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Conversation with Cael Sanderson

I showed up early yesterday to the Rutgers/Penn State dual meet to check out Rutgers’ warm up and was just about to kick myself for not getting there in time when I stumbled onto PSU’s warm up. Cael Sanderson was there, so I took advantage of a rare opportunity and nabbed an interview with arguably the best head coach in the NCAA today. Remember my first encounter with Cael at the East Stroudsburg open? He did too, but his recollection differs a bit from mine. This time around he was a bit more approachable and conversational. So Cael – thanks for taking the time prior to the match (even though I couldn’t break out my video camera). In case you don’t know much about him, he doesn’t like interviews but he’s a surprisingly adept conversationalist. He’s pretty entertaining in fact he was good at verbal jousting and had an easy, dry sense of humor. Perhaps his word play is a tactic to avoid giving out too much information but either way, he’s a sharp affable guy. The only time I’ve talked with Bill Belichick he had a similar approach to the media with his use of evasive language but, as you’d imagine, with a rather dour approach to the world that is nothing like Coach Sanderson.
We jumped from topic to topic, and since I don’t have any official record of this conversation, I’ll do my best to share some of what I can remember:
I asked him if there was any reason that a coach would want to draw for starting weight, and he mentioned that it can give a wrestler struggling with making weight a little more time to recover.
Then I asked about local wrestler Nick Suriano (from Bergen catholic in New Jersey) and Cael indicated that they were actively pursuing him. Suriano was not at the match because he was resting up for three matches Saturday. He confirmed that he knew that Mason Manville was leaving Blair to train Greco back in Minnesota. So for those that are questioning his intentions, you can sleep easier tonight – his verbal commitment is still firmly in place. He also really likes Mark Hall, who’s as nice of a kid as he is a wrestler, but the weight class isn’t a priority for the staff right now.
We then talked about the importance of warming up before a match. Clearly most high school kids don’t know how to do it effectively. (In my experience it’s often overlooked but is the best insurance policy against injury and ensures peak performance (assuming all other things are in place for success).) It can sometimes be a tough process for Cael to get them bought into doing a thorough warm up.
Something interesting I noticed is that the team paid special attention to stretching their glutes and hammies after warm-up. What a great way to prevent injuries.

We briefly talked about flo wrestling – he’s not a huge fan of doing interviews (as I mentioned above) but they managed to catch him after Southern Scuffle. Let’s just say that he sounds supportive of others entering the field to give wrestling fans more choice.

After the match I talked to Cael again and asked him why he loved wrestling – he turned the tables and insisted that I (yes, true-wrestling) share why I love wrestling. So here’s the quick and dirty: aside from the obvious things like personal responsibility and discipline, wrestling is a multi-dimensional activity that builds transformational resilience and character. It creates a brotherhood like few other activities on the planet today, one in which those that wrestle have an immediate connection and respect for one another and those that know wrestlers understand the intensity and work ethic that they bring to every situation. Beyond that, wrestling speaks to my soul in a very primal way and as a wrestler and coach success was important, but it has always been (and will always be) the ‘doing of the thing’ more than the results. As Victor Frankel says, “…suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice…”. So Coach Cael, next time we talk I’ll ask it again. By then you’ll have had time to reflect and come with a well thought out answer.

I finished the conversation by asking him what many insiders speculate about: if he likes living in Pennsylvania and his long-term objectives. He told me his wife likes living in Pennsylvania and that’s where he started getting vague with me. I’m sure that the appeal of building a legacy at PSU is a strong one, but he didn’t quite put to sleep the rumors about his departure back to Utah.
While he was putting up with me imposing on him pretty well, I was left wondering if his warmth was sincere and his information forthcoming – and who can really blame him? Would you be fully transparent with the media if you were running the top wrestling program in the country? I’m hoping he sticks around and realizes his coaching potential at PSU and helps keep local high school talent home.

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