Entering his senior year, there were some doubts about whether or not former Franklin High standout Ben Zogby would be able to take the mat again for the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) wrestling team. After an injury-plagued three years, Zogby had come close to quitting the sport that he started in elementary school.
But there he was in August, joining the rest of the Engineers for another grueling preseason. His effort to be part of the team again was rewarded not only by the coaches with a spot at 125 pounds, but also by his teammates with the honor of being named one of the team’s captains.
“It was humbling,” said Zogby during a break from the team’s midseason double sessions. “Being named captain kind of proved to me that hard work pays off…and it really kind of fueled me right into the season.”
He added, “Over and over, grueling day after grueling day, it gets tough if you’re not getting any recognition. It felt good to know that everyone was looking up to me like that.”
It is remarkable that Zogby, a state champion during his junior year at Franklin, is able to get on the mat and compete at all, let alone be a leader on an undefeated team (at the time of writing WPI was 7-0 following Saturday’s win over Roger Williams).
In his first match as a collegiate wrestler at a Roger Williams University tournament, Zogby tore the ACL and MCL in his knee, effectively ending his freshman season before it had even started. He had surgery to repair the meniscus in November and then a month later the ACL was repaired.
Zogby admitted that he wrestled most of his final year at Franklin with what he described as a “bum knee,” so the injury may have been a holdover from his high school days. After working through a rigorous preseason at WPI, unlike anything he experienced with the Panthers or with Wadsworth Wrestling Club (now called New England Gold), Zogby had to start all over again.
Before his sophomore season, he suffered another setback while sprinting on the school’s track. He landed wrong and felt his meniscus go for a second time. He was forced to the sidelines for six weeks. When he came back after the December break, he felt something in his knee and decided that he needed a break from the sport.
“If I can’t even run without doing that to my knee, what is wrestling going to do to my knee?” Zogby recalled asking himself. “I told myself that I was done.”
That changed early in his junior season. “I didn’t start the season and the day before Thanksgiving break I told myself I’m going to do this,” Zogby said. “I went to meet with Coach [Steve] Hall and said, ‘Coach, I want to be back on the team.’ He said sure thing.”
Within 24 hours, Zogby had his paperwork filed and rejoined the Engineers. At the New England Wrestling Association Duals, injury would strike again. Zogby was wrestling at 141, two weight classes higher than his usual position, because WPI was missing shorthanded. In the third period of a close match, Zogby’s opponent shot in causing a collision that left the former Panther with a ruptured testicle and a missing tooth.
“That day, I said, ‘No way. I’m done,’” Zogby admitted. “But, I thought about it for a week and thought I’ve already come this far, I owe it to myself to keep going. I told my coach, I’ll be back next year. He was kind of like, ‘Are you sure?’”
About his coach’s support, Zogby added, “Coach Hall has been nothing but great to me. He let me come back to the team after I said no more and not many coaches would’ve done that. I think he has gone through some of the same things as me and knows what I’m going through.”
When he was considering whether or not to step away from wrestling, Zogby also thought about his teammates and the support they showed through his injury issues, sending texts or making calls to check in and see how he was doing.
“Part of the reason I came back is that they were so supportive and I wanted to rejoin that band of brotherhood,” he said.
Wrestling is physically and mentally taxing and wrestling practice is supposed to be even tougher than a match, but after three seasons marred by various injuries Zogby is relishing the opportunity to be part of the team even during the grind of preseason or midseason double sessions.
“I honestly think about it every day,” Zogby said of how close his wrestling career came to being cut short. “These double sessions are tough, if you don’t look at the big picture and you only look at what you’re doing every day then you’re never mentally going to be able to get over that hump.
“A lot of people think about their senior year as a last chance to do something great. Last chance to win a title or whatever, but I’m thinking that every single match I wrestle is a match I’m not supposed to be wrestling. This is all gravy. If I can win, it’s one more win than I should have. For me, every single opportunity to compete is an opportunity that I shouldn’t have had and I should be thankful for.”
As captain, Zogby (who is 9-4 on the season, including a second place finish at the RIT Tournament) shares his experiences as a collegiate wrestler with the underclassmen, many of whom are going through this level of commitment and competition for the first time. He provides the encouragement to get guys working again and the recognition for guys that are putting in the effort.
“I can’t wait to compete again with the guys,” said Zogby, who was looking forward to this weekend’s meets against Roger Williams and Wesleyan in particular. “Getting out there on match day, even before you get out there, you get that feel of competition in the air and you know that everything you’ve been doing is going to pay off, even if you don’t win.”
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