By Stephen Hennessey and Jocelyn Syrstad
Collegian Staff Writers
The signing of Cael Sanderson as Penn State's next head wrestling coach has 149-pound Penn State wrestler Bubba Jenkins declaring a "new Penn State era "in which the Nittany Lions could challenge Iowa for the "dominating team "in college wrestling.
The announcement of the former Iowa State head coach leaving to become Penn State's next head coach has the Nittany Lion wrestlers excited and Iowa State wrestlers shocked.
"I don't think they could have made a better decision than what they did, "125-pound Penn State wrestler Brad Pataky said. "His credentials are so superior. I am so excited about the decision. I've been such a fan of Cael, so it's really exciting to have him as part of our program."
Sanderson brings one of the most impressive résumés in college wrestling with him to Penn State. He won an ESPY award in 2002 for Best Male Collegiate Athlete after completing an undefeated career, the only wrestler in the history of collegiate wrestling to have an unblemished record. In each of his first three seasons as coach of Iowa State, the Cyclones finished in the top five at the NCAA Tournament.
Jenkins said Sanderson called him Saturday and the two talked for 30 minutes about Cyclone wrestlers who might transfer, coaches who could come with Sanderson and other aspects concerning the Lion squad. Although Jenkins didn't know who the coaches would be, he said the conversation was helpful.
"He's excited. He's really excited, "Jenkins said. "He actually made me excited because he made it sound like it wasn't only about the money -- he really wanted to be at Penn State and be a Nittany Lion."
Sanderson's salary has not yet been made official.
Jenkins referred to next year's Penn State squad as a possible "Nittany Cyclone "team, a mix between wrestlers from Iowa State and Penn State. Jenkins said Sanderson told him most of the older wrestlers on the team would likely stay at Iowa State, but the younger ones could be coming to State College.
Cyclone freshman Matt Brown said he is considering following his coach to Happy Valley after he completes a two-year mission trip with his church.
Brown said Sanderson told a couple of individuals on the team about his decision, but then addressed the entire team Friday to tell them about his decision.
"At first we just thought it was rumors or speculation or something. We didn't think anything of it really, "Cyclone starting 149-pounder Mitch Mueller said. "Once we found out, it was a big surprise and it's a big loss."
Mueller and heavyweight David Zabriskie, both juniors, said they are not considering transferring to Penn State. Zabriskie said having Sanderson as a coach in his corner was an extra bonus because he's a great coach and a legendary figure.
"Penn State can look for big things, great things, "Cyclone 141-pounder Nick Gallick said. "He's great. He's a great coach. He leads by example. You look at his career in wrestling and you don't get any better than that. He's the best there is, and they can definitely look forward to great things. I can't see him coaching a team that isn't successful. He's the best."
Nittany Lions assistant coach Mark Perry said he hadn't talked to Sanderson yet and wasn't sure if he would be kept on staff, but if a good opportunity presented itself, he would like to stay with the Lions.
"Would I like to be here? Yes, "Perry said. "That's why I came here in the first place -- because I think there's so much potential here. If things were right, there's nothing more I would like than to be here. I could really grow from Cael Sanderson."
Current Maryland head coach and former Lion grappler Kerry McCoy said he traveled to State College to meet informally with some people to talk about the coaching vacancy at Penn State following Troy Sunderland's resignation. While he's content with staying with the Terrapins, McCoy said he would have to listen to an offer for an assistant coach position at Penn State if a move made sense for him, but said it is "not likely."
"It's almost like I have to wear two hats: one as a competitor and one as an alum, "McCoy said Friday. "It's intriguing. This made the competition that much more hard, but as an alum, it's great to see."
Junior Penn State wrestler Dan Vallimont said the biggest effect of the Sanderson signing will likely be recruiting. Pataky said young wrestlers from Pennsylvania will not look to go to schools outside of the state anymore, with a legendary figure like Sanderson in-state.
"The name Cael Sanderson will bring kids, "Jenkins said. "I think it's gonna be a good thing for the sport of wrestling just because I think domination from the state of Iowa is going to change, especially recruiting. Everyone is gonna want to flock here."
Perry underwent a coaching change during his wrestling career at Iowa and said the transition from Sunderland's regime to Sanderson's will have a huge impact on the Lion wrestlers.
"For the guys that have been around for a little bit, it's going to be kind of a culture shock just because they've been around one thing for so long, and it's going to be so much different, "Perry said. "They're going to have to be a little more open-minded. When you go from one extreme to the next, it can be challenging, but if you're open-minded, it will work out."
Perry said Sanderson's signing "caught everybody off guard "because he wasn't being talked about as one of the top candidates. But Jenkins said the signing "absolutely "puts the Lions into the conversation for national championship contenders for next season.
"For Penn State fans, they probably couldn't be more ecstatic, "Perry said. "You got one of the legendary names in the sport, and he's young so he'll be here for a long time. Penn State's future is looking bright."