Dave Orndorff came late to the sport of wrestling.
“I didn’t start wrestling until I was a sophomore in high school,” the University assistant coach said. “The football coach kept urging me to wrestle and I finally gave in. I fell in love with the sport right away.”
By the time the former Kent-Meridian heavyweight was a high school senior, he was the state runner-up. By his senior season at Oregon State University, he was the runner-up at the NCAA national championship tournament and an All-American.
For the past decade, Orndorff has been a highly valued assistant coach to Don Owen at U-Hi, working primarily with the team’s upper weight classes and helping the Titans to a pair of state championships – in 2005 and 2010.
So, with all that dedication to the sport of wrestling, you would expect Orndorff to push his sons onto a wrestling mat early and often.
“No, I really didn’t,” the soft-spoken giant said. “My wife’s father was a college basketball coach and she didn’t have a lot of experience with wrestling and I really encouraged them to find their own way.”
“My son, Tanner, came to me one day and told me that he never wanted to wrestle and that he would always be a basketball player,” he recalled. “I would have to say that, as a wrestler, Tanner is the hardest working kid I have ever worked with in this sport.”
Letting his offspring find their own way still led them to wrestling early on.
“Tyson, my oldest, was really good friends with (CV coach) John Owen’s son, Brian, and they wrestled together,” Orndorff said. “My second son, Tegan, had a great senior year a year ago and he placed seventh at state.”
Both of Orndorff’s oldest sons wrestled as heavyweights – same as their father and uncle, Mat, himself an NCAA All-American wrestler at Oregon State and now the head coach at Lewis and Clark.
This season there are three Orndorffs in the starting lineup for the Titans.
Senior Adrian Orndorff, the coach’s nephew, is ranked No. 5 in the state at 152 pounds. Tanner Orndorff, a junior, broke into the latest state rankings at 145 at No. 11. Freshman Tatum wrestles at 220 pounds and may have the brightest wrestling future of them all.
“The cool thing about Tate is that, as a freshman, he’s already doing so many things the right way,” Adrian Orndorff said. “He is going to be a force to be reckoned with the next three years.”
Head coach Owen agrees.
“I am so excited about what Tatum can accomplish and I am looking forward to the next three years,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed having all of Dave’s kids in the wrestling room and I really enjoy watching him with his boys. He’s a great dad and he’s a terrific wrestling coach. He’s a big part of our success here.”
Having his uncle in his corner during a match is a big asset, Adrian Orndorff insists.
“I love having Uncle Dave there during a match because he’s so calm during a match,” he said. “Coach Owen is great asset to have in your corner, too, because he is so good at helping you and he will yell instructions to you during the match. But Uncle Dave is quiet and supportive.”
Dave Orndorff insists there’s no conflict during a match involving family. In his mind, he’s not a coach. He’s a father.
“I’m always going to be a father in that situation,” he said. “It’s different when it’s your son, especially. And it’s different for me when it’s Adrian, too. I know exactly how hard my kids have worked and how much they’ve sacrificed to get where they are. I don’t know that about the other kids in the room since I don’t live with them.”
And that workload has been big.
“My boys, especially the youngest ones, were always coming with me to practice,” Dave Orndorff said. “I always brought at least one son with me. They got into wrestling freestyle over the summer and they’ve both been to the national tournament. I would say both Tanner and Tatum wrestled 40 matches or more during the summer.”
Adrian Orndorff , on the other hand, takes more of an in-season view of the sport.
“Wrestling is my favorite sport, no question,” he said. “But I still like to play baseball and play golf. I will work out with my cousins, too.”
The final weeks of Adrian Orndorff’s season will be interesting. A final decision of which weight class he will enter for the post-season will likely be made after this weekend’s Dream Dual tournament at East Valley.
“We will get a chance to look at some of the 160-pounders from the other side of the state this weekend,” he said. “After we do that, we’ll make a decision on going at either 152- or 160-pounds. At 152 I’m already ranked and I have a reputation, but seeding isn’t everything as far as I’m concerned. I kind of like the idea of being unranked and surprising people.
“I’m excited about the rest of my season and I’m in a much better place than I was in a year ago. Last year I was busy trying to learn a lot of moves. This year I realized that you don’t need a lot of moves to handle a given situation. You just need to have moves that you can do perfectly, again and again. That’s made a huge difference for me. I think my cousin, Tanner, learned that earlier than any of us and he’s seeing success sooner than any of us. Tate, on the other hand, just seems to naturally understand what it takes from watching the rest of us figure it out – that’s what makes him scary to think about down the road.”
The family’s dedication to wrestling now has the seal of approval, the coach said.
“My wife didn’t grow up with wrestling and she didn’t have the background to understand all the intangible things the sport teaches kids,” Dave Orndorff recalled. “But she’s on board now. She told me that the sport teaches our kids things they can’t get anywhere else. That means a lot.”