University at Buffalo wrestling coach Jim Beichner had but a vague idea what he was getting when he invited Mark Budd into his program. Beichner never had seen Budd on the mat. He was extending an invitation based on the recommendation of another coach. All Beichner knew is what he'd been told, that this kid who'd advanced to the Ohio high school finals was a tireless worker determined to mine every ounce of his potential.
"We trusted the coach," Beichner said. "And when Mark first got here he struggled a little bit. He ended up redshirting his freshman year and it wasn't a great start to his career. But ever since his freshman year he's done nothing but get better every single year."
The scouting report was accurate. Budd, a senior, has developed into an All-America candidate, a contender to win a national title at 133 pounds. He's ranked among the top 11 in his class in all four major national polls. He's shown an iron will that reminds Beichner, once a Pitt assistant, of a former Steelers linebacker renowned for his intensity.
"Mark's tough," Beichner said. "It's like, if you relate it to football, he's like Jack Lambert tough. I don't know if Jack Lambert was the best athlete on the field, but he had that look in his face, he just wanted to knock you down and beat you up. And Mark Budd has that same kind of mentality. He wants to knock you down and beat you up. You could throw anything at him in the practice room. You could ask him to run through a door and he'll try it. The door might get the best of him, but he'll try it."
Budd has shown an admirable capacity to rebound from the lowest lows, to fashion disappointment into a finely honed motivational tool. Last season, upset after failing to place in the prestigious Las Vegas Invitational, he knocked off the country's No. 1 wrestler in his class.
Budd went into this year's tournament in Las Vegas with designs on winning it all. He beat the nation's fourth-ranked wrestler in advancing to the semifinals. He was less than a half-minute from moving on to the championship match when the match took a sudden turn. It was a bitter loss, one that lingered as Budd dropped two subsequent matches, placing sixth earlier this month.
"I mentally kind of broke [in Vegas] after the semis match," Budd said. "I felt I should have won, I didn't, and I couldn't bounce back. I kind of mentally broke. I think it helps though, because it just makes me tougher, makes me want to work harder in the room. So I think the losses help although it's not fun to lose."
Budd was back on the mat Saturday morning for his first match since the disappointment of Las Vegas. Edinboro, the nation's No. 12 team, was in town with a stacked lineup that included the 16th-ranked wrestler in the 133-pound division. It was time for Budd to reestablish his reputation, which he did in scoring a 4-1 victory.
"We think if he uses [Vegas] the way he used it last year, he gets that fire back in him, he has a chance to definitely be an All-American and maybe win a national title," Beichner said. "It won't be attained if he wrestles exactly the way he did [Saturday]. He even has to step it up another notch."
Budd makes no secret of how he yearns to culminate his career. He wants to become the second UB wrestler in three years to earn All-America status, the first to win a national championship. He wants to take a run at that door, only this time it's the door that gives.