A year before he can sign his national letter of intent, Tom Haines, a junior at Solanco High in Quarryville (Pa.), has verbally committed to wrestle for the Nittany Lions. He becomes the first verbally committed prospect in Penn State's Class of 2014.
Haines rides a 48-match winning streak into his junior season, after winning two consecutive Class AAA state championships. His most recent title, at 220 pounds, came after an undefeated 42-0 season. In two seasons - he wrestled 215 as a freshman - Haines owns a 94-4 career record.
Haines is one of the top overall recruits for the 2014 cycle and arguably the No. 2 junior recruit in the state of Pennsylvania, behind fellow PSU target Chance Marstellar of Kennard Dale in Fawn Grove, Pa.
BWI assistant editor Tim Owen recently caught up with Penn State's first junior recruit for an extensive Q&A.
BWI: Did you train with a club this summer?
Haines: I go up to Shippensburg and wrestle with Renegade Force, coached by Chris Bentley. I've been with them since sixth grade. Usually, I get good practices up there, but sometimes I'll pretty much go anywhere just to practice with somebody my weight.
BWI: Being a bigger guy and wrestling with Renegade do you workout with a bunch of older guys? Is that one of the ways you help prepare yourself? Do you find yourself wrestling college guys, post-grad guys?
Haines: A lot of times I do end up wrestling coaches or college wrestlers, because a lot of people in my weight are just in-season wrestlers. It's just a lot easier to find coaches who are my weight and are going to give me a challenge when I wrestle them.
BWI: Headlined by Zain Retherford and [Matt] McCutcheon and Garrett Hammond, [Penn State] has quite a good class coming in. Then they're starting pretty well [for 2014] with you. What made you decide to make the decision so early?
Haines: For one, I was just swamped with letters from different places. It was just a lot of pressure. I knew I just wanted to get it out of the way pretty soon, and Penn State had always been on the top of my list.
BWI: Casey Cunningham is your recruiting coordinator, if I'm not mistaken. Can you can describe that relationship. How that began, how that evolved?
Haines: It started out with a couple of emails. He and my dad have emailed a lot. I emailed him from time to time. He's just a real cool guy and I'm excited to wrestle [against] him, honestly.
BWI: Ed Ruth has a goal that, before he leaves Penn State, he wants to beat Cunningham. Is that one of the factors that played into your decision, having that caliber of workout partner available to you?
Haines: Oh, definitely. I've been up before matches, I watch the warmups because they have the open warmups, and you can see they have multiple heavier guys. So I will have a lot of guys to wrestle with and make me better. Plus the coaching - Casey is crazy good. There's no way I'm going to have an easy day in there, which is a good thing.
BWI: When I interview most of the recruits, a lot of them talk about the competition. You don't have a day off, like you said. Have you had that type of practice atmosphere before?
Haines: Well the coach [at Renegade], Coach Bentley, he's a former Army Ranger, so he pushes practices as hard as possible. I always get a workout there - no matter who I am working out with, even if its not someone at my weight. I can still imagine Penn State practices will be a little bit harder.
BWI: You said earlier that you had tons of mail coming in from different schools. What other schools were you considering, Tom? And who recruited you the heaviest?
Haines: I don't even know how many letters I got. I have them somewhere. I got a lot from Lock Haven. I got a couple from Cornell. Pitt was trying to get me. Mostly Cornell, Pitt, and Maryland was up there a little bit.
BWI: Since you made your decision, do you still get the mail and emails, or has it cooled off now?
Haines: It's cooled off mostly. I still get a couple letters. I got one last week from Chattanooga, but pretty much it's all subsided.
BWI: When did you last visit Penn State?
Haines: I was up there for the Indiana [football] game and the wrestling match the night before.
What did you think of the following and the fan base and how that has grown?
Haines: I love Rec Hall. I love the atmosphere of it. It's completely packed. Everyone's cheering you on, so that was definitely up there. Especially since wrestling is my high school's main sport, so the community comes out and supports us there. So I've gotten used to that type of atmosphere, and that definitely played into my decision.
BWI: I'm sure you've taken notice of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club and the success they had this summer on the Olympic stage. How did that play into your decision?
Haines: Competing on the world stage would just be amazing. It's always in the back of my mind: What if I could be there? Obviously, the coaching staff [at Penn State] is pretty much the best that would be able to take me there, if that's what I try to decide to do.
BWI: Have they said anything about how big they want you to be when you get to campus? Or do you have a personal goal of how big you want to be by the time you reach college?
Haines: I'm probably going to redshirt my first year, so they're thinking probably by the end of that year I'll probably be around 260 - just from muscle and working out. Judging by how I'm growing, though, I may even get bigger that. Right now I'm 6-2.
Watch a Tom Haines match, here! (Haines is in the black singlet.)