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Eric Larkin, 2003 Hodge Trophy winner

(Originally published in the April 4, 2003 issue of W.I.N.)

By Craig Sesker, W.I.N. Staff Writer
Arizona State senior Eric Larkin could not have scripted a more perfect finish to an outstanding career.

Eric Larkin

Larkin not only won the NCAA championship at 149 pounds before a packed crowd of 16,436 fans at Kansas City’s Kemper Arena, but he knocked off defending champion Jared Lawrence of Minnesota in the finals to win his national title.
With this impressive national tournament performance and a dominant 34-0 season, Larkin was named this year’s Dan Hodge Trophy winner, April 2. The award, presented by the International Wrestling Institute and Museum and Wrestling International Newsmagazine (W.I.N.), is given to the most outstanding collegiate wrestler and is considered the Heisman Trophy of amateur wrestling.
“I’m very proud of Eric. This is a tremendous honor for him and for our program,” Arizona State coach Thom Ortiz said. “Eric is following Cael Sanderson, who won this award the last three years. Who ever follows Cael has to be a pretty special wrestler. We are really excited for Eric. He is very well-deserving of this award.”
Larkin edged three other Hodge Trophy finalists to win the prestigious award, which is now in its ninth year. Illinois senior Matt Lackey and a pair of talented sophomores also turned in impressive numbers: Lackey was 38-0 at 165, Iowa’s Steve Mocco was 36-0 at heavyweight and Cornell’s Travis Lee finished 34-0 at 125.
“Everything just came together for me this year,” said Larkin, also named the Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA tournament. “I am just happy to finally reach my goals. I just kept wrestling hard until I finally won a national title. All the hard work was worth it to get to this point.”
Coming into the NCAAs as the No. 1 seed, Larkin capped a perfect senior campaign with a 10-8 win over the second-seeded Lawrence; marking Larkin’s third win over the defending champ this year. Larkin moved up a weight class this year after finishing second as a junior to Iowa State’s Aaron Holker at 141 pounds.
Larkin scored bonus points in 20 of his 35 victories this season. He recorded 11 falls, two technical falls and seven major decisions. He also was named O.W. at the Pac-10 Championships and the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
He won four conference championships at three different weights in his career at Arizona State. Larkin was fourth in the nation at 133 pounds as a freshman in 1999. After taking a year off in an attempt to make the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, he was third at the 2001 meet as a sophomore.
Larkin, a native of Tucson, Ariz., led the Sun Devils to a surprising fifth-place finish in the team race at the 2003 national meet. Arizona State also won the Pac-10 title.
“Eric really took on more of a leadership role this year,” Ortiz said. “He brought the guys together and helped us win the Pac-10.”
Ortiz said Larkin actually injured his knee during his semifinal win over Oklahoma State’s Jerrod Sanders.
“He tweaked his knee and he may end up getting it ‘scoped.” Ortiz said. “He was a little concerned about it going into the finals.”
Ortiz said Larkin ability to beat the defending champ three times in a row said a lot about his ability.
“Lawrence is a really tough wrestler,” Ortiz said. “For Eric to beat him three times is pretty amazing.”
Larkin moved up a weight this year when he was caught between 141 and 149 pounds.
“He knew he would need to get bigger and stronger to wrestle at 149,” Ortiz said. “He gained the muscle he needed. He was in the weight room just a couple days after the nationals. He said right after the season last year he was going to come back and win it this year.”
Larkin is one of just four ASU wrestlers to become a four-time All-American and just the sixth Sun Devil to win a national title. He finished with a 123-12 career record.
Larkin has been successful balancing the rigors of competing while also being a husband and father. Larkin and his wife, Melissa, have one son and another child on the way.
Larkin also was recognized as a Maroon and Gold Scholar Athlete for carrying at least a 3.0 grade point average. He earned his degree in business information at Arizona State.

The following is a breakdown of Eric Larkin’s career statistics at Arizona State:

Season School Year of Eligibilty Bouts W L T Falls W Pct. All-American Weight
1999 Arizona State Freshman 32 27 5 0 4 84.3 4th 133
2001 Arizona State Sophomore 30 28 2 0 6 93.3 3rd 141
2002 Arizona State Junior 36 31 5 0 15 86.1 2nd 141
2003 Arizona State Senior 34 34 0 0 11 100.0 1st 149
Career 132 120 12 0 36 90.9 four times
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