Three-time All-American Nathan Burak (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Over the next week, we'll head into the home stretch for recruiting with the Class of 2021 and turn our attention to the Class of 2022 and beyond. Before our recruiting class rankings are released, though, InterMat has a couple of recruiting-related features that take a look back at classes of old.
Today we'll focus on the diamonds in the rough for each of the top 20 teams at the 2021 NCAA Championships. Who are some unheralded recruits that have thrived since arriving on their respective campuses?
In order to get a large sample size and the proper perspective, we have looked at recruiting classes from 2010-19 to find these emergent stars. With only one year of competition under their belts, it's not appropriate to pick wrestlers from the Class of 2020. Also, to be considered, a wrestler must not have cracked the final top-100 recruiting list during their last year of high school. Some schools have multiple wrestlers that deserve mention and they've been noted as honorable mentions, too. Also, we're not considering transfers for this exercise.
Nathan Burak (Class of 2011)
During this time, most of Iowa's damage has been done by top 100, more specifically top-50 type recruits or transfers. Nathan Burak is the Hawkeyes most recent All-American from outside of the top-100 and he was in action for Tom Brands' team from 2012-16. Burak was an undefeated, one-time state champion in Colorado that saw his stock rise late in the game, after all rankings had been finalized. Nathan went to Fargo after his senior season and made it into the top-four in both styles. He also may have flown under the radar due to an injury that prevented him from competing as a junior. Burak stepped into the Iowa lineup as a true freshman in 2013 (he spent 2011-12 at the Olympic Training Center) and was a match away from earning All-American honors. He would get on the podium in each of his final three years in Iowa City and made the Big Ten finals as a senior.
Honorable Mentions: Brody Grothus (2011), Joey Gunther (2015)
2019 NCAA champion Anthony Cassar (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Anthony Cassar (Class of 2014)
Penn State, like Iowa, has been able to reel in the best-of-the-best for the bulk of the last decade, and, in turn, most of those blue-chippers have paid off for Cael Sanderson's team. One diamond in the rough that emerged in a big way for the Nittany Lions, though, was Anthony Cassar. It's widely known now, but bears repeating, that Cassar never qualified for the New Jersey state tournament until his senior year. Then he went unbeaten and claimed a title at 195 lbs. After a few injury-plagued seasons in State College, Cassar went 16-2 at 197 lbs in 2017-18 and even logged a win over top-ranked Kollin Moore (Ohio State). Even so, he didn't get the nod in the postseason from the Penn State staff. A year later, up at 285 lbs, Cassar went 30-1, won Big Ten and national titles, and is responsible for the only two collegiate losses for Gable Steveson (Minnesota).
Oklahoma State's two-time NCAA All-American Nolan Boyd (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Nolan Boyd (Class of 2012)
There's an argument to be made between who should be in this spot for the Cowboys, Nolan Boyd, or Preston Weigel. Weigel went on to place higher and was more of a title threat than Boyd; however, he was a bit more regarded coming out of high school. Boyd was also more slightly built, while Weigel had a body ready for DI wrestling. Nolan was still a three-time Oklahoma state champion in high school. Prior to enrolling in Stillwater, Boyd took third in Junior Greco in Fargo, which was his best national credential. As a redshirt freshman, Boyd found his way into the OSU lineup at 184 lbs and qualified for nationals, a feat he'd accomplish all four years. The 2015-16 season saw Boyd win the first of his two Big 12 crowns and go on to take fourth at nationals. A year later, he was seeded fourth and finished sixth.
Honorable Mention: Preston Weigel (Class of 2014)
Matt Kraus (Class of 2012)
Since the arrival of Zeke Jones, Arizona State has been able to recruit head-to-head with the best in the country, which has netted his team plenty of high-quality recruits. Transfers have also been a factor. They have not had many homegrown gems emerge in recent years. The most notable is 141 lber, Matt Kraus, who qualified for nationals in 2015 and 2016. The Missouri native was third in the state as a senior after winning titles as a sophomore and junior. As a true freshman, Kraus was thrust into the Sun Devils starting lineup and scuffled to a 9-18 mark. Undeterred, he improved each year and was above .500 as a sophomore, then qualified for nationals as a junior. Kraus' senior year included a second trip to the Pac-12 finals and he even received the 13th seed at the 2016 NCAA Championships.
Alec Pantaleo (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Alec Pantaleo (Class of 2014)
It's hard to believe that with the last name Pantaleo and the family pedigree in the state of Michigan that Alec went under the radar as a senior in high school, but it's true. Pantaleo was a Michigan state champion as a sophomore, but missed the state tournament due to an injury in his junior season. As a senior, he was beaten in the state finals. It didn't take long for Pantaleo to show that he belonged in the best conference in the nation, as he made the finals of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational a month into his true freshman year. Though he missed out on placing at nationals that year, Pantaleo still received the sixth seed at NCAA's. It would end up being the only time Pantaleo failed to AA, as he would go 6th, 5th, and 3rd as a senior. He also finished no lower than third at the conference meet those final three years, including a B1G title as a junior.
2018 NCAA champion Mike Macchiavello (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Mike Macchiavello (Class of 2013)
One of the biggest no-brainers on this list is the inclusion of 2018 NCAA champion Mike Macchiavello. The one-time state champion became the first North Carolina native to win a national title since Tab Thacker did so in 1984. Even with a pair of placements at FloNationals under his belt, Macchiavello was overlooked, as most one-time champions from North Carolina are. Mike got the call in year one and started for the Wolfpack at 184 lbs and responded with an 11-14 record. A redshirt during the 2015-16 season helped his development and once he was reinserted to the NC State lineup, Macchiavello was among the best in the nation. He was seeded tenth at the 2017 national tournament and finished in the bloodround. A year later and a weight class bigger, Macchiavello made the national final opposite ACC rival Jared Haught (Virginia Tech). Macchiavello turned the tables on Haught and claimed his national title with a late takedown in a 3-1 victory.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Jack (Class of 2014)
3x All-American Lavion Mayes (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Lavion Mayes (Class of 2012)
For years, Brian Smith's Missouri Tigers have had great success with top-100 recruits that weren't exactly at the tippy tops of the recruiting lists. Brock Mauller, Jaydin Eierman, Drake Houdashelt, and Daniel Lewis are all notable examples. Lavion Mayes, on the other hand, went unnoticed by those following recruiting after finishing his high school career as a two-time state medalist and one-time champion in Illinois. After a redshirt, Mayes jumped into the Mizzou lineup and qualified for nationals. In each of his final three years of collegiate competition, Mayes earned the third seed at nationals and ended up on the podium. As a senior, Mayes advanced to the NCAA finals opposite Hodge Trophy winner Zain Retherford.
2017 NCAA finalist Brett Pfarr (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Brett Pfarr (Class of 2012)
One of the hallmarks of Minnesota's recruiting over the past twenty years has been the ability to retain their top in-state kids. With the signing of Brett Pfarr, the Gopher staff was able to identify the potential in a prospect that was a one-time state champion at Minnesota's smallest classification. Pfarr underwent a huge growth spurt between his junior and senior year, as he went from 152 lbs to 182. Even so, he was able to grab an elusive state title; after finishing as a runner-up in each of the preceding two seasons. The Gophers were extremely deep at the upperweights (Logan Storley, Kevin Steinhaus, Scott Schiller - 174-197) in the mid 2010s, so Pfarr was not able to crack the lineup as a redshirt freshman. A year later, he was in the Big Ten finals and the 11th seed at nationals. Brett really took it to the next level at 197 lbs, where he would finish third and second during his final two years of competition. He also would make a second conference title match.
Gary Traub (Class of 2016)
Moreso than any other school in the nation, Ohio State has been able to sign the blue-est of the blue-chippers for the last decade-plus. Dating back to 2010, the Buckeyes have nabbed five #1 overall recruits (Paddy Gallagher - 2021, Greg Kerkvliet - 2019, Kyle Snyder - 2014, Bo Jordan - 2013, Logan Stieber - 2010). With the success rate for Tom Ryan's big-time recruits, there have been very few unheralded signees that turned into All-Americans. Kollin Moore was not a "can't-miss" recruit, but he did appear in the back-half of the top 100. That leaves us with only a few options and Gary Traub could be the answer. Traub was a 195 lb state runner-up (to Cornell's Ben Darmstadt) during his senior year of high school. It took until his redshirt sophomore year for Traub to see action in a dual meet, as he did so on three occasions in the 2018-19 season. Traub had a breakout year in 2019-20 winning 23 of 32 bouts and taking sixth in the Big Ten. Though he couldn't compete at the national tournament, Traub was seeded 19th at 285 lbs.
2021 NCAA 3rd place finisher Yahya Thomas (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Yahya Thomas (Class of 2017)
Interesting enough, Northwestern is a school with plenty of options to select potential diamonds in the rough. After Yahya Thomas, there were a trio of others that warrant mention, as well. Thomas gets the nod based on his 2021 NCAA Championship performance and the fact that he has another year, possibly two, remaining on the eligibility clock. Injuries helped disrupt the first two years of high school for Thomas and he was a two-time Illinois state qualifier and a third-place finisher as a senior. Thomas tried to go 141 lbs as a redshirt freshman, but needed to move up after the New Year and ended up missing the 2019 NCAA Tournament. A few months later, he downed top-recruit Sammy Sasso for a spot on the Junior World Team. This season, Thomas needed an at-large berth to qualify for his second straight national tournament. Since he missed out on automatically qualifying and came into nationals with five losses, Thomas was given the #25 seed. That didn't matter as Yahya rebounded from a loss to top-seeded Sasso and rolled to third place. Along the way, he defeated the #3 Brock Mauller (Missouri), #4 Boo Lewallen (Oklahoma State), #8 Jaden Abas (Stanford) twice, #9 Legend Lamer (Cal Poly), and #13 Mitch Moore (Oklahoma)
Honorable Mentions: Michael DeAugustino (Class of 2018), Pierce Harger (Class of 2010), Conan Jennings (Class of 2014)
NCAA finalist Tyler Wilps (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Tyler Wilps (Class of 2010)
With the amount of talent in Pittsburgh's backyard, I'd expect the number of possible diamonds in the rough to only increase for Keith Gavin's squad going forward. Before this year, with two national finalists, the most recent Panther to compete on the raised mat was Tyler Wilps in 2015. Wilps came from nearby Chartiers Valley high school and qualified for the Pennsylvania AAA state tournament during his final two years. He finished eighth as a junior and fifth as a senior. Even though Pennsylvania is the deepest state in the country, talent-wise, finishing as a two-time placer may still cause one to get overlooked. Luckily, the Pittsburgh staff was familiar with Wilps, whose father wrestled at the school, along with his older brother, Matt. Tyler made his first appearance at the national tournament as a sophomore at 165 lbs, winning a match before his elimination. The following year he moved up to 174 and claimed the first of two ACC crowns, then earned All-American honors for the first time. As a senior, he fell in the national finals to Matt Brown (Penn State) on a controversial locked hands call.
Aaron Studebaker (Class of 2012)
The bulk of Nebraska's recruiting is done on a national level because of the small population in-state and a high school scene that is now improving. Every couple of years, a homegrown kid breaks into the starting lineup and it's typically one that was not known widely out of high school. Raymond, Nebraska's Aaron Studebaker fits that mold. Studebaker was a two-time state champion for Raymond Central and was undefeated as a senior. After an excellent redshirt season, Studebaker posted a 24-5 record, but didn't get the nod for the Huskers during the Big Ten schedule or in the postseason. The following year he broke out with a 32-12 record and was seeded 15th at nationals. That season and his junior year, both ended with heartbreak in the NCAA Round of 12. As a senior, Studebaker broke through and got onto the NCAA podium with a fifth-place finish.
Honorable Mention: Collin Purinton
NCAA All-American Lelund Weatherspoon (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Lelund Weatherspoon (Class of 2012)
Then-Iowa State head coach Kevin Jackson didn't need to stray too far from his hometown of Lansing, Michigan, to find Lelund Weatherspoon in Jackson. Weatherspoon was a two-time Michigan state champion that only suffered a single loss during his last two years of high school competition. He was probably missed by others because of his lack of national-level credentials scholastically. Weatherspoon quickly showed he belonged by taking fifth-place at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational as a freshman. Later that season, he became the first Iowa State freshman in seven years to win the Big 12 in his first year. He would go on to capture a second Big 12 title as a junior. A few weeks later, Weatherspoon became the only unseeded wrestler to earn a place in the 2016 NCAA semifinals. His most significant win came right away when he upset #2 Brian Realbuto (Cornell) in the opening round. Though he didn't get back on the podium as a senior, Weatherspoon left Iowa State as a four-time national qualifier and an NCAA sixth-place finisher.
Ken Theobold (Class of 2012)
During Scott Goodale's tenure at Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights have done it all recruiting-wise. Sign highly coveted recruits (Anthony Ashnault, John Poznanski, Sammy Alvarez), receive stud transfers (Nick Suriano and Sebastian Rivera), and develop less recognized talents. Two, in particular, are Ken Theobold and John Van Brill. Theobold's NCAA performance is the tiebreaker between the two. In high school, Theobold was a two-time New Jersey state placer, finishing second as a senior. Right away, Theobold hopped into the Scarlet Knights lineup and posted a winning record, despite not competing at the EIWA Championships. A third-place finish at the conference meet in 2014 sent him to the national tournament. After another trip to NCAA's and a redshirt later, Theobold placed fifth in the Big Ten, as a senior, which netted him the #15 seed at nationals. There he knocked off the #2 seed, Anthony Collica (Oklahoma State), in the second round and would go on to take seventh place.
Honorable Mention: John Van Brill (Class of 2014)
Virginia Tech's 3x All-American Ty Walz (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Ty Walz (Class of 2012)
Despite a state title as a senior for national powerhouse St. Ed's, a Cadet freestyle title in Fargo, and a top-eight finish at NHSCA Junior's, there may have been some concerns about Ty Walz's true weight class in college. Maybe he'd be a dreaded "tweener" in the middle of 197 and 285 lbs. Anyone who saw Walz compete for the Hokies; can probably laugh about that thought. He would go on to qualify for nationals in all four seasons competing for Virginia Tech, highlighted by All-American finishes in each of his last three years. As a junior and senior, Walz was seeded third in the nation and ended up in fourth place. He also went on to claim an ACC title during his senior year. Virginia Tech also has a pair of 157 lbers that, while they don't measure up to Walz's accomplishments, had very strong careers, despite coming in under the radar. One of those is Sal Mastriani, who also came to Blacksburg in the high school Class of 2012.
Honorable Mentions: BC LaPrade (Class of 2016); Sal Mastriani (Class of 2012)
Troy Heilmann at the 2018 NCAA Championships
Troy Heilmann (Class of 2013)
The recruiting efforts at North Carolina have really been ramped up under the direction of Coleman Scott, who took the reins in the summer of 2015. One of the athletes that Scott inherited was Troy Heilmann. In high school, Heilmann finished as a three-time New Jersey state runner-up and four-time medalist. He was also fifth at the Super 32 and in FILA Cadets. Despite those accolades, Heilmann narrowly missed being named one of the top-100 prospects in the Class of 2013. Heilmann got the call, right out of the chute, and put together a true freshman season that was a match above .500. During his sophomore and junior seasons, Heilmann made the national tournament, but only combined to win one match. It all came together for Troy as a senior when he won a conference title and landed the fourth seed in Cleveland. Heilmann wrestled to that seed and came away with fourth place. That placement matched the highest (at the time) by a Tar Heel wrestler since 1996.
Jim Wilson (Class of 2012)
Before signing Joey McKenna in 2014, and later, Shane Griffith and Real Woods, Stanford had to depend more on their ability to develop talent rather than sign blue-chippers. Someone who just missed the cut for the top-100 in the Class of 2012 was Jim Wilson. As a high school senior, Wilson was third in California, after placing fourth in the previous two seasons. Those placements made him the first three-time state medalist in McNair wrestling history. Wilson also was an NHSCA Sophomore national champion and a Fargo placer in Greco. Right away, Wilson took Stanford by storm and became only the third Cardinal wrestler to earn Pac-12 freshman of the year honors. He was also the first freshman in more than 20 years to win a conference championship for Stanford. Wilson's sophomore year was even better as he grabbed another Pac-12 crown and finished eighth at the NCAA Championships. The following year he won a third Pac-12 title and was stopped a match shy of placing at nationals. Wilson's senior season ended up being disrupted by injuries.
Honorable Mention: Keaton Subjeck
Two-time All-American Emery Parker (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Emery Parker (Class of 2014)
Illinois has had some success unearthing some unheralded gems, but none during this time period came close to Emery Parker. The high school state runner-up showed a hint of what's to come when he earned fourth-place at NHSCA Senior Nationals. Parker had an inauspicious debut for the Fighting Illini, going 4-4 as a redshirt freshman. A year later, he defeated the returning NCAA champion, Myles Martin, in the second round of the NCAA Championships. The tables turned in 2018 as the tenth-seeded Parker was the upset victim. Rather than hang his head, Parker proceeded to do the unthinkable and won seven straight bouts to earn third place. Along the way, he knocked off the #3, #5, #8 seeds and avenged his earlier loss. As a senior, Parker fell in the second round, then fought back for sixth place. Though he was a two-time top-five finisher, Parker never was a finalist at the Big Ten Championships.
2019 NCAA champion Drew Foster (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Drew Foster (Class of 2014)
One of the more remarkable stories we'll document today is that of Drew Foster. Drew was never an Iowa state champion and landed at Northern Iowa because of a relationship with assistant coach Randy Pugh. Foster was 15-18 as a freshman and only 1-9 in dual competition. A year later, he became an All-American after finishing seventh at 184 lbs. In 2017-18, Foster had his best season, to date, with his first Big 12 title and an eighth seed at the NCAA Championships. Unfortunately, he was only able to tally one win before his elimination. Foster's magical senior year started with a third-place finish at the CKLV Invitational, then a title at the Midlands. He later became the first UNI wrestler to win multiple Big 12 titles. At nationals, Drew downed Max Dean in the NCAA title bout to become the first Panther wrestler since 2000 (Tony Davis), to win an NCAA title.
Honorable Mention: Jacob Holschlag
Ryan Wolfe (Class of 2012)
You may not realize it initially, but the superstars that Rider has had in their lineup over the past decade have either been top recruits or transfers. Delaware native Ryan Wolfe is one that was lesser known coming out of high school. In high school, Wolfe was a two-time state finalist and a champion as a senior. His most noteworthy achievement was winning the Beast of the East in 2011. Even so, he wasn't able to crack the top-100, as few from Delaware typically do. Though he did not qualify for nationals as a freshman, Wolfe was named to national "all-freshman" teams. As a sophomore, Wolfe claimed his first EWL title, but was unable to win a match at the big dance. His second trip, yielded an appearance in the bloodround, after capturing EWL title number two. Wolfe saved the best for last and was seeded eighth at the 2017 NCAA Championships after winning his third conference title. He outperformed his seed and finished seventh in the country, one of two All-Americans for the Broncs that season.