Marble Battles Through Adversity, Again & Again
Jan. 9, 2009
By Todd Merriett, Bucknell Athletic Communications
It was a sweltering hot day in the arid desert that is Las Vegas last spring. Bucknell wrestler David Marble had just completed what he called the hardest weight cut of his life as he prepared to step on the scale prior to the FILA Junior Freestyle National Championships. Little did he know his world was about to change ,,Ÿ again.
A native of Harpursville, N.Y., a small town not far from Binghamton, Marble grew up not knowing his real father. Already short one parent, the worst thing a child could ever deal with happened. His mother lost her courageous battle with cancer when he was just 7-years-old.
His mother’s death was the first of many Marble has endured during his short life of 20 years. The two-time NCAA participant estimates he has lost five or six people close to him, including two since entering Bucknell in the summer of 2006.
Following his mother’s passing, Marble lived with his sister and her father, Jake Furgeson, who is the man he lovingly refers to as “Dad”. Furgeson has acted like a father as well, watching Marble wrestle every chance he gets, which includes a trip to last year’s NCAA Championships half a continent away in St. Louis, Mo.
More than a decade after losing his mother, Marble was struck by calamity once again. Just prior to the 2006 Navy Classic, one of the first events of Marble’s college career, he learned his uncle had tragically committed suicide. The freshman wrestler still posted a 5-2 record and finished fifth at the tournament despite the dark cloud hanging over his head.
Now, back to Las Vegas, where the latest heartbreak for Marble occurred. He had literally just stepped off the scale and was pulled aside by Bison head wrestling coach Dan Wirnsberger. Wirnsberger moments earlier had received a call from Furgeson informing him Marble’s beloved aunt had passed away.
This aunt, who was a sibling of the uncle who committed suicide, filled a mother-like role for Marble as he grew up without his own. She had been sick for years, but it was still a shock to Marble.
“I broke down for a couple of hours,” remembers a somber Marble. “I was in tears and couldn’t handle it. The whole day was just horrendous.”
It was a difficult time for Wirnsberger, who was suddenly forced to become much more than a coach. He was now a counselor and a friend helping a teenager through a crisis.
“It was an emotional time,” recalls Wirnsberger, who himself is very close to his large extended family. “The next couple of hours were emotional. It was an aunt he was close to and we talked with him and comforted him over the next few hours. He came out the next day and seemed to have a fire in his eye.”
In what has become a trend, Marble overcame his grief and wrestled with great fervor as he placed second at the competitive event, going 4-1 in his five matches.
“I am a 36-year-old adult and I idolize and look up to Dave Marble with the highest degree,” raves Wirnsberger about one of the top wrestlers in his first recruiting class at Bucknell. “I have learned a lot about him in my two-plus years being around him. He can respond to certain situations much better than most of us. He has had more thrown at him than 99.9 percent of others his age. He is able to handle it, absorb it and respond to it. It says a lot about his character that he is able to take a negative and turn it into a positive.”
While Marble has dealt with a mountain of problems in his personal life, he has also had some challenges in the wrestling world. It is not in the same stratosphere as losing a close relative, but Marble was nearly deprived of his chance to wrestle. Harpursville High School seriously considered cutting its wrestling team before Marble even had a chance to be part of it. As an eighth grader, Marble had just seven teammates, but that group grew and soon built the program into three-time division champions.
A four-time team MVP, Marble won a state championship and served as team captain under head coach Josh Quick.
Even with that success at the high school level, Marble flew below the radar in the recruiting circles. Franklin & Marshall and Sacred Heart, as well as his hometown Binghamton Bearcats, showed slight interest in the 133-pounder. Wirnsberger, who took over a reinstated Bucknell program in the spring of 2005, spent the 2005-06 academic year focusing on recruiting with the program still a year away from competing. This allowed him to uncover the hidden gem that Marble was.
“Dave’s high school coach contacted me and made me aware of him,” recalls Wirnsberger. “I made contact with Dave and soon after brought him here for a visit. Once you first meet Dave you get a good feeling about the type of man he is. He is extremely likeable, always has a smile on his face and is always upbeat. We developed a relationship over a number of weeks and fortunately for us, it ended up working out where he picked Bucknell to continue his education.”
With Bucknell just resuming its program after a four-year absence, it would have been understandable if Marble had chosen to latch on somewhere else. But that thought never crossed his mind.
“To be part of history and help a new program succeed was one of the major reasons I decided to come to Bucknell,” mentions Marble. “I also liked the parallels with my situation in high school when our team was almost cut.”
With Marble and 22 other freshmen in tow, Wirnsberger led the Bison to a school-record 12 wins in 2006-07 and three of the talented wrestlers qualified for the NCAA Championships, marking the most NCAA qualifiers for the program since 1995. Marble, along with classmates Eric Lapotsky and Andy Rendos, comprised the trio that headed to Michigan for NCAAs.
