Oct. 17, 2013
Purchase tickets | 2013 Hall of Fame Class
RALEIGH, N.C. - Sylvester Terkay arrived at NC State 23 years ago harboring more doubts than dreams.
As a walk-on athlete he wondered if he could even make the Wolfpack’s highly regarded wrestling team. He also was apprehensive about the academic challenge at a school that turned out engineers and architects.
More than more than 500 miles from his small, coal-mining hometown of Lawrence, Pa., he was in a different world. But Terkay adapted and the cloud of doubts eventually dissipated.
He made the wrestling team, earned a scholarship, won four straight ACC titles, the 1993 NCAA championship, and set several school records.
Turns out he was about as good in the classroom as on the mat, making first-team Academic All-American three years and graduating with a political science degree.
In November, the Wolfpack’s big “Bear” will be reliving many fond memories when he returns to campus as a member of the 2013 NC State Athletic Hall of Fame class.
“It’s humbling,” Terkay said of being one of the first 20 people elected. “It might be a little overwhelming for me.”
Since leaving State, Terkay has been a pro wrestler, a pro fighter, and appeared in commercials and films. Now he’s back in Lawrence, single, and manning a sales position with Washington Automall.
Once all that seemed so improbable, the long journey to success from Lawrence, which Terkay remembers as having one store, a post office and no stoplights when he was growing up.
He had good times, tough times and sad times there. His mother died when he was 13. His father underwent two cancer surgeries, leaving older sister June to raise him with an assist from sister Deb, who was married and had her own children to nurture.
Wresting was Terkay’s outlet and his passion. Early on he competed in the 138-pound class, but became the “Incredible Growing Man” who weighed 190 as a high school senior and finished at NC State as a 265-pound giant.
Wolfpack coach Bob Guzzo knew about him, but didn’t recruit him.
Terkay didn’t win any prep state titles or other big events and received zero scholarship offers from major programs. So he went to Chowan University at the behest of a friend, got hurt, and left school after one semester.
“One point (at Chowan) I considered giving it all up,’’ Terkay said. “My sister June said: ‘No, hang in there. I’ll get you to a doctor.’”
Terkay hung in there, rehabbed and in the summer of 1990 cranked up his 1976 Buick, drove to NC State and introduced himself to Guzzo. Then a supple 6-5, 225 pounds, he looked like a modern Samson with short hair and was about as strong.
“He was very green, not very skilled on the mat,” Guzzo said. “But he had incredible strength. Off the charts.”
Despite his muscle and might, Terkay said he was initially intimidated. He recalls how veteran teammate Brian Jackson “beat the daylights” out of him in practice. Later his freshman year a shoulder separation added to the agony.
But Terkay showed grit and faith. Very religious, he found a “good church” in Raleigh, practiced hard, lifted weights fervently and long (sometimes over two hours before going to class), and spent most nights studying.
Though amiable and popular with teammates, who elected him captain two seasons, Terkay wasn’t the partying type. He was the quieter, business type.
“A great kid, very moralistic, a good representative” for the university, Guzzo said.
Terkay’s first big breakthrough came in the decisive match of the 1990 ACC tournament. The Pack needed a pin to win and it was up to the “Bear,” who had been sidelined much of the season.
Suspense swirled. Nerves tingled. Pressure mounted. But Guzzo remembers Terkay telling him before stepping on the mat: “Don’t worry, coach, I know what I’ve got to do.”
That was to pin Maryland’s Matt Groom, which Terkay did, to give NC State the first of back-to-back ACC championships.
“It was a big deal to win the ACC at that time,’’ Terkay said. “I was still hurt, but didn’t have time to heal.”
For the next three years, opponents probably had rather grappled with a real grizzly than tangle with the Wolfpack’s “Bear.”
Terkay went on to finish runner up in the 1992 NCAA finals, losing a heartbreaker. Ever resilient, he came back to claim the crown a year later with a quick pin, capping a perfect 41-0 season and a memorable college career.
He left with a school record 122 victories, 64 pins, an 89.7 winning percentage and about a 3.3 academic average.
“God orchestrated the events to get me there,” Terkay said, reflecting on his circuitous route to NC State. “He gave me a coach who knew me. Coach Guzzo helped me a lot more than you will ever know.”
Terkay also cited volunteer coach Greg Hicks, strength coach William Hicks, tough workout partners like Brian Jackson, and support from the athletic department.
“A lot of people cared about me,’’ he said.
Terkay had strong family backing as well. His father was unable to see him wrestle, but followed his son through the newspapers. Sister June frequently made the arduous, 8 hour-plus trip from Lawrence to Raleigh to watch her brother compete, and Deb often rode with her.
When Terkay won the NCAA crown in Iowa in 1993, both sisters were in the stands.
“June and Deb pretty much raised me,’’ said a grateful Terkay. “June worked to make sure I was taken care of, made sure I did what I needed to do.”
Terkay has pictures and newspaper clippings of the NC State glory days, but doesn’t dwell on them.
“You walk a fine line of not living in the past,’’ he said. “I wanted to make sure I pressed forward.”
So Terkay pressed on. He wrestled with the WWE, participated in mixed martial arts, and saw much of the world, competing in China, Thailand, and Japan, where he was voted most popular professional wrestler in 2002.
Traveling more than Gulliver, he stopped along the way to appear in more than 40 commercials and play small roles in several films.
He also taught at Christian wrestling camps, supported Athletes In Action, and today speaks openly about his faith. Terkay is profoundly thankful he wound up at NC State, where Guzzo’s friend, Tad Boggs, encouraged him to go.
“They took a chance on me (and) I to make the college proud of me, show gratitude; I’m glad I could win something and give back,” said Terkay, a walk-on who didn’t walk away when life was tough.
By A.J. Carr