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  • Photo: Phill Hoffmann/Navy Athletics

    Photo: Phill Hoffmann/Navy Athletics

    Son of a Legendary Coach: A Conversation with Cael Crebs

    Before Cael Crebs ever stepped onto the Naval Academy - and before he ever stepped onto a wrestling mat - he was born to wrestle. With a name like Cael, that’s pretty evident. It may be more evident when you realize he has an older brother named Gable. It’s no surprise the Crebs family is a wrestling family. Naming his sons after wrestling legends, Cael and Gable’s Dad, Roger Crebs is a man of the sport. But, Roger Crebs is more than just some fan - he’s very well-known in the sport of wrestling, himself. 

    Roger Crebs is the Head Wrestling Coach of Lycoming College. Lycoming is a small Division III school in the town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Mostly known for its annual Little League World Series, the town has developed a rich history of wrestling, due to Lycoming College and the success of the program. 

    Coach Crebs took over in 1993 and has never looked back. Some of his accomplishments include a 442-149-2 dual record – which is 7th most all-time in D3 history and 20th all-time across all NWCA divisions. Another 15 wins this season will bring him into the top 15. He has multiple Hall of Fame inductions and has won a variety of “Coach of the Year” honors, sometimes winning the same award multiple times. He’s coached 10 national champions, and over 30 All-Americans during his reign. As a wrestler, he was a 3X league champion at Lycoming. His resume is impressive as a coach and athlete – his resume as a father is worth noting too. 

    I first met Roger when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. My uncle wrestled for him at Lycoming. Every time I would go to a match, Roger would take the time to talk to me and my family - plus other families in attendance. He’s one of the best guys in the sport. Interestingly, while still coaching, he has been assisting the head table at D1 NCAAs every year. His roles include tracking challenges, team point deductions, and whatever else gets thrown his way. His passion for the sport is easily noticeable. 

    Roger’s oldest son, Gable, is currently on the Lycoming roster. He earned All-American honors in 2022, placing seventh at 197lbs wrestling for his father. “Of all the years coaching Gable, this was my favorite. I will never forget that moment.” With eligibility remaining for Gable, it is very possible a new favorite moment prevails - potentially a higher finish at NCAAs. A national title would just be icing on the cake for the duo. 

     Lycoming was the right fit for Gable - not so much for Cael. Cael stated, “My dad didn’t really want us to wrestle for him. He wanted us at a higher level.” He continued, “Growing up, he was never my coach. But he was in my corner when I needed him.” Roger was always in Cael’s corner, however, figuratively. He was there for both of his sons. The boys, although butting heads often, were always great workout partners and pushed each other to outdo one another. The work ethic and determination were instilled in them at a young age, thanks to their father’s guidance. 

    “He was so good at being a dad first, and a coach second,” Cael told me his dad pushed him from a distance, knowing he had to be self-motivated to find success in the sport. Once Cael started having success around his sophomore season of high school - he realized his dad may have been providing great advice all along - who would have thought! Cael smirked “Growing up, I never wanted him to be right. I thought I knew it all.” I asked Cael if he recalls any specific examples. He mentioned that his dad was telling him certain things he needed to work on in specific situations. To no one’s surprise, this was the same advice he heard from other coaches. Roger also stated Cael needed to “get out of his head and just wrestle.” 

    I asked Cael about a memory where his dad’s advice really helped him. He discussed how he lost in the semifinals of a high school tournament, then continued to lose the next match 6-1 as he was nursing an injury. “My high school coach was very consoling, maybe making excuses for me because I was not 100%. healthy” Then Cael’s dad came up to him, as a father, and said “You need to figure it out. You cannot let a previous match affect you. You should have easily beaten that kid.” Of course, this is very father-like. But no one knows Cael like his own dad. When the time came to face that same kid at the state tournament later in the same season, Cael tech-pinned him. The match was not even close. Chalk that up as a win for Dad! 

    Cael continued, “It really started to click when he said that my training for wrestling carried over into everyday life – my school work, my job, everything. You need to approach it all the same” Once Cael connected all these dots, things started improving for him. He smiled, “Maybe I should have listened sooner.” Later on, he mentioned having a father who is also a coach is a “blessing and a curse – but it’s 100% a blessing before it’s a curse. People come up to me and say ‘Hey, you’re Roger’s son’ and I have no clue who they are.” In all honesty, I agree that it’s a hidden blessing people know Cael and Gable through their father. It never hurts to have an extra set of eyes on you. It gives you extra support without even knowing it.  

    Obviously, Cael and Gable were always surrounded by wrestling. His dad’s coaching career allowed him access to the sport that not many kids get the opportunity to have growing up. But, with this positive – the negative side of this is Roger’s schedule made it difficult to see his sons compete all the time. Cael understood he had to do this for his job. “I looked at it as his job was to be a coach – just like my job was to go out and wrestle. I did not mind him missing some of my events, as we were both doing what we loved.” There were times Cael did not expect to see his father at the match - but Roger made it happen, sometimes by surprise. 