Marble, who had 16 dual wins during the regular season to tie for third in program history, placed sixth at the EIWA Championships to earn a wild card berth to the national tournament. At the NCAA Championships, the rookie posted a 1-2 record with one of the losses to No. 1 Nick Simmons, who eventually placed third.
Last year, Marble, who was elected co-captain in the preseason along with Rendos, followed with an even better sophomore campaign. He posted a 27-9 overall record and equaled his freshman-year total with 16 dual victories. Marble performed much better at the EIWA Championships, losing in the title bout and earning an automatic berth to the NCAA Championships. He and Rendos became the first Bison to advance to the NCAA Championships in back-to-back years since Bobby Ferraro made four consecutive appearances from 1992 to 1995.
At the NCAA Championships, Marble once again posted a 1-2 record. His victory came over Cal State Fullerton’s Tyler Dillashaw, the same opponent he had defeated the previous year.
“My first year I expected to go to NCAAs, but looking back it was a big deal,” reflects Marble. “Last year I expected to be an All-American. I had defeated an All-American during the year (Navy’s Joe Baker). I expected so much it was a big heartbreak to fall short.”
While Marble fell short of his All-America goal last year, he still has two more years to reach his ultimate target, which is to be a national champion.
“These next two years I should be an All-American and be in the competition for a national title as long as I listen to these guys (Bucknell coaching staff),” predicts Marble, who works very closely with Bison assistant coach Dave Hoffman, who was a four-time NCAA qualifier and an All-American as a senior at Virginia Tech.
Marble is not alone with his lofty goals as Wirnsberger, who himself was a three-time All-American at Michigan State, believes he has it in him to be a national champion.
“The bar has been raised for Dave,” comments Wirnsberger about one of his star pupils, who garnered preseason recognition with top-20 rankings from both W.I.N. Magazine and Intermat heading into the 2008-09 campaign was owned a 16-5 record going into this weekend’s Virginia Duals. “If he isn’t thinking about being an NCAA champion, then he does not have the right goals or the right thought process. He has come into this program, believed in himself and bought into our philosophy and is more than capable of reaching his goal.”
The chance to become an All-American, and possibly a national champion, is what drives Marble as he trains throughout the year. He is often spotted showered and exiting the Kenneth Langone Athletics and Recreation Center as the sun is still creeping over the horizon as the majority of campus is still nestled under their blankets. That morning workout is just the beginning for the wrestler Wirnsberger claims is the hardest worker on the team. The afternoon will often bring more running, lifting or a live-wrestling session.
“Training was a part-time activity in high school,” explains Marble. “We would bust our buts for a couple hours a day, go home, and be normal kids again. Now, it is a lifestyle. It’s a grind. We spend every waking hour thinking about what we have to do to have a good practice and keep our weight under control. We have to do our school work ahead of time so we can go to these tournaments and be an athlete and a student at the same time.”
As he has gotten older, it is not only Marble’s wrestling that has gotten better, but his leadership. The co-captain has been a member of the oldest class on the team all three years he has been at Bucknell, but this season he is really trying to be a better leader.
“I tried to lead as much as I could as a freshman and then last year being a captain, but now we have to look over the younger guys and show them the ropes,” says Marble, who shares the captain title with Rendos. “It’s different now. We aren’t learning anymore. We are actually showing the young guys what to do and what not to do. It (leadership) continues to be more of a role as we get older.”
The younger Bison wrestlers will certainly look to Marble a number of times this year thanks to the difficult schedule Wirnsberger has lined up for the squad. In an about-face from the 2006-07 slate when Bucknell won home matches by scores of 46-0, 34-3, 42-0 and 49-0, the Bison will face three teams in the preseason top 20 this winter. Kicking off the schedule was a home date with No. 5 Missouri, while No. 19 Old Dominion will also visit Davis Gym. The most anticipated match of the season, though, takes place later this month when Marble and his teammates fly to Iowa to take on the No. 1 Hawkeyes, a storied program that has claimed 21 team national titles.
“Our schedule is nothing short of incredible,” exclaims Marble. “This year it is more focused on individuals. In order for me, Rendos, (Shane) Riccio and the upcoming stars to have success in the national tournament we have to wrestle those top guys from Missouri, Iowa and out at Las Vegas. It’s necessary to face a loss a couple of times in hopes that we will peak at the right time.”
Regardless if Marble is wrestling a top-ranked wrestler from Iowa or a run-of-the-mill rookie grappler from another school, he is sure to remember those people that helped make him who he is.
“I think from time to time that they are helping me, like a stroke of good luck,” says Marble passionately. “I’ll have a good day and just sort of look up. I do what I can and hope they aren’t thinking I am being as bad as I am.”