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Year off provides development for heavyweight

Scott Goodale got a taste of what Billy Smith’s opponents go through every time they grapple with the heavyweight on the mat.

The Rutgers head wrestling coach went against the redshirt freshman in practice Tuesday, a bout that featured an instructor doing his best to corral a 19-year-old only starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

Smith liked his coach’s energy.

“Goodale likes to ride a little funky stuff [on the mat] and likes to go on top of me to try and get me down,” Smith laughed. “He’s a good workout.”

While Goodale is one of the fitter coaches around, he was a little gassed when describing Smith.

“Not good for me, not good for me,” Goodale said. “He’s a horse.”

Wrestling at around 250 pounds, Smith faced an opponent more his size in Phil Catrucco during the Scarlet Knights’ first dual match against Clarion.

He had little trouble with him, either.

The Wantage, N.J., native registered two takedowns against Catrucco en route to a 6-1 win in his first career dual start, controlling most of the match.

Goodale felt Smith was capable of that performance last season, straight out of High Point (N.J.) High School.

With the graduation of one of the top heavyweights in program history in D.J. Russo in 2011, the temptation to plug Smith in right away was always there.

But Goodale knew Smith needed an extra year to develop, so he redshirted him knowing it might have an effect on the team’s performance.

“We probably would have been better if he was in our lineup and would have had a better record and won a lot of matches, but a lot of this is an individual sport,” Goodale said. “For him, he needed that year to prepare, be around some of the guys and see how we compete. Although it hurt us from a team standpoint last year, it’s helped him tremendously.”

Smith could not agree more with the decision.

“It was really important,” Smith said. “I was physically and mentally immature last year. That one year really helps you grow up a bit. It really wasn’t up to me, but I’m glad I did.”

Smith is now a fixture in Goodale’s lineup this season, but his development is far from over.

While Goodale tries his best to handle Smith in practice, he has a familiar face to give his heavyweight a more even match.

“We have to bring D.J. in here,” Goodale said. “Those two have been going at it and those two have been really good for each other.”

Russo, a former NCAA qualifier and holder of 104 career wins at Rutgers, comes in twice a week to work with Smith on his technique.

The way Russo works Smith is something Smith credits for getting him ready for wrestlers that may be bigger than him.

“It’s just one-on-one with him compared to an open practice,” Smith said. “It is a lot of one-on-one attention with D.J., someone who has competed in national tournaments. He is a really funky wrestler, so he really helps me become more athletic with these bigger guys.”

And while grappling with him in practice may be difficult at times, Goodale sees in Smith’s work ethic no reason why he will not have a successful season.

But Smith still has a whole season — and career — ahead of him.

“That’s my expectation — for him to get better every day and be there in March at the end of the year at the national tournament,” Goodale said. “That being said, there is a process. He has to take the process seriously and get better every day.”

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @BradlyDTargum.

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