors (brown and gold)," he laughs. "I'm doing fine, and I'm finally a Cowboy."
In the long term Ware wants to be a head coach, and he says he's learned a great deal from Branch. "He has taught me that coaching is getting guys to truly trust you. You can tell if a guy has really bought in when he's facing his toughest moment in a match. Does he revert back to his old habits or does he do what we've trained him to do. Some guys jump right in, while others are a little more stubborn. We're not here to change your style, we're here to get you better at the little things. We will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear."
Saturday's match with Oklahoma will be the second time Ware has coached against his alma mater. "They will come out and try to take over your territory. Our guys can't let them do that, we have to pull the trigger. I know it's my alma mater, but believe me, I want to win that match. I'm not getting paid by Oklahoma, I'm coaching Wyoming."
Despite what Oklahoma State's coach told Ware way back when, it is quite clear that he didn't need to be a Cowboy as a collegian. But for Wyoming's wrestling program, it's terrific that he is one now.