Resurgence of Rutgers rests on NJ talent

It is a date that has been circled on Scott Goodale’s calendar since he arrived at Rutgers University to head the wrestling program: Nov. 7, 2010.  The day not only marks the start of Goodale’s fourth season at the helm of the Scarlet Knights’ program, but also the year that Rutgers rises to national prominence.

And with a bevy of home grown, New Jersey talent, it is already showing in the practice room.

“There’s tension in the room. There’s a lot of competition, which is a good thing,” said Goodale, who boasts nine wrestlers with NCAA Tournament experience. “Guys are fighting hard to survive on that mat and you have to. There are just too many good guys and there are no breaks. That’s the difference — that has to be the difference.  It’s the only way you get to be a great program.”

Sophomore Scott Winston and the return of a duo of highly touted wrestlers to New Jersey highlight a roster that is set to fuel a resurgence of in-state collegiate wrestling.

And after sitting out last year with a redshirt, Winston is chomping at the bit to hit the mat again.

“It was the first time that I wasn’t in the starting lineup in my entire life,” said Winston, who finished his high school career at Jackson Memorial High School with an impeccable record of 137-0.

“It was something to get used to from a life standpoint — not having to compete every week. It was an adjustment all around, basically, to my life.”

Before the arrival of Goodale to the Rutgers wrestling program, the best grapplers in the state of New Jersey left the school in the rearview mirror to pursue a collegiate career with already established powerhouses.  But after three years of growing success, Goodale has the Scarlet Knights on the map and primed to burst onto the national spotlight.

And this year, the squad welcomed sophomore Mario Mason and fifth-year senior Alex Caruso back to the Garden State.

“On the wrestling side of things I was just not happy at all last year,” said Mason, who spent the past two years at the University of Minnesota. “Coming back here with coaches and wrestlers that I know has been great.”

Redshirt sophomore Scott Winston, courtesy of The Daily Targum

 

Mason hails from the Big Ten while Caruso comes to Rutgers after spending his first four years at fellow EIWA school Lehigh where he amassed two, 20-win seasons before losing his starting job to upstart freshman Robert Hamlin.

While 2009 might have been a disappointment in the eyes of Mason and Caruso, it has left the duo hungry in 2010; a drive Goodale welcomes with open arms.

“[Mario] wasn’t happy with the year he had. So now you have one of the top wrestlers in the country and he’s hungry,” Goodale said. “He finished fifth in the Big Ten Championship. Fifth in the Big Ten is almost harder than the national tournament.

“It’s the same with Alex Caruso. It’s his fifth year and he still hasn’t become an All American so he’s hungry.”

Also coming home to the State University of New Jersey for the 2010 season are Brendan Ard (Wisconsin), Dan Hopkins (Middlesex Community College), and Danny White (Penn).

Ard was a two-time New Jersey state champion at Watchung Hills High School. Hopkins wrestled under Goodale at Jackson Memorial High School and White was a three-time Prep National champion while wrestling for current Rutgers assistant coach John Leonardis at the Peddie School.

“We’ve got a tremendous work ethic along with incredible talent,” Goodale said. “It just makes it a much better room, and it’s reached the point where guys are watching. Our younger guys are watching how they work, train, and prepare. It’s been awesome.”

While the majority of these grapplers are gone in a few years’ time, the future remains bright on the Banks of the Raritan.

Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale, courtesy of The Daily Targum

 

Rutgers’ freshmen class might be small in size — only four wrestlers — but what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality.  Led by two-time New Jersey state champ Nicholas Visicaro, the foursome of Visicaro, Jordan Beverly, Anthony Volpe, and Michael Wagner combined for a high school record of 623-61.

“Our four freshman are talented,” Goodale said. “But we are at a luxury where we can maybe redshirt them this year. Usually you have to send them right out there, but we can sit them back and let them develop.

“Back in the day we’d be thrilled to have a high school national champ and now we have five guys in our locker room that were high school national champs. These guys are the future of our program and they are very, very good.”

The freshman will have the best seats in the house this season when Rutgers hits the dual meet schedule. And from the much-traveled Mason to two-time NCAA qualifying heavyweight D.J. Russo — the last wrestler left on the roster from before Goodale’s tenure — the Scarlet Knights’ roster is stacked with New Jersey talent.

And New Jersey talent is all this team needs to hit the ground running.

“We were very fortunate to have these guys coming back,” Winston said. “It’s showing to kids on the high school level here in Jersey that get recruited by the big schools out West that things are different out there.

“[Mason] still has the goal of being a national champion. Alex Caruso still has the goal of being a national champion. You can come to Rutgers and still have a shot at attaining your goal of a national championship, so why even jump the East and experiment out there?”

With this plethora of homegrown talent, it can only culminate in one thing: The Scarlet Knights’ supporters are going to be treated to a show this season.

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