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High School Sports
Letters brothers display top form for Shaler's wrestling team

Sunday, January 21, 2001

By Paul Zeise, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Shaler's Troy Letters has won wrestling tournaments at every level, but he didn't accept his status as an elite wrestler until about a year ago when he finally got his toughest opponent, his mentor and his role model, to shout "uncle" and admit he was defeated.

"I'd wrestle with him from the time he was little," said Letters' father Jeff, who was a standout wrestler at Fox Chapel High School. "But over the years he started getting tougher even though I could still beat him. Then he kept getting bigger and stronger, and it got to the point where he just started abusing me on the mats. I'd go to work with bruises across my head and my buddies would jag me about it. That's when I decided it was time to let his coaches take the abuse."

"However, I still wrestle some with my younger son Taylor and try to teach him some things."

Judging by the way Taylor Letters, a sophomore on the Titans wrestling team, has progressed over the past year, Jeff Letters' days of wrestling with him are most likely numbered, as well.

Being unable to defeat Taylor and Troy Letters on the mat is not something that makes Jeff Letters unique.

Troy Letters, a senior who wrestles in the 160-pound weight class, and Taylor Letters, who wrestles at 140, are ranked No. 1 in WPIAL in their respective weight classes. The two have a combined record of 39-2 this season -- Troy is 21-0.

And while Taylor Letters is on the verge of becoming an elite wrestler, Troy has already been there.

His career record is 128-5, with two of those losses coming from a controversial disqualification and a subsequent mandatory forfeit during his freshman year at the PIAA tournament. He is a three-time section and WPIAL champion and the defending PIAA champion. He can become the school's first four-time WPIAL champion and he holds school records for career wins and most career pins.

Troy Letters, front, goes against brother Taylor at Shaler's practice Thursday. The Letters are a combined 39-2 this season. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

He is also recognized as one of the top high school wrestlers in the country. Last summer, he finished second at the Junior National meet in North Dakota and in December, he won the prestigious Beast of the East tournament in Delaware.

"I don't worry about rankings and things," said Troy Letters, who is ranked No. 1 in the country among high school wrestlers at 160 pounds by Wrestling USA Magazine. "I want people to know me as someone who works hard and I want to be the best I can be. You don't ever want to get caught up in thinking you're the best because there is always someone out there better."

Troy Letters was recruited by every major college wrestling program in the country, but when it came time to make his choice he surprised many by picking Lehigh over Oklahoma. Lehigh is a perennial Top-20 program, but Letters said he based his decision on Lehigh's academic reputation along with its wrestling excellence.

"I'm obviously happy he made his choice because now we can see him wrestle a lot more," said Jeff Letters, who owns a roofing business. "And to get a degree from a prestigious university like Lehigh means he'll have a lot of opportunities to be whatever he wants to be in life."

Taylor Letters is aware that his brother's accomplishments could cause some people to expect big things from him.

"Sure it can be tough to always be compared to him, but I view it as a challenge. He has set a standard that I know if I strive for it, it makes me better."

"We never compare the two because they are different people," said Jeff Letters, who about six years ago built a wrestling room in his house complete with padded walls and mats. "When I got them started, I never imagined they'd be this good. I got them started in it because it was an activity that I was familiar with since I come from a wrestling family."

Taylor, like his brother, wrestled 125 pounds as a freshman and plans to move up to 160. He has a career record of 54-9.

While bloodlines have something to do with their success, Shaler Coach Rick LaFerriere said that the two succeed because they work hard and are passionate about wrestling.

"It is not like they are great athletes in the sense that they could succeed at any sport," LaFerriere said. "I mean, Troy can't even do a cartwheel and they both look a little awkward when they run. But they love wrestling and have sacrificed an enormous amount of time and have been committed to getting the best instruction possible."

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