True freshman impresses in early going
Growing up just down the road from Rutgers in South Plainfield, Mike Wagner always wanted to be a Scarlet Knight.
So when head wrestling coach Scott Goodale asked Wagner if he wanted to join the Knights, his answer was a no-brainer.
"Since I grew up 15 minutes away from Rutgers, I was always at wrestling matches and football games," the true freshman said. "Since I was young I always wanted to come to Rutgers, so when coach called me I just thought, ‘Well, I might be going to Rutgers.'
"Then I got the offer to come here and I took it. You're not saying no to that question."
Now a member of the Rutgers wrestling team, Wagner has proved that his recruiting was worth the time, posting two wins in the team's opening duals to earn a spot in the lineup at 197 pounds.
The roster spot that used to be occupied by graduated Lamar Brown was up for grabs since transfer Dan Hopkins won't be able to wrestle until his second semester.
And Wagner has yet to fold under the pressure.
"Sometimes you see some things in the practice you like, but then they take a step back and you think, ‘Wow, maybe you don't know how good they are.' But [Wagner] wrestles in front of the audience and he wrestles hard," Goodale said. "He just wrestles. He wrestles in all three phases, and he's just going to get better."
The only true freshman in the team's starting lineup, Wagner posted two victories against Sacred Heart and East Stroudsburg by a combined 24-2 score.
"I just looked at it as another match," said Wagner of his first collegiate start. "I put a lot of work in the room, and I felt comfortable out there. But I'm going to have to work harder for the upcoming matches."
If his first three matches in front of a crowd are any indication — including a decision over Hopkins at Wrestle-Offs — then Wagner is more than up to the challenge of collegiate wrestling.
His work ethic and unique style will aid the 197-pounder as he continues to turn heads in the practice room.
"He just wears people down, and it's nice to see a big guy who can do that," said sophomore Scott Winston. "You usually don't see big guys wrestle like Mike Wagner. He goes out there and — boom, boom, boom — he just keeps attacking, attacking, attacking."
Wagner put his scoring abilities on display Sunday, earning his first collegiate win in as many tries courtesy of a 16-0 technical fall.
"I was curious to see how he was going to do," Winston said. "You could tell he was excited, and I was excited for him. He went out there, and he's just a go-er, man."
Wagner attributes his attacking technique to his endurance and the coaching staff as the coaches try to get him ready for matches to come.
"I work with [assistant coach John Leonardis] a lot. He has taught me a lot so far," Wagner said. "And coach Goodale — he's just a great coach. He gets me pumped. He gets me going in the room. He knows every little technique too.
"I just keep working hard in the room so my endurance keeps going up. I'm just using that to my advantage because a lot of 197-pounders aren't very quick or can make it all the way to the third period."
Now getting the opportunity to show that endurance on the mat against other opponents, Wagner is starting for the team he grew up watching.
And he isn't going to give his job up anytime soon.
"I didn't think I was going to actually come out and actually start, but I just worked my butt off so I could get that starting spot," Wagner said. "It's a good job to have."