By Tim Owen
For The Daily Item
UNIVERSITY PARK At first he thought Penn State would be too big, have too many students roaming the campus, and have class sizes into the thousands. And even though the town of State College is little more than an hour from his hometown, maybe it was just a little too far.
So he stayed home, literally.
Going from Lewisburg High to Bucknell, another prestigious academic university with a much smaller student population, this is the first time Derek Reber has lived away from home. And so far he is enjoying the ride as one of the newest members of the defending national champion Penn State wrestling team.
"At first I didn't want to go far away, not like this is far away, but go away from home," Reber said at Monday's wrestling practice in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex on the University Park campus. "I felt like this might be too big of a school for me, but really, I love it here."
Reber has had time to adjust to the ever-growing campus, which is literally 12 times larger than Bucknell's. He arrived at Penn State at the beginning of summer, went home for a small time and returned just in time for the fall session and the beginning of his fourth collegiate wrestling season.
Reber says he transferred from Bucknell to Penn State this past summer because, "financially, I was better off coming here," he said. "But I am also switching majors from psychology to nutrition."
Aside from the ever-so-important academic issues, he also comes to Penn State in hopes of rejuvenating his once-flourishing career as a wrestler.
In high school Reber, the son of Franklin and Theresa Reber, became a household name in the Lewisburg area, winning the PIAA championship as a senior and placing at states the three years prior. He finished his career with 165 victories compared to just 10 losses.
During his first year at BU it appeared as if Reber's success in high school would carry across town to Bucknell. As a true freshman he rode a 31-12 record all the way to the NCAA championships, which still marks one of the best freshman campaigns in Bucknell's history.
The following year, however, Reber suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss his entire sophomore year. He took a redshirt, and came back to compete during his third year.
But the effects of the knee injury lingered as Reber just barely finished above .500 for the season. Looking for a fresh start with a healthy knee, Reber decided it was time for a change. With two years of eligibility remaining, Reber joins the ranks of the 2011 NCAA team champions and the consensus No. 1 team in the nation for this upcoming season. His new coach said Reber is wrestling at a whole new level.
"Reber is looking really good, especially lately," said coach Cael Sanderson, who as a collegiate wrestler won four straight individual NCAA titles with an undefeated career record. "Just in the last week, when we started wrestling off, he has really turned it up a notch. He is a talented kid."
Reber echoed his coach's outlook, "I feel like I'm doing really well in there."
And that is what it will take if he is to find an opening on the loaded starting lineup of the Nittany Lions. Eight of the 10 weight classes are sealed with their opening day starters. But 133 pounds, the weight class Reber is now wrestling after beginning his collegiate career at 125, is one of the two starting slots that are up for grabs.
His stiffest competition is Frank Martellotti of Shady Side. Last year Martellotti won 18 bouts as a true freshman at 125 pounds, but he too has since grown into a 133-pounder. He didn't finish the year last season, though, as he was ruled academically ineligible for the spring semester. Still trying to work out his grades, there is a chance he won't be available to compete until the spring semester of 2012. If that is the case, 133 pounds will be Reber's for the taking.
Either way, the pair will have their final wrestle-off Thursday night at Rec Hall during Penn State's annual Intrasquad dual meet beginning at 7. Martellotti edged Reber in their first wrestle-off in the practice room, but the Lewisburg native said he is just one move away from reversing the roles.
"We had that wrestle-off last week, just to see where we're at," Reber explained. "I lost 3-2. I had 43 seconds of riding time, and there were a couple positions that I gave up with like 30 seconds left and he scored."
If he can correct what he deems as mistakes and win Thursday evening, then Reber will join the star-studded Penn State starting lineup that already includes a national champion and four All-Americans.
For Reber, joining the ranks of Penn State's talented wrestling squad is one of the main reasons he chose PSU. And before he leaves, he also wants to join that quartet of All-American grapplers.
"I didn't really reach (my goals at Bucknell), and that is part of the reason I came here," Reber said. "I qualified for nationals already, though, and that was one of my goals."
And the other?
"I definitely want to be an All-American by the time I graduate."
Tags: Cael Sanderson, Derek Reber, Frank Martellotti