"Son, you're the best heavyweight in the country," Cody said. "You just don't know it yet."
Last weekend, Flores stood on the podium of the 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Philadelphia with a second-place trophy in his hand. He became just the second student-athlete in program history to reach the finals and helped American to fifth place in the team standings, the best finish in school history.
"I'm happy because we're moving in the right direction," Cody explained. "The longer I coach the more I realize how hard it is to get someone on the podium, and to have three All-Americans definitely gives us a lot to build on for the future of the program."
Cody considers his three sons, George, Charlie and Henry, to be his greatest accomplishment, but being named 2011 NWCA Coach of the Year is nice too. His team sent a program-record six wrestlers to Nationals after crowning three EIWA champions two weeks before. Three grapplers achieved All-America status as the Eagles won 14 duals this season, both program highs.
"Being named the NWCA Coach of the Year is an incredible honor," Cody commented. "It's definitely something I am very proud of. But what I am most proud of is the work that everyone of our student-athletes puts in each day, not only to be the best wrestler they can be but to be the best student-athlete they can be."
Nine seasons have passed since Cody set up shop in the Marilyn Meltzer Wrestling Room. Since then American has begun a steady climb in the wrestling world and is now one of the elite programs in the nation, boasting 14 All-Americans in the last seven years. While each of these wrestlers has had a unique style and personality, they share one thing in common: the unwavering confidence and support of Coach Cody.
"The progression was really just believing what Cody was telling me," Flores said after defeating Jarod Trice to advance to the championship match. "It's about being the best all the time in every position."
Fellow All-American Steve Fittery is also a testament to Cody's coaching ability. After spending two years at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, Fittery transferred to American and compiled a career record of 67-5. He placed third at the NCAA Tournament and lost only one match his senior season.
""Mark Cody is the most respected head wrestling coach in the country," Fittery commented. "Ever since I came here two years ago, I've been telling everyone that Mark Cody is the best coach I've ever had. The most impressive thing about coach is that, even though he teaches us how to have success on the mat, he stresses the importance of doing your best in every aspect of life. He's a great coach but even a better person.""
This year's team was also built upon the success of juniors Matt Mariacher and Ganbayar Sanjaa. After taking a redshirt year last season, Mariacher returned to the mat and spent most of this year ranked in the Intermat Top 20 at 141 lbs. He was one of three Eagles to win an EIWA Championship and was one win away from earning All-America status at the NCAA Championships. Sanjaa, meanwhile, placed fourth at the national tournament in his first year with the team. Originally from Mongolia, Sanjaa won a junior college national championship at Colby Community College before coming to American.
Fittery, Mariacher and Sanjaa are all examples of Cody's ability to maximize talent by building confidence. Two are All-Americans and the third is a conference champion, yet none of these three student-athletes were heavily recruited coming out of high school; this theme holds true for many of the most successful wrestlers in American history. Daniel Waters '05, the program's first All-American, was an ex-Navy Seal who transferred to American after two years at Penn State. Muzaffar Abdurakhmanov '06 spent two years at Colby Community College but became both an All-American and Academic All-American as a senior. Even 2007 National Champion Josh Glenn '08 was not heavily recruited out of high school.
"Getting to where I want to be has never been a matter of how talented I am," stated Mariacher. "It has always been about how much I've bought into what Coach Cody was telling us and how often I do what he tells me to do."
These successes are the result of a program that asks student-athletes to give 100 percent at whatever they're doing at the time. Whether they're on the mat, in the classroom or having fun with friends, Coach Cody asks that his team give its all in all aspects of life.
"At American, we make good decisions all the time," Flores explained. "We always live like champions, and that's what makes this the best situation for me."
With a fifth place finish at this year's NCAA National Championships, the American University wrestling program has established itself among the national powers. This season was a culmination of years of continual growth and development, and now Coach Cody's squad deserves to be included among the nation's best.
"Respect for a program takes a long time to build," Cody said. "I'm definitely not satisfied, and I won't be until we win a national championship – or three or four."