To say your last two years have been successful would be an understatement. In your senior year in high school you went 42-0, now as a freshman at UB you’ve qualified for the NCAA Championships. Has the success just carried over?
High school wrestling is very different from wrestling at the college level. In high school, you can get by with just being a better athlete than everyone else. At college, everyone is a great athlete and you need to be more in tune with the technical aspect of the sport. I worked real hard on using better technique and improving my athleticism just so that I could compete. The transition has been tough.
Will your experience from the High School Nationals last year – where you placed fifth – help you at all in preparation for the upcoming NCAA Championships in Albany that begin Thursday, March 21st?
It may help in the sense that it was a real big tournament with a lot of competitors. You have to be prepared to wrestle a lot of matches in one day. But I think what’s helped even more is what has gone on this season. Being in a Division I wrestling room everyday, and working with Coach (Jim) Beichner and Coach (Sean) Gibbs has helped even more than anything else.
During the season, you have been most successful in tournament competition. Do you prefer that format as opposed to wrestling in a dual meet?
If you notice, my first match at most tournaments is often my worst one, as far as the results go. That’s almost like a warm-up match in a sense. I do feel like I get better as the day goes along. That may be why I’ve had more success in tournaments than in dual meets – I get better as I wrestle more matches.
Going back to the start of the season, chart your progress as a wrestler.
I think I’ve changed a lot. My conditioning is so much farther along than it was at the beginning of the season. Most importantly though, I am mentally tougher. I know every match is going to be a battle, and it takes mental toughness to be able to compete at this level.
You posted a perfect 5-0 Mid-American Conference regular season record and then went on to win the post-season tournament. What enabled you to do this?
We started in Northern Illinois where I won my first two MAC matches in a dual meet with the host Huskies and Eastern Michigan. At that point, I realized that there were only three more MAC matches on the season, so I kept the ball rolling. At the MAC Championships, I knew I was expected to win, having come in undefeated and as the top seed. I didn’t want to let anyone down, it was my tournament to lose and I wasn’t going to do that.
What are your emotions heading into the NCAA Championships?
I’m real excited. It’s an honor just to compete with so many great athletes and to get the opportunity to become a National Champion. This is what wrestling is all about, and going to the NCAA Championships and shooting to become All-American or to win a National Championship is every collegiate wrestler’s goal.
There’s a chance you could face a guy like Cael Sanderson – who wrestles at 197 pounds, and is a three-time NCAA Champion who has never lost a collegiate match – at some point in this tournament. What would that be like for you?
I’d love to take on a guy like Cael Sanderson. Only 32 other people in the country have a shot at doing that right now, and I’m one of them. To have the opportunity to beat the best college wrestler would be a great honor.
What have the seniors on your team had to offer to you. Have guys like Dave Guarino – who went to the NCAA’s in 2001 – helped you out with anything in particular?
Yeah, they’ve all offered some advice. They tell me that even though I’m a freshman, I’m good enough to compete with anyone. They all have faith in me and continue to tell me to believe in myself and to be confident. They’ve been real supportive, as they have been all season long.
You say that your greatest athletic influences are your father, along with former coach Eric Gross. Can you expand on that a little more?
Ever since I can remember, my dad has always been there. He bought weights for our basement and he showed me how to lift. That got me ahead of the curve, and when I became a freshman in high school I already had a couple years of lifting weights behind me.
When I started high school, I really wanted to dedicate myself to becoming a great wrestler. Eric Gross came to coach at Lewiston-Porter after graduating from UB, and he was the best wrestling coach for me. We’d do morning workouts together, or whatever I wanted to do. Last year, when he was the head coach at Medina High School, he still helped me train everyday for the High School Nationals. Both of those guys helped me to become the wrestler I am today.
Who’s headed to Albany to watch you in the NCAA Championships? What does it mean for the tournament to be held so close to home?
Both of my parents are coming. I’m happy that it’s so close, because they can just drive down to Albany and enjoy every minute of it. Eric Gross and his wife are also going. Again, it was my parents along with Eric that have helped me grow as a wrestler, so it’s great they will all be there.
-The ’10 Questions with…’ feature is compiled by Geoff Nason
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