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One-on-One with Mario Mason

For Mario Mason, a change in scenery is just what he needed. Mason, a New Jersey native who wrestled for national powerhouse Blair Academy in high school, started his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota and spent two years in the Gopher wrestling program before transferring to Rutgers University this season. He compiled a record of 19-12 last season as a redshirt freshman for Minnesota and qualified for the 2010 NCAA Championships at 149 pounds.

Mario Mason
Mason has shined in his first season wrestling for Rutgers. He is currently ranked No. 4 in the country at 149 pounds and has a record of 21-3. He has not lost a match since November. Mason has wins this season over All-Americans Frank Molinaro of Penn State, Kevin LeValley of Bucknell, and Brandon Rader of West Virginia.

InterMat recently caught up with the redshirt sophomore and talked to him about the differences between Rutgers and Minnesota, Cory Cooperman, Adam Frey, Rutgers' rapid rise, freestyle wrestling, and much more.

Last season you had a strong redshirt freshman season at Minnesota, but you have turned it up another notch this season at Rutgers. What is the biggest difference from last season to this season?

Mason: Well, definitely the coaching styles at Minnesota and Rutgers are a lot different. Minnesota is kind of a brawler style. This year I have been able to work with Cory Cooperman, who I have known for a long time. He has helped me tremendously.

In what ways has Cooperman helped you this season?

Mario Mason (Photo/Roy DeBoer)
Mason: He's kind of like my personal coach. Anything he feels that I need to work on, we work on. Being with him helps me build my confidence. He's always one hundred percent positive. He's obviously going to tell me things I'm doing wrong and help me out, but he always has a positive outlook. He's almost like an older brother to me. It's a big deal for me and a big confidence builder.

You mentioned the coaching styles at Minnesota and Rutgers being different. How is the training different between the two programs?

Mason: They're both hard-nosed programs. Rutgers might be new on the map, but we train really hard, as hard as any team in the country. Minnesota is more of a grinder style, more live wrestling situations in the room, and more conditioning. At Rutgers, we're doing a lot of drilling and a lot of perfecting technique, which is something I have always done when I was young and in high school. It's something I like to do and always helps my wrestling. That's definitely the biggest difference between Minnesota and Rutgers.

There is a lot of anticipation at Minnesota for Jake Deitchler's possible return. A lot of people know about his Greco-Roman credentials, but there is some uncertainty about what kind of impact he can make in collegiate wrestling. Having trained with him, what kind of impact do you think Deitchler can make in the program if healthy?

Mason: I think he can make a huge impact. He's probably one of the few guys that I still talk to from Minnesota. I wrestled him a few times in my freestyle career. When I was at Minnesota, we became really good friends. The kid is a dynamite wrestler. He can definitely be a breakthrough guy if he can come back and wrestle in college. It's kind of a sad thing with the concussions, but hopefully he can get back on the mat and help the program.

One of your former high school teammates at Blair Academy, Adam Frey, passed away a little over a year ago after a courageous battle with cancer. What do you remember most about Adam?

Mason: I wrestled him probably four times a week when I was a freshman and he was a senior. He used to just beat me up all the time and just get me tougher. He was always on top of me to get better, kind like Cooperman has been for me. Adam was always helping me and always in my corner. He was an unbelievable wrestler. He's probably one of the best wrestlers I've seen and wrestled with.

Mario Mason has split matches with Penn State's Frank Molinaro this season (Photo/Roy DeBoer)
Rutgers is ranked in the top 10. What is the atmosphere like in the program this season?

Mason: Right now, everyone is making jumps and it's because we have to make jumps. We're getting more highly ranked as our wrestlers are starting to wrestle better. Not a lot of people thought it was possible, coming from nowhere. We just have a lot of tough individuals who are making progress and wrestling hard. Everybody is from New Jersey, so everybody knows each other from childhood or wrestling in high school together. It's a really close-knit group of guys and it's great to wrestle for a team like that.

What's it going to take for Rutgers to be in the hunt for a trophy at the NCAAs?

Mason: Obviously, we're going to need some more guys. We're going to need to bring in the top recruits in the country. We have a lot of guys that will do well this season. I think we could have four, five, or six guys place at the NCAA tournament. Everyone is going to have to step up and wrestle the best they can. If we do that, we can be in the hunt. I don't know about a national title this year, but we should be in the top five or top six at the NCAAs ... as long as everyone is wrestling hard and staying focused.

There is a chance you could face 2010 NCAA champion Kyle Dake of Cornell at the EIWA Championships. You have defeated Dake in freestyle. How much are you looking forward to a potential meeting with Dake?

Mario Mason (Photo/Morgan Hennessy)
Mason: I'm really looking forward to it. I enjoy wrestling the best guys. I want to wrestle everybody I can. I have wrestled a couple top 10 guys so far this season. I look forward to the match. Freestyle is a whole different ballgame than collegiate style. But it's going to be a battle and hopefully I can come out on top.

You went 0-2 at the NCAAs last season. What did you take from that tournament that you think might help you the next time you compete at the NCAAs?

Mason: Prior to that, I don't think I had ever gone 0-2 at a tournament since I was a young kid. It's just heartbreaker. You work hard all season, get down to weight, and it's a big letdown. It's a driving force. It drives you to do better, wrestle harder in the room, and get in better condition, everything that you need to do to be an All-American and NCAA champion. It's one of those things that is really in the back of my mind that I never want to happen to me again.

You have had lot of age-group success in fresestyle over the years. You even competed on the senior level at the 2009 U.S. World Team Trials after your redshirt season. Is freestyle wrestling still important to you?

Mason: Yeah. Actually, I enjoy freestyle wrestling more than collegiate wrestling. I really wish I could wrestle it all year round. I wish college was freestyle wrestling. I definitely would love to pursue it. I would love to go to the Olympics and win the Olympics. That's a dream. That would be unbelievable. That would probably be one of the coolest things I could do in the sport.

Blair Academy vs. St. Paris Graham on Saturday night. What's your prediction?

Mason: I have to go with Blair because it's my home school. St. Paris Graham is obviously a tough team. I'm sure (Jeff) Buxton is looking forward to that match because St. Paris Graham beat Blair last year. It's going to be a good one, but I have to go with Blair.

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