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Senior ends monumental career with impressive run to All-American finish

NEW YORK — It was a change in footwear that coincided with Anthony Perrotti’s monumental run to an All-American finish in 2014.

Sporting Nike sneakers, Perrotti lost his debut match at the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City two years ago. The then-sophomore won his next match in the subsequent session, but he would need to record three straight victories in wrestle backs the following day to become an All-American.

When Perrotti stepped on the mat for the first time at the Chesapeake Energy Center on day two of the Championships, he was wearing different shoes — a pair of Asics Aggressors — and looked like a completely different wrestler as he went on an absolute tear through the 157-pound consolation bracket.

In the third session of the tournament, the unseeded Perrotti pinned the No. 9 seed in 10 seconds — the second fastest time in NCAA Championships history — and recorded a second-period pin over the No. 14 seed. In the round of 12 during the fourth session, Perrotti cruised to a major decision over the No. 8 seed to become Rutgers’ first All-American since 2002.

After not advancing past the first day of the national tournament in 2015, the now senior 165-pounder had his sights set on ending his career at Rutgers with a national title at this year’s NCAA Championships in New York City.

Entering the tournament as a No. 7 seed, and with Nike sneakers on his feet, Perrotti secured a first-period pin over Forrest Przybysz of Appalachian State in the first round. On Thursday night in the second session, the 165-pounder met No. 10 seed Austin Wilson of Nebraska, who Perrotti defeated 9-4 when the two squared off in a December dual between their respective programs.

But Wilson shut down the aggressive attack of Perrotti while not surrendering a takedown in a 4-1 decision win.

At the conclusion of the first day of his final national tournament, Perrotti was already bounced from the championship bracket. He said he was frustrated following his loss that night, and when he woke up on Friday he didn’t even want to wrestle.

But even though the dream of becoming a national champion had vanished, Perrotti knew there was still work to be done.

With a desire to help advance the Rutgers wrestling program, Perrotti showed up to Madison Square Garden on Friday with the goal of giving the Scarlet Knights an All-American finisher.

When he stepped on the mat for the first time on day two, he had once again swapped out his Nike sneakers for Asics Aggressors.

And just like he did in 2014, Perrotti ripped off three straight wins to secure the second All-American finish in his career, eventually finishing eighth among 165 pounders.

“It’s pretty cool to finish your career on the podium,” he said. “After such a bad taste in my mouth last year, it’s good to get back on it. I didn’t come here to take eighth or third, but life will throw a curveball at you all the time, and you just gotta get back up and keep it moving.”

Perrotti began his run through the consolation bracket with a 15-6 major decision over Seth Thomas of Oregon State. In the same session, he was pitted against No. 15 Clark Glass of Oklahoma, who handed Perrotti 1 of his 2 dual losses this season with a 6-4 decision at the Northeast Duals in November.

The Roseland, New Jersey, native used a takedown in each of the first two periods to build a commanding 4-0 lead and held on for a 5-1 win over Glass, setting him up for a matchup with fellow New Jersey native Conor Brennan of Rider in the “Blood Round." 

The winner would clinch an All-American honor while the loser would be ousted from the tournament.

No. 12 Brennan led 4-2 at the end of the first two periods, but after starting on bottom to begin the third, Perrotti cut the deficit to one with an escape. Then, with 33 seconds remaining in the match, Perrotti scored a takedown right on the edge of the mat as the two wrestlers went out of bounds. 

Rider challenged the takedown, but upon review, Perrotti was able to keep his foot in bounds as he scored.

With 33 seconds on the clock and a 1-point lead, all Perrotti had to do was ride out Brennan to win the match.

When the ref blew the final whistle, Brennan was still in Perrotti’s grasp on the far end of the mat. He then got up with a smile, raised his hands to the skies as he walked towards the front of the mat in the direction of where Rutgers fans were seated and yelled out his emotions of excitement in celebration.

Anthony Perrotti was the second two-time All-American in program history.

“Wrestling hard until the end,” he explained as the key to victory moments after the match. “We train so hard for seconds like that. Last-second takedown and the rideout, like I don’t even know how many times we went over that. It just feels good that my training paid off. Tough match, tough injury I had to deal with. Came back. It feels great.”

The injury Perrotti mentioned? 

