Illinois wrestling has often been overshadowed in the Big Ten by the conference’s powerhouses, notably Iowa and Penn State. Despite being one of the mid-level teams in the conference, the Illini have put forward some outstanding wrestlers over the years. Obviously, Isaiah Martinez and Jesse Delgado come to mind, but B.J. Futrell was the most prominent wrestler in the era before those two stars burst onto the scene.
Futrell was well known for his aggressiveness and emphasis on pins, which vaulted him up the leader boards in that category. He began his career at Illinois wrestling in the 125-pound weight class, before moving up to 133 pounds and ultimately, 141 pounds.
As a freshman in the 2008-2009 season, Futrell performed well at both the Midlands and the Las Vegas Invitational. His 6th place finish at the Big Ten Tournament earned him a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, his next season was cut short by an injury, but he bounced back in a big way in 2010-2011, during which he was named an All-American and went 3-3 to place eighth at the NCAA Tournament.
The 2011-2012 season saw him improve even further in the 133-pound weight class, as he put together a 30-9 record and led the team in pins. He was again named an All-American, and advanced to the semi-finals to finish sixth at the NCAA Tournament, again going 3-3.
Futrell was poised to burst onto the national stage in his senior year, as he started the 2012-2013 season with an incredible 19-1 record in the 141 lbs weight class. He also became Illinois’ all-time leader in pins with 38. But another injury sidelined him for the remainder of the year, and his collegiate wrestling career came to a close.
Fellow Illini Jesse Delgado would finish the 2013 season as the national champion in the 125 weight class, and Tony Dallago would earn his 40th pin during the following season to move into first place among the pins leaders at Illinois. But, Futrell showed that Illinois was capable of producing significant wrestling talent, which Delgado, Martinez, and others would solidify in the years to come.