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Tom Ryan

Tom Ryan was a 3x All-Nassau County and All-New York State wrestler for Wantagh high school.   After graduating from Wantagh, Tom wrestled for 2 years at Syracuse University where he was the 1989 EIWA Champion.   Ryan then transferred to the University of Iowa where he wrestled for legendary coach Dan Gable.   At Iowa, Ryan was a 2x Big Ten Champion.   Tom was a 2x NCAA All-American, taking 2nd in the 1991 NCAA Tourney and 3rd in 1992.

Following graduation from Iowa, Tom spent 2 years as an assistant coach at Indiana University.   In 1995 Ryan became the 9th head wrestling coach at Hofstra University.   Tom has taken Hofstra from a team that finished with a 3-12 record his first season to a being a perennial Top 20 ranked program.   Tom has coached 4 different wrestlers to All-American honors at the NCAA tourney, including current senior (and Long Beach native) Jon Masa who placed 3rd at least years tourney and is currently ranked #2 in the nation.   On November 23rd of last season, Tom Ryan coached Hofstra to a 23-10 victory over Lehigh, the #2 ranked team in the nation.

Hofstra is currently ranked #16 by Amateur Wrestling News and has 6 wrestlers ranked in the Top 20 at their respective weight classes, including a pair (Long Islanders Jon Masa and Mike Patrovich) ranked in the Top 10.   Coach Ryan brings in one of the nations top recruiting classes, featuring West Babylon star (and 2x state champ) Alton Lucas, as well as National Champions Mike Pucillo and Mitch Smith.

Tom recently discussed the Hofstra program and gave a preview of the 2005-06 season exclusively with Bill Faxon for the Long Island Wrestling Association.

LIWA: When you took over the program, Hofstra was not a major player on the national wrestling scene.   During your tenure youíve had some tremendous success, as well as some setbacks.   How would you grade the overall state of the program in comparison to where you thought that you would be when you took over?

Ryan:  Iíd say overall itís been a lot more difficult building a national power than I thought it would have been.   Itís taking a lot more patience and time.   There are times when you think that youíve got a team that can do it, but as competitive as this sport is, if you donít have your guys ďonĒ, the weekend of the NCAAs, you arenít going to get it done.  

LIWA: Hofstra, along with Lehigh, is one the of very few private schools to consistently be in the Top 20.  (Note: Even Cornell has several state endowed colleges where NY residents receive reduced tuition.)  Is the tuition, relative to your competitors, an issue?

Ryan:  You  see very few private schools out there because itís very difficult to do.   Iíd say that what hurt us even more is that we werenít fully funded until this year.   Iím very proud that the University has seen the success that weíve had and decided to back us fully.   This year is the first time that weíll have the full 9.9 scholarships.   On top of that, at Hofstra we donít have full need based aid.   Lehigh, for example, does.   If youíre an inner city kid or a rural kid and your family isnít making a lot of money, you can go to that school for free.   At Hofstra thatís not the case.   Aid is based on academic merit.   So if youíre a good student, youíll be assisted financially by Hofstra, but not nearly to the extent that you are at some of the schools that we compete against. 

LIWA: As it relates to bringing the program to national prominence, youíve always scheduled the big teams, Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Lehigh, etc.  but until last year youíd never beaten one of them.   How important was the victory over Lehigh?

Ryan:  That was a great win for the program.   Early on, when we had 5.5 scholarships, we scheduled dual meets not to win the dual meet quite frankly, but because we had individual wrestlers that we wanted to prepare for the National Tournament.   We would bring in these teams so that our top people would be better prepared for the NCAAs. 

Now we bring them in to beat them.

LIWA: In years past youíd wrestle those big matches early in the year.   This year you have an 8 day span in February where you face Cornell, Lehigh, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.   Was it by design to wrestle these matches later in the year?

Ryan:  Normally the bigger schools are tougher to get the second semester because their conference, for example the Big 10, starts doing the schedule for them.   Weíve signed a 4 year contract with Oklahoma State for home and away events.   We really want to wrestle better teams later in the year, and weíre fortunate that it worked out that way this season. 

LIWA: You have been able to bring in many, if not most, of the top Long Island wrestlers.   Most recently Masa, Patrovich, now Alton Lucas.   But itís been almost a decade, since Jason DeBruin, when you last signed a blue chip recruit from Upstate.   Do you think there is a perception that Hofstra is a ďLong IslandĒ school as opposed to a ďNew YorkĒ school?

Ryan:  There have been many years where there was a top recruit from upstate New York where we just couldnít put money into the weight class.   A lot of times it just worked out that way.   Kyle Cerminara is an example.   We might have been able to get him, but I couldnít spend more money in the weight class because I already signed Skretkowitz.    We have a cap of 21 bodies in the room, and we werenít fully funded, so Iíve always had to be very careful about recruiting the weights that we needed, and a lot of times it didnít match up with the big recruits upstate.   Iíd rather not recruit by weight, Iíd rather just recruit the best kids available and let them figure it out, but we really need to be smart.

LIWA: You have a very highly regarded recruiting class this year