Rutgers find motivation in New Jersey fanaticism
Apart from their competition between who has the better cheesesteak and whether Wawa or Sheetz is better, New Jersey and Pennsylvania both love their wrestling. It’s really something both states pride themselves in.
While both states pride themselves in their grappling, they also do it for good reason. New Jersey and Pennsylvania produce some of the top wrestlers in the nation.
An overwhelming majority of the Rutgers wrestling team is from New Jersey and the next closest state represented by the Scarlet Knights is Pennsylvania.
Competing close to home is something everyone on the team cherishes, but when you talk about New Jersey, it’s a whole different animal of passion, knowledge and almost a sense of craziness.
But what is clear is the love for the sport.
It’s something unique for junior 149-pounder Ken Theobold, who hails from Toms River, New Jersey, and wrestled at Toms River South High School.
“The fans here are great. We’re lucky enough to have a good fan base being out of New Jersey and close to [Pennsylvania], which is another big wrestling state,” Theobold said. “But, New Jersey is one of a kind, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like that the fans not only want us to do [well], but expect us to do [well]. That’s a good expectation to have.”
Those expectations from the New Jersey fans are good when the Knights are placing All-Americans and living up to them, but it can be tough to deal with when podium spots are all that matter.
That took head coach Scott Goodale some time to get used to, but after finally crowning an All-American last season, he knows what the New Jersey wrestling fans expect and what others judge the Rutgers program on.
“It’s very simple. We are judged on what we do at the National Tournament. The way I look at this team, I think we have five or six guys who can really compete,” Goodale said. “Dual-meets are great, and the guys who know me know that I’m a big dual-meet guy and want to win every single time. But I’ve learned that we are judged on those last three days in March.”
Everyone in the Knights’ program welcomes the pressure. The expectations and critical New Jersey fans are perfectly justified.
After all, the Knights have those same goals in mind.
“New Jersey wrestling crowds have always been crazy. It’s one of the best fan groups in the country,” said junior heavyweight Billy Smith. “There [are] a lot of expectations coming from people in New Jersey, and they expect you to be tough and go out and compete. I think those expectations are perfectly normal and should be expected of us. We’re at the highest level of our sport, so I think those demands should be met. We’ll fulfill those expectations.”
With all the added pressure and demands from their home state fans, the Knights especially feel the need to show up. While it might discourage others, junior Anthony Perrotti, along with other Rutgers grapplers, welcome it with open arms.
“It’s pretty crazy. I grew up and wrestled in New Jersey my whole life,” Perrotti said. “There [are] always expectations to succeed, but that’s why I love wrestling here. I love living up to the expectations and achieving those expectations, so hopefully, we can please the fans of Jersey. No way I would have it any other way. I love this place.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.