Wrestling head coach Cael Sanderson takes part of the Penn State Coaches Caravan this week, as he'll join football coach James Franklin at stops in Philadelphia; Scranton, Pa.; Whippany, N.J.; and New York City.
Their first stop came Tuesday afternoon at the Valley Forge Casino in King of Prussia, Pa., and before the event, Sanderson met with about a dozen reporters. He joked about bugging Franklin for recruiting tips -- "I'm sure it gets a little annoying because he's always got people trying to pick his brain and steal his time," he said -- but he also provided some solid off-season insight into his program.
Below are some of the news and notes from Sanderson's 10-minute availability.
Welcoming back Frank
As Blue White Illustrated reported last month, 2012 NCAA champ Frank Molinaro has returned to State College to train with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club in preparation for a bid at the 2016 Olympics.
Molinaro had been serving as an assistant coach at Rutgers prior to the move. Sanderson further detailed Molinaro's move back to Penn State and what it means for Molinaro's future.
"He's all in. He wanted to jump into coaching right out of college and he was provided that opportunity. He was getting a nice paycheck and having the vision of building a program in New Jersey," Sanderson said. "And then I think he just got that itch to compete again and if you're going to compete you have to be surrounded by like-minded training partners who have the same goals and the same talents. If he is going to make a legitimate run in 2016, he needed to be back in State College he wants to compete and train so he's back."
The incoming freshman class
For the first time publicly, Sanderson commented on the incoming class of recruits. He was specifically asked about Jason Nolf, Bo Nickal and Nick Nevills, but Sanderson also made sure to include Shakur Rasheed into the discussion.
"They're coming into summer school, which we're excited about," he said. "We have about month left until they're here. It's a great class. I think they bring the attitude that we're looking for and that's the biggest thing. Obviously, in recruiting there's a lot of talent, and a lot of people work hard but having that attitude and that confidence is key. They bring that to the table. We have Shakur Rahseed, also, from Long Island coming in. We have a great class."
Replacing Taylor and Ruth?
Asked about replacing four-time All-Americans and multi-national champions David Taylor and Ed Ruth, Sanderson replied that he doesn't "look at it as you're trying to replace them. We're trying to build another championship team. We want to win more championships, and that just comes from getting good kids who can score a lot of points at the national tournament, kids who love wrestling and have that same passion."
Later during the Q&A session, Sanderson was asked who is in line to step up during the 2014-15 season and possibly take over at 165 and 184 pounds, Taylor's and Ruth's departed weight classes, respectively. While nothing is set in stone, Sanderson mentioned Matt McCutcheon (184) and Rasheed (165) as potential suitors to fill those weight classes.
"I think Matt McCutcheon is a kid who has a great attitude, who is going to be a guy who is just a goer and a brawler and makes conditioning a factor for him in matches," Sanderson replied. "Also, he's just a tough kid who loves wrestling. He's in the room every day -- still is. He kind of pops out as a guy who has the ability to step in there right away after his redshirt year. This [incoming] class, it'll really give us great insight into the future here. We have real high hopes for Jason Nolf, Nickal, Nevills and Rasheed. With this group, I don't know if we're going to wrestle anybody. We could wrestle Rasheed right away. He's coming in for summer school and if he's ready to go at 165, then we're going to wrestle our best guy at 165 and be ready to roll."
Recovering from last season's injuries
Sanderson called the 2013-14 season "a rough year" on the injury front, and he gave an updated injury report Tuesday.
Sanderson said Andrew Alton, who underwent shoulder surgery before the Big Ten Tournament in March, is on pace for a full recovery and he's hoping that he'll be ready to go for the start of the 2014 season. Meanwhile, brother Dylan Alton also underwent shoulder surgery this off-season. Both brothers had surgery on opposite shoulders last season, making it back-to-back off-seasons that they'll rehab from an operation.
"You just want to get them back to full speed," Sanderson said. "When they're at full speed, they're pretty remarkable at what they do. They haven't had that opportunity and I know that's been frustrating for them. It's tough to watch guys compete when they're not 100 precent. Hopefully they can get back to full-speed. Obviously, that's what we're pushing for. When they're full-speed, they're contenders and we need them."
Sanderson also disclosed that 197-pound Morgan McIntosh had surgery after the national tournament on an injured right elbow. Sanderson said that surgery was minor. "It was more of a cleanup deal," he said.
Sanderson confirmed that heavyweight Jimmy Lawson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last year, is also on the mend and has since returned to the mats. Fellow heavyweight Jon Gingrich suffered a knee injury during the national tournament, too, and Sanderson said Gingrich "is just now getting back into it."
Returning to the BJC?
Penn State packed a record-setting crowd into the Bryce Jordan Center for a dual meet last year, and received great feedback afterward.
Is another BJC dual meet in the process of being planned?
"We are going go look at that soon," Sanderson replied. "We haven't made any decisions on that, but we will soon. It went well last year and we'll probably do the same thing. Our demand was real high last year with Ed and David being seniors and that class that we had, and that team that we had. So we have to decide if it's the right thing for the program, but we want to give [fans] one chance to watch the team because we're going to be pretty darn good again this year."