Photo courtesy of Sam Eagan
USA Wrestling’s “Wrestler for Life” program has started accepting submissions for “The Story of the Week”. It can be about anything wrestling related, whether it’s a particular wrestling match you’ll never forget, or a life lesson that the sport taught you. If your story is chosen, it will be featured on TheMat.com, and winners will receive a pair of USA Wrestling socks.
Send your submissions to: Wrestlerforlife@usawrestling.org
This week's submission is by Sam Eagan.
I began wrestling towards the end of the 6th grade. I was an overweight child with bad confidence issues, who was so heavy that I couldn't play youth football. I had essentially given up on sports when my dad came home with a flyer for the local wrestling club and told me “you’re doing this.” Knowing better than to argue with the old man, I went along with it.
From the jump, I loved it. I was an angry and somewhat directionless child, and wrestling gave me both a clear cut objective and the opportunity to throw people around without concern for the repercussions. At my local club, I was far and away the largest kid, and I was helped in this early stage by a truly tremendous youth coach Joseph McVige, who wrestled with me daily.
My first bout with wrestling specific self-doubt came at my first youth tournament. It was my first opportunity to compete against kids my size and, long story short, I lost every match in a five-man round robin. I cried and cried, insisting that I wanted to quit and that I wanted nothing to do with it on the way home. My dad said nothing, not a word, and the next week he told me we were going back to wrestling practice. He was a Division I hockey player who knew nothing about wrestling, but he appreciated the hard work, the culture and the people in the sport.
My high school’s varsity program had all but collapsed. There were never more than 10 or 11 people on the team and only six by my senior year. And although well intentioned, kindhearted and passionate, we were led by a coach with about two years of high school wrestling experience.
By this point, my high school’s wrestling club had dissolved, and my family, knowing next to nothing about wrestling, had no clue where to turn for offseason training. This was in the early days of Flowrestling, and we did not have an account. So I began watching Cary Kolat’s Technique videos on YouTube and practicing them in the grass with my dad and my brother.
This would go on for the first two years of high school. I lifted weights in my barn, practiced the gospel of the great Kolat on the grass and watched every match I could find on YouTube. Over the summers of 2011 and 2012, I went to every wrestling camp I could find, even going as far as Wyoming (We will circle back around to that.) I was good but not great. These days were incredibly important to me and would motivate me later in my career.
By my junior year, these ragtag training methods had led to enough success that I was brought into Empire Wrestling Club, ran by one of the greatest coaches I have ever known Mike Ferris. There, I truly learned the sport, studied under him and scrapped with some of the best wrestling in Western New York. This hard work would give way to an All-State finish at the New York state tournament as a junior and a signed letter of intent with University of Wyoming.
By my senior year, I had been considered among the contenders for a state title, and a relatively successful senior campaign leading up to the state tournament meant that was still true. But the nerves got to me. Four years of struggle had led to a 1-2 finish in my last state tournament. In short, I was devastated. I remember not leaving my room other than to grab food for about two weeks. When my dad finally came and dragged me out, he reminded me that the work was not done, and that I had to be the best that I could be for the Wyoming.
By the time I had moved into my dorm in Laramie, I was the least heralded recruit in a jam-packed recruiting class with three multiple-time state champions, and it showed. I hope that I never get beat up as badly as that again for the rest of my life, but for a calendar year the butt whoopings were unceasing. Tanner Harms, Leland Pfeifer, Shane Woods and Clayton Foster collectively made sure I didn’t score a takedown until about halfway through my freshman year.
It got so bad that Head Coach Mark Branch was afraid I wouldn’t come back to campus after Christmas break.
But I did, and I stayed my whole career, in spite of a knee injury and plenty more butt whoopings which ultimately culminated in a solid senior year as a first-time starter.
Being a Wyoming cowboy, and being coached by the likes of Mark Branch, Teyon Ware, Ethan Kyle and McCade Ford, molded me into the man I am today. It taught me lessons in humility, strength, discipline, perseverance and kindness that will stick with me throughout life, and the amazing coaches I had early on in my career, Mike Ferris, Joseph McVige and Tom Ehmann, taught me that you should always push the ladder down for those that come after you. Now, as an assistant High School Wrestling coach in Brooklyn, I do my best to imbue these same lessons into our young wrestlers.
Wrestling means the world to me, and I will be involved in the sport in some capacity for the rest of my life. Wrestling’s lessons permeate our daily lives and its mission builds great people. Anyone and everyone can wrestle, whether you’re a young man or woman with access to the best training available, or a young fat kid lifting rusty weights in his barn and practicing Cary Kolat technique videos in the grass with your 55 year old father. Anyone can succeed, and that’s why I love the sport.