Cartilage was torn off his ribs at the Big Ten Championships two weeks prior. He was still feeling the effects of the injury at the NCAA Championships, but it wasn’t until the match following his win over Brennan that it would appear to noticeably affect him.

Still in contention for third place, Perrotti wrestled again just over an hour after clinching All-American status, facing another New Jersey native in No. 14 David McFadden of Virginia Tech. 

In the second period, McFadden was on top of Perrotti when he pointed towards the Rutgers bench, signaling he needed an injury timeout. 

After about a minute of break, Perrotti decided to stay in the match. Already facing a 6-2 deficit, he wouldn’t score for the remainder of the match as he fell in a major decision, 10-2, dropping him into the seventh-place match.

“It’s a tough injury anytime you’re dealing with ribs. You’re breathing, you’re laughing, you’re coughing — it hurts. It really hurt to move a lot,” Perrotti said. “The coaches, they give me their life, their body, their family time every day. It’s not fair for me to bail out almost. So I’m just gonna fight through for them. They give up their life and I would give up mine for all of them. I’m not a quitter.”

The Knights’ two-time All-American came back on Saturday afternoon for a rematch with Austin Wilson in seventh place. The Cornhuskers’ grappler was able to limit Perrotti yet again in a 4-2 victory.

Locked in at an eighth place finish, Perrotti’s career on the Banks had come to a close. 

He compiled a total of 85 wins, was a three-time NCAA qualifier and was the first wrestler in Rutgers program history to finish as an All-American at two different weight classes.

Although he didn’t finish his career on top at the national tournament, he was at the forefront of a turnaround season for Rutgers, who took down seven ranked opponents, finished the season No. 10 in the nation and qualified its whole lineup for the NCAA Championships for the first time in program history.

As someone who wants to stick around the program in some capacity to help it continue to build towards becoming a national championship contender, that meant the most to Perrotti.

“I’ve waited five years to have a really good team. This was really special," he said. "My individual accomplishments are awesome, I like them. But I’m a big team guy, like I said. I always say it I care about everything the team does. We finished so awesome and to be considered the leader of it, it’s crazy, it’s awesome. I’m honored.”

Perrotti was the first All-American in head coach Scott Goodale’s tenure at the helm of Rutgers. 

After Anthony Ashnault had already secured All-American honors this year, Perrotti’s finish in the top-eight gave the program multiple All-Americans in the same season for just the second time.

Less than 20 minutes after Perrotti’s final match, Goodale talked to the media in the back tunnels of MSG as he watched his senior fight back emotions while finishing an interview 5 feet away from him.

Goodale called Perrotti, along with senior heavyweight Billy Smith, a cornerstone of the Rutgers wrestling program’s turnaround, as they had been through the lows with Goodale.

When asked about Perrotti fighting through an injury on his way to giving Rutgers a second All-American for the first time since 1952, Goodale became choked-up after talking about Perrotti’s passion for the sport that connects them.

“Well, that’s what’s great about this sport," he said of Perrotti. "You find a kid, those are all raw emotions and he’s super tough. That’s what you get out of it, is what you put into it. We’ve recruited guys with all these credentials, three-time state champs and four-time state champs. But if you don’t have those raw emotions and excitement about what you’re doing and passion, you’re never successful. The reason why he’s so successful is his passion for what he’s doing and this university and this team. Those are real emotions right there. We’re gonna miss him.”

While Perrotti plans to remain a part of the program, his competitive wrestling days have come to a conclusion.

After walking off the mat for the final time in his career, Perrotti thanked the sport that allowed him to become a two-time All-American and his coaches and parents for shaping him into the person that he leaves the sport as — a pair of Nike shoes transformed into Asics Aggressors.

“I walk away from the sport with a lot more than being a two-time All-American and state champ. I’ve learned life-long lessons and certain things you don’t learn just from being a normal person," he said. "Unfortunately, I’ve been through a lot of hard times with this sport. It’s kicked me when I’m down. It’s brought me to the highest point in my life. The only thing I have to say to it is ‘thank you’. This is a special chapter in my life. 16 years and it was really special coming to Rutgers, representing New Jersey most importantly. The coaches helped me grow a lot over the years. I came into college (as a) know-it-all, little punk kinda and they turned me into the man I am today, along with my parents. I can’t thank them enough for that.”

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team follow @EricMullin_ and @TargumSports on Twitter.