From left; Logan Stieber, Kyle Snyder, Zack Kemmerer, Jason Welch (Photos/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
At the beginning of June, the dead period for DI recruiting was lifted and coaches were allowed to host recruits on campus or travel to make home visits. For most staffs, their attention shifted from the Class of 2021, to the rising seniors in 2022 or even the Class of 2023. With the renewed ability to focus on recruiting and projecting the collegiate careers of today's stud high schoolers, we've decided to look back at past recruiting lists to see how the elite recruits developed once in college.
For purposes of this article, "elite recruits" will be considered the top-15 pound-for-pound wrestlers in a specific year. Not all years are created equal, some classes had a deeper talent pool than others, but this was an easy, uniform way to judge wrestlers from past classes against each other.
Before a wrestler's collegiate career begins, it's easy to proclaim that they'll be "at least" a two or three-time NCAA champion, "easily" a four-time All-American. But, how often does that become a reality? Even amongst wrestlers that were head-and-shoulders above their respective senior classes. As we dig into it, the answers vary, but there are fewer than you'd think that go on to super-stardom (on the mat, at least).
This article will track wrestlers from the 2005-2015 recruiting classes. Why, you ask? There are very few concrete recruiting rankings available before the 2004-05 school year. And anything after 2015, will include a bunch of wrestlers with collegiate eligibility remaining. Even so, there is a smattering of wrestlers from the Class of 2015, still competing in college. Those wrestlers have been denoted and highlighted in italics.
Each wrestler has been grouped into ten categories based on their collegiate results. 1) Four-time NCAA Champions. 2) Two/Three-time NCAA Champions. 3) One-time NCAA Champions. 4) Four-time All-Americans (w/ no titles). 5) Two/Three-time All-Americans. 6) One-time All-Americans. 7) Four-time NCAA Qualifiers (never All-Americans). 8) Two/Three-time NCAA Qualifiers. 9) One-time NCAA Qualifiers. 10) Never Qualified for the DI National Tournament.
The results may be surprising as to which group has more members than the others.
Four-time NCAA Champions. This one is self-explanatory. The only information you may not realize was their recruiting ranking.
Multiple-time NCAA Champions. I think it's interesting that this list is longer than the next list. It's probably a product of our era of wrestling. More kids come into the collegiate level well-equipped for success and more ready to win multiple titles.
One-time NCAA Champions. It's pretty remarkable that four members of this list won titles as freshmen (Schlatter, Tsirtsis, Tomasello, and Martin). Again, a testament to the competition in this era and how difficult it is to "just" win one. Everyone here earned All-American honors at least three times.
Four-time All-Americans (w/ no titles). All of these wrestlers competed in the Big Ten. I'm not sure if that correlates or is relevant to anything. Also, three are from Minnesota.
Two/Three-time All-Americans (w/ no titles). This group encompasses a large segment of the population. Almost everyone on the list was a title threat throughout their entire careers and could have won once with a break or two.
One-time All-Americans (w/ no titles). There are a handful of wrestlers mentioned here that dealt with a bevy of injuries that didn't allow them to be in top form for each crack at the NCAA Tournament.
Four-time NCAA Qualifiers (never All-Americans). We'll take the time to mention here, actual NCAA placements were only counted here. Taylor Lujan was the top-seed at the canceled 2020 national tournament and likely would have found a place within the top-eight. Aside from the GOATs (Dake/Stieber), this group is the smallest of the bunch. It sort of makes sense. There aren't many guys that stuck it out through four (or five) years of DI competition and performed at a solid level, despite having sky-high expectations. Again, with this group, there are plenty that were banged up at the big show.
Two/Three-time NCAA Qualifiers (never All-Americans). This group has the most transfers of the bunch. That makes sense, as maybe they needed a fresh start to experience some success. Many on this list did. Also, if you go, man-for-man, down the list, you'll find that most had at least a postseason (or two) wiped away due to significant injuries. Some even had careers cut short.
One-time NCAA Qualifiers (never All-Americans). What an interesting group here! There's not one blanket statement to be made about this cast. Many did not have the full four years of competition in college.
Never Made the DI National Tournament. It's pretty amazing that this is the largest group. A few disclaimers.
You'll see Henry Cejudo's name on the list. He never went to wrestle in college, but focused on the Senior-level and won the Olympics only two years later. He made the right choice, for him.
Others, mainly Joey Davis, Deron Winn, Destin McCauley, all had a lot of success at the non-DI level. It may not be suitable to lump them in with this group.
Jake Deitchler also made the 2008 Olympic team in Greco-Roman. Concussions prevented his collegiate career from ever getting off the ground, but his career was very successful, in his own right.
For the rest of the wrestlers on this list, there's any number of reasons why they didn't have a similar amount of success compared to the high school level. Many suffered injuries. Others had issues in the classroom or from a discipline standpoint. Some, just found college wrestling is really tough.
I'd like to see if this feature is different ten years from now. Some of the earlier recruiting classes were based on much less information than is available now. There are more national-level high school tournaments for wrestlers to participate in and either shine or see their ranking drop. For those that really study the recruiting process, the advent of social media could make it easier to determine if off-the-mat issues will rear their ugly head, too. Also, with the transfer portal available, maybe it's easier for recruits to get out of a situation that's less-than-ideal, which could translate to more success on the mat.
But, the big takeaway is success is not guaranteed at the collegiate level, even if you have a fancy resume coming into school. There are plenty of wrestlers not on this list and wrestled during this time period that went on to have outstanding careers. Multiple-time NCAA champions Jordan Burroughs, Kellen Russell, Tony Nelson, Jesse Delgado, and Nick Gwiazdowski are just a few examples.