    This was a very astute observation from Cael. So, I challenged him to see if he remembers when he grasped this concept of how much his dad’s job meant to Roger. Cael instantly remembered watching D3 nationals on the computer and seeing his dad coach his guys – “watching the emotion he showed when those guys finally reached their goals – whether it was a national title or All-American honors.” Cael would stay up late on school nights watching with his mom. He continued, “Seeing that emotion on his face was something I wanted to give him through my success.” I think this is a fresh perspective, as Cael fully understands the emotion and commitment his coaches at Navy have for him and his success because of this. 

    “My favorite moment for Cael, as a father and coach, was when he won the state title his senior year” Coach explained. Although Roger was not in Cael’s literal corner, he was doing a lot of work behind the scenes all weekend scouting opponents, working on game plans, and whatever else he felt was needed to help Cael achieve this goal. He could have easily stepped onto the mat with Cael, but chose to hang back and help in other ways. It just goes to show, it’s not about him when it comes to his son’s success. This is a refreshing take. 

    This was the one time where the stars aligned perfectly for them. During Cael’s senior season, Roger’s Division 3 National Tournament was moved to a different weekend due to COVID. This made it possible for Roger to attend Cael’s state tournament for the first time ever - as his national tournament always fell on the same weekend. Roger was able to be in attendance and watch his son win a state title. Cael understood his dad could not always be there, but “when he did show up – it meant a lot because he made time to do so. Looking back, it meant the world to me.” 

    Talking with Roger, he agreed with Cael regarding the “father first, coach second” philosophy. “It was never intentional. It just happened like that. I wanted them to find the love for the sport by themselves” Coach Crebs stated. He explained to me there was a time when Gable was not into wrestling during his middle school years. Roger took him on to play a team manager role at Lycoming – since he was too young to stay home by himself after school. “This really opened up Gable’s eyes and he fell in love with the sport again because of it.” Being with the team every day and on road trips was good for Gable. Even to this day, Roger claims “I am Gable’s father when he’s not on the mat. I am only his coach when he’s competing.” I am in agreement that the father/coach role needs to have a clear split – once they overlap, things can get messy.

    Lycoming, like most wrestling schools, hosts a summer camp every year. Attending this camp as a young wrestler growing up myself, and eventually working it as a counselor, I have become very close with the Crebs family. I have literally known Cael since he was in diapers, running around wrestling camp like a kid who had too much sugar. He loved it. Some of his favorite memories of the camp include staying in the dorm rooms with friends. It was like a sleepover every night for a week straight. Like most kids, he loved the live wrestling aspect of it. One no-so-fond memory was when Quentin Wright was a guest clinician and used Cael as a dummy partner. He lateral-dropped Cael while showing a move and gave Cael a concussion, Cael was forced to leave camp and that was the last time he was ever used as a dummy partner. 

    Wrestling was always first, baseball and football came second. Cael explained, “I started to focus solely on wrestling come high school because I was getting hurt in other sports. I realized I cared way more about wrestling than these other sports. If I was getting injured, it kept me from achieving the highest goals I set for myself.” It was the right choice for him. He ended his high school career as a PIAA AA 3rd place finisher and a state champion at Montoursville High School. He amassed a record of 137-18. While being recruited, he was pretty set on leaving the area, and always had an interest in Navy. Unfortunately, that interest was a one-way street at first. Once Kolat and his staff took over, Navy became interested as his success became more prevalent. Cael couldn’t have been happier – even though it was picking up steam in January of his senior year. What’s the saying – “better late than never”? 

    Cael is a political science major. Although he does not have much of an idea of what he wants to do after graduation. As of now, he’s leaning towards a military career with an interest in flying planes for the Marine Corps. He was still up in the air on what his ultimate career would be, but he loves to keep his options open. He talked about how he spent a week on a submarine this summer while in Connecticut. Also during the summer, he was at a Marine-focused training in North Carolina. Next summer, he plans to do two more training exercises – one with the Marine Corps and one for aviation. The future is an exciting time for Cael and the Crebs family. 

    Cael was somewhat hesitant to say he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps and become a coach. Understandably, his post-graduation commitment to serve in the Navy takes precedence over anything else. “I’m not opposed to finding a coaching job while in the Navy to help give back to the wrestling community.” He was quick to volunteer his brother, Gable, to be a full-time coach, and even at Lycoming, potentially. Only time will tell if the Crebs legacy will take over the program and continue its success Roger has built for 30 years. 

    It’s pretty common to see a wrestling coach’s son become a wrestler. Sometimes they wrestle for them – as Gable did at Lycoming with his dad. In the EIWA, we have a similar scenario where Cade Wirnsberger will be a freshman at Bucknell University, where his dad is the head coach. There is Caden Rogers at Lehigh, whose father is the head coach at Franklin & Marshall. There may be a time when they could be on opposite sides of the mat. There is always that curiosity as to whether the son chose to wrestle, or if the dad was a little pushy towards this sport over others. We all know the stories of the latter - and sometimes those stories do not turn out great. Thankfully, Roger did it right. He allowed his kids to choose the sport and grow to love it instead of despising it. Holidays always include conversations around wrestling, which has made their relationships stronger. To top it off, Cael said “I wouldn’t change a thing the way my dad raised us. It’s honestly been a blessing.”


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