Mocco wins Junior Hodge Trophy

By Bryan Van | May 23, 2001, 12 a.m. (ET)
Blair Academy's Steven Mocco was one of the most sought after recruits in recent years after winning four straight national prep titles, racking up a 212-1 record in high school. On April 8, Mocco proved to any doubters that he is the most dominant high school wrestler in the country after winning the heavyweight title, outstanding wrestler award, and the most pins in the least amount of time award at the National Senior High School Championships in Newark, DE. Because of this incredible dominance, Mocco has been named the Jr. Dan Hodge Trophy winner for 2001. The Jr. Dan Hodge Trophy is awarded each year to the most outstanding prep wrestler in the country and is co-sponsored by the Amateur Athletic Union and W.I.N. Magazine. "He is an outstanding competitor and without a doubt one of the best athletes I have ever coached," Blair coach Jeff Buxton said about his humble four-time National Prep champion. "He's what a coach's dream is all about." Mocco was honored by being named the winner. "It feels great to win it and I feel very honored to get the award," he said. Mocco had an outstanding senior season at Blair, finishing with a spotless 49-0 record with 43 falls. He has a laundry list of wrestling credentials. In addition to his four state and National Prep folkstyle titles, Mocco is also a very accomplished freestyle wrestler. With one summer of competing to go, he already is a two-time junior national champion and three-time junior national All-American wrestling in the upper weights where not many young wrestlers have much success. He was a cadet national champion and a two-time cadet All-American. And he was a three-time Asics All-American. Mocco, who signed his letter of intent to wrestle for the University of Iowa this spring, is content with what he has accomplished in his high school. "I feel like I1m ready to move on and wrestle in college. I don't feel like I held anything back and that's a great feeling," he said. Mocco's dominance has turned the heads of a lot of college coaches in recent years and he was heavily recruited by almost all of the top schools. He said his choice basically came down to four schools - Iowa, Oklahoma State, Lehigh, and the University of Pennsylvania. "It was a tough decision because it came down to some great schools. I was looking at Iowa on its own and then Lehigh and Oklahoma State as something to compare it to," Mocco said. "On my visits I liked Oklahoma State and Lehigh but the tradition, attitude, and the way they train at Iowa was what really did it for me." Mocco, who already has aspirations to compete in the Olympics, said he felt the Iowa program was also the best fit to prepare him for his probable post-graduate career. "At Iowa, you're in the room with so many Olympians and past World Team members every day that still train," he said. Buxton is confident Mocco is ready to move on to the next level. " I think he can go into Iowa and contribute right away. He's going to be a threat right away in college and you1re going to see some national titles," Buxton said. "He has a ton of maturity and unbelievable amount of confidence in himself." After the success he1s had in high school, Mocco has some lofty goals set for the rest of his career. "When I was in eighth grade at the Cadets competing against those guys, I decided I wanted to be a four-time national champion in college and then win the Olympics," Mocco said. Buxton said with the attitude Mocco has, the sky is the limit on what he can accomplish. "Steve is a very humble person who is constantly looking at what he can do to become better. You'll never see him point a finger in the air and do any trash-talking," he said. "That is what makes Steve, Steve." Buxton said another big factor in Mocco picking Iowa over the other schools was the chance to wrestle the tough young heavyweights in the Big 10 - national champion John Lockhart from Illinois, Minnesota's Garrett Lowney, and Ohio State's Tommy Rowlands. Lowney and Rowlands are freshman while Lockhart is a junior this year. "The growing process is going to be good for him," Buxton said. "He wants to compete against guys like that on a weekly basis. That1s why he wanted to go to the Big 10 so much." Mocco attributes much of his wrestling success to his father, Joe. Like many wrestling parents, Steve's dad took him all over to wrestling practices and tournaments. But in the Mocco household, finding quality workout partners and practices for the good-sized, mature-for-his-age Steve meant traveling many miles and hours on the road. "It was a big sacrifice," Steve said when remembering about how his dad would come right from work to drive him sometimes two hours from their home in North Bergen, NJ, to the Foxcatcher club practices. "I'm very appreciative." Steve's mother, Helen, is a school teacher and made sure that time on the road didn't come at the expense of Steve's schoolwork. "I did a lot of homework on the road," Steve said. Often times Steve and his dad would spend 10-12 hours a week on the road. Steve worked out at the Foxcatcher practices about twice a week and then would go to other practices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey on the other nights. Buxton said a lot of Mocco's aggressive, athletic style on the wrestling mat comes from his background in judo. Mocco, who has placed third in the National Judo Open, said the sport is really very similar to Greco-Roman wrestling and has made him a better all-around wrestler. Judo is based on upper-body throws - like hip tosses, arm spins, and inside trips. Mocco attended St. Benedicts High School for two years and wrestled for coach Mark Ruderman before transferring to Blair. Mocco distinctly remembers the one blemish on his record from his freshman year at St. Benedicts. Mocco was wrestling a kid from Queensbury, NY and the team needed a fall to win the dual. Steve was ahead 9-1 and tried to force a lateral drop. "We needed a pin so I went for a lateral drop and got stuck. It made me really concentrate on the national preps instead of just going undefeated." Other contenders for this year's Jr. Dan Hodge Trophy were Ohio's Kyle Ott (119) and Harry Lester (130), Michigan's Nick Simmons (119), Mocco's teammate Cory Cooperman (125), California's Alex Tirapelle (140), and Idaho's Jake Rosholt (189). Simmons, Cooperman, and Lester were all four-time state champions. Simmons was unbeaten at 211-0 with 186 pins and six forfeits. He is a three-time junior national champion and placed third at Senior High School Nationals. Simmons will attend Michigan State in the fall. Cooperman, who joined Mocco and became the third wrestler to win four National Prep titles, has also been a junior national runner-up and will attend Minnesota. Lester, who is headed to Iowa State, has won a junior national Greco title and OW award as well as a Cadet World freestyle championship. Ott, Tirapelle, and Rosholt have all won three state folkstyle titles. Ott, who will head west to attend Illinois, was the High School Nationals champion at 112 pounds and has finished second at Jr. Nationals. Tirapelle will follow in his older brother Adam's footsteps to Illinois where Adam became a national champion this year. Alex will join Ott on the 2001-2002 Illini squad and like Ott, also won High School Nationals. Rosholt will wrestle for John Smith1s Oklahoma State team this fall. He just won High School Nationals in April and was a freestyle junior national champion last year, winning the OW award. The Jr. Dan Hodge Trophy is the "little brother" of the collegiate Dan Hodge Trophy and is given to the most outstanding high school wrestler in the country. The same criteria are used for both awards: most outstanding high school/college wrestler, dominance on the mat, number of pins, record, past credentials, quality of competition, sportsmanship/citizenship, and heart. The award is usually publicly presented to the winner at one of his home college meets the following season.