OKLAHOMA CITY — It was quite fitting that Central York High School graduate James English earned distinction he's worked toward and sacrificed his body for more than a grueling six years in the session dubbed ‘The Blood Round.'
It's when All-Americans — the best eight wrestlers at their weight classes — are determined in the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
English, who's dealt with injuries throughout his collegiate career that caused him to miss more than two seasons' worth of matches, is finally one of those Elite 8.
“I was really happy to see him get his hand raised there in the Blood Round because there's a lot of blood and sweat that he's put into the sport to get his hand raised and be in the Top 8 in the country,” senior David Taylor said. “And he's not done.”
English will wrestle for seventh place when the tournament resumes inside the Chesapeake Energy Arena on Saturday morning.
It hasn't been an easy path by any means for the gritty, sixth-year senior from York. After going 1-1 on Thursday, the unseeded English opened Friday's session with a 3-1 win over UNC's Christian Barber. He followed that with a 4-3 win over Wisconsin's Rylan Lubeck.
“It's a little bittersweet because I came here to be a national champ and I know not many people believed that I could do that but I believed that I could do it,” English said. “So it was definitely hard to come back after that (second-round loss) and keep wrestling time after time but my team needs me right now and there's no use pouting about it. I've got to put it behind me and I can pout about it all I want after the season.”
Soon thereafter, English turned his focus to the Blood Round and Virginia Tech's Zach Neibert (10).
The two battled to a 4-4 tie — English depended on two reversals — and headed into sudden victory. There, English clamped down to secure the winning takedown as time expired.
As he walked off the mat, he sped up to get alongside a dejected Neibert and patted the Virginia Tech senior on the back and told him he thought he did a good job.
After Neibert headed to the locker room, English guessed correctly that his overtime takedown was the first offensive shot he converted in the tournament. Penn State coach Cael Sanderson has told the team that English is one of the best far-ankle scramblers in the country.
So far he's come out of most of his NCAA tournament flurries on top.
“This whole week has just been about finding a way to win,” English said. “I just have so many injuries right now it is hard for me to be offensive on my feet. That was maybe the first takedowns I've scored all tournament. I don't know. I've been hitting reversals. I've been hitting stuff I don't normally hit just any way I can find a way to win, just come through, keep fighting the whole time and never give up.”
English's goal to take third place evaporated when he lost in his next bout.
He was in control against Edinboro's David Habat (8) but got caught in a cradle and was pinned in 4:52. Now, English will battle last season's 141-pound champion, Oklahoma's Kendric Maple, for seventh.
English is still feeling the effects of multiple undisclosed injuries suffered earlier this season. Like he has his whole career, he's toughing through them.
“It's a brutal tournament,” English said. “When I get out there the adrenaline is going and I'm okay but in between and warming up it's hard. But this is it for my career. I can recover the whole rest of my life.”
His teammates have faith and have even been inspired by his willingness to sacrifice.
“When you talk about a guy who lives his life the right way and has had some very unfortunate things happen to him, James English is the first guy that comes to my mind,” Taylor said. “He works unbelievably hard,” Taylor said. “We talk about warming up for practice, he doesn't cut a corner. He runs every edge of the room.”