Austin DeSanto at the NCAAs (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Austin DeSanto, NCAA qualifier who was one win shy of earning All-American honors as a freshman at 133 pounds, has been granted a release by Drexel University, according to multiple media reports this week.
Drexel head coach Matt Azevedo confirmed the news to PennLive.com.
DeSanto is seeking "a tougher room" according to Jon Rugg, his coach at Exeter Township High School in eastern Pennsylvania who is now fielding queries on his former wrestler's behalf from Arizona State, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State and Virginia Tech, among other schools.
More than one media outlet in New Jersey -- including NJ.com -- speculates that DeSanto may find a home at Rutgers, where he might move up to 141 pounds.
"It's everybody," Rugg told PennLive.com, referring to the number of colleges reportedly seeking DeSanto. "Just a ton of schools are interested in having him. I don't really know what his plan is weight-wise or how that fits or what coaches are going to fit his style. I'm not one-hundred percent sure. His mom has been texting my assistant and updating us about who he's talking to."
"I guess Austin is looking for a tougher room essentially, somewhere to be challenged on a daily basis," Rugg said. "I was never in Drexel's room, so I have no idea what that specifically means."
According to PennLive.com, "DeSanto works at a rugged pace in the wrestling room and has been known to run through multiple partners each practice."
DeSanto's high school coach confirmed that notion. "He's brutal," Rugg said.
DeSanto was a three-time PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) state championship medalist, winning Exeter's first state title in 2017 when he defeated Spencer Lee, handing the prep phenom his first loss of his high school career in the 126-pound finals, which some have labeled as the greatest upset in PIAA championships history. Lee just completed his first season at University of Iowa by winning the 125-pound title at the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
That upset vaulted DeSanto into the national spotlight. Sadly, a more recent incident may have tarnished that reputation well beyond the Keystone State.
DeSanto considers his move to a new college at a time when his actions during one match at the NCAAs made him the subject of much discussion -- and derision -- on online wrestling forums and in social media. Towards the end of a quarterfinal bout with Michigan's Steven Micic -- a match DeSanto was losing -- it looked like the Drexel freshman had applied a dangerous arm bar on his opponent before an official stepped in to break the hold. Micic -- who eventually placed second at 133 -- questioned if DeSanto knew how to "handle an ass beating."
DeSanto's high school coach offered his own opinion. "He didn't do himself any favors there with his actions," Rugg said. "That's pretty easy to see."
In fact, coach Rugg told PennLive.com that 'personal growth' may be just as important a factor in DeSanto's eventual success as signing on with a program well-stocked with teammates ready to provide him with more intense practice sessions in the wrestling room.
"Austin is a great wrestler, and I think if coaches spent time developing a relationship with him, creating a connection mentally and socially with him, I think they'd have a lot more success with him," Rugg said.
"It took us a full year to build a relationship with him where we were able to work with him essentially. I wonder what college coach is willing to put that kind of time and commitment in to build relationship.
"I just want him to land in spot where I know he can develop and be successful, and not just in wrestling. If he can be a successful person, he can be a successful wrestler. I think they go hand in hand."