Perrotti returns All-American to Rutgers
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — No one could have ever thought it was possible at the beginning of the season.
It was the Rutgers wrestling team’s definitive goal at the launch of the year to have as many grapplers reach the podium as possible, but the All-American crown was probably thought to land on the head of a different Scarlet Knight.
Yet after a takedown and three-point near fall as time expired sealed a 10-2 major decision over sixth-seeded Nestor Taffur of Boston University, it was more than a possibility.
It became reality.
Anthony Perrotti reached the end of his road to the podium when he leapt into the arms of head coach Scott Goodale as the first Rutgers All-American since 2002 and the first under Goodale.
The animated and confident, seldom arrogant, sophomore struggled in his pure joy to put his emotions into words after claiming his All-American status at 157 pounds.
“I can’t even talk right now, I’m so excited. The third time’s a charm. I wrestled him twice this year,” Perrotti said before being congratulated and tackled by senior Vinnie Dellefave. “I had two heartbreaking losses to him. So what a better way to finish, beating him and being named an All-American.”
The journey to the podium was not easy for the Roseland, N.J., native at first.
Perrotti lost his first match of the NCAA Championships bracket after drawing 10th-seeded Blaise Butler. Perrotti was narrowly edged, 7-6, after failing to match the last takedown Butler registered.
After the loss, Perrotti rebounded with a 13-8 decision against Brandon Zeerip of Eastern Michigan to close out Thursday’s first day of competition.
Following the second-fastest fall in NCAA Tournament history over eighth-seeded Roger Pena of Oregon State and a win by fall following a reversal over Illinois’ Zach Brunson, Perrotti was slated to face Taffur for the third time this season.
Perrotti previously dropped his decisions to Taffur, 9-5, March 8 at the EIWA Championships and 6-5 in Rutgers’ dual meet Nov. 17 versus the Terriers.
For Perrotti, the matchup was ideal.
“If you were to tell me in the beginning of the year that I would have Nestor [Taffur] between me and to be an All-American, I’d be pretty happy,” Perrotti said prior to his match against Taffur. “It’s a match I’m looking for. I have two losses to him. What perfect timing to avenge a loss to become an All-American.”
The only points Perrotti surrendered were escapes in the second and third period.
Taffur was not able to match the offense and defense of Perrotti, who dished out takedowns, reversals and collected back points en route to the victory.
It is not about how talented Perrotti is, but rather how much of a “Cinderella” Perrotti’s story resembled.
For Goodale, it is all about Perrotti’s dedication to his craft and his willingness to be coached.
With those attributes in his arsenal, it is no wonder Perrotti became an All-American, according to Goodale.
“It’s a lot of hard work. That’s a program-type kid. He has been sticking to a game plan the day he lost the Drexel match at home at the RAC,” Goodale said, tears still fresh on his face. “He called me at two [o’clock] in the morning and we came up with a game plan. He stuck to the plan to perfection. He has laser-beam focus. He gets made fun of for saying he has it so much. He did what he had to do, and I’m so friggin’ happy.”
Perrotti was in the scenario to win out the consolation bracket to place third at 157 pounds. He dropped a 6-5 decision against second-seeded Derek St. John of Iowa in his next match, before dropping a 2-0 minor to Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin.
Perrotti’s tournament ended with him placing eighth in the nation at 157 pounds.
No one was more proud of Perrotti than the fifth-year senior Dellefave.
Although Dellefave was not the one to bring back a spot on the podium for Rutgers after dropping two decisions on the first day of competition, the Toms River, N.J., native hailed Perrotti for his accomplishment.
“Words can’t describe how happy I am for that dude. You wouldn’t even think, but for that dude to bring it back is crazy,” Dellefave said. “For him to do it, it’s all the props to that dude. He did everything. For him to bring it back that’s all on him, and he deserves it.”
Running off the mat after his decision, Perrotti was swarmed by his fellow Knights.
Dellefave, whose wrestling career is over, might have been the happiest of all for Perrotti as he slapped and jumped all over him.
Billy Ashnault, now director of wrestling operations, was also in the bum rush. The alumnus failed to reach All-American status during his career and was more than happy for Perrotti.
Sophomore Ken Theobold was there, too. Theobold was unable to accomplish his goal at 149 pounds during the tournament — dropping two decisions on the first day.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Ashnault was among the first to congratulate Perrotti. He has a bright future but has not begun his career attached to the program.
The future looks bright for Rutgers wrestling, and Perrotti was the first step.
After falling to his knees in emotion, Perrotti got up — his teammates still surrounding him — and put everything into perspective.
Then it hit him.
“[Bringing an All-American back to Rutgers] was bound to happen anyway. We train hard, just as hard as any other program, so it’s not a surprise to me,” Perrotti said. “We had a game plan and I followed the game plan. I rode him, got back points and got another set of back [point]s at the end. Words can’t even describe it, I’m an All-American.”