How a signed John Smith photo ended up in Pennsylvania, courtesy of Mason Rudolph

STILLWATER – Dominick Nania would really just say hello and goodbye to him.

Nania, 28 years old and recently hired to restart the wrestling program at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, had opened his office for the Pittsburgh Steelers while the team stayed on campus for training camp.

Former Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph accepted the offer.

It’s a long-standing tradition for the Steelers to occupy St. Vincent, with this most recently marking the 55th time Pittsburgh has held preseason practice at the college. And the backup quarterback loved Nania’s office.

“It’s near the dressing room and is a comfortable chair,” Rudolph said ESPN‘s Brooke Pryor during training camp.

Rudolph would study film in the room, which was a perfect combination of being close enough to the dressing room but far enough away to be quiet. He also ate lunch at the office every day, and occasionally Nania stopped by to get something.

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“Nobody really knows because it’s hidden from every other coaching office,” Nania told Tulsa World. “I just walked in and got my stuff and he was like, ‘Hey, do you want me to go?’ and I’d say, ‘No, you’re fine.’

Dominick Nania (copy)

St Vincent College wrestling coach Dominick Nania, 28, is trying to restart the school’s wrestling program.

Courtesy of Dominick Nania

“For one thing, he had a much more important job than I did, he’s fighting for the most prestigious jobs in the sport at this point.”

These quick hellos and goodbyes turned into full-blown conversations as the camp progressed. One of those conversations revolved around an OSU sticker on the bookshelf in Nania’s office.

“Did you go to OSU or something?” Rudolf asked Nania.

“No, I’m just a fan,” Nania said. He admits he’s always admired OSU’s wrestling coach John Smith.

Rudolph shared stories about his friendship with Smith’s son Joe and some other stories with Nania about his time in Stillwater.

But Rudolph noticed Nania’s admiration for Smith. As a thank you from Rudolph for allowing him to use Nania’s office, Rudolph approached OSU’s strength coach Gary Calcagno and asked if he could send Rudolph an autographed photo of Smith.

“I guess the guy was quite a bit younger and he watched us wrestle and Oklahoma State was one of his favorite schools and that’s why I signed a picture,” Smith told Tulsa World.

A few days later, a photo of Smith’s 1992 Olympic gold medal arrived in Latrobe, captioned with Smith’s signature and the words, “I scored on that high step to go ahead and win the 1992 Olympic gold!” I wish you all the best – John Smith”

Rudolph gave it to Nania.

John Smith photo (copy)

The photo that John Smith sent to Nania, which is currently hanging in Nania’s office.

Courtesy of Dominick Nania

The photo has been framed and is currently hanging on the wall in the same office that Rudolph fell into.

“I was literally stuck in my tracks,” Nania said of the gesture. “It’s made a huge difference for us because we have a brand new wrestling program starting next year and we’re currently trying to build a program here so just I’m going through a really difficult time too.”

At this point, Nania had already been working in St. Vincent for three weeks. He is currently attempting to build a Division III program from scratch, with the group expected to begin wrestling next season.

Rudolph was fighting for a starting spot with the Steelers, a fight he would lose to quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett.

But if Rudolph faces Carolina in Sunday’s Pittsburgh game, Rudolph could finally break through and earn a start. With rookie Pickett questionable due to his second concussion of the season, Rudolph shares starting reps with Trubisky in practice this week and could earn his first start with the Steelers since 2021.

And while it’s not yet decided if Rudolph will start for the Steelers on Sunday – the first time he would be active this season – Nania will always remember Rudolph’s character.

“Thinking of me in that little moment just shows what kind of person and character he is during this time, which has been very difficult for him,” Nania said.

In this week’s episode, Guerin and Bill discuss the far-reaching implications of the 2014 Bedlam classic and break down this weekend’s game at Norman. Also some interesting matchups in the high school playoffs.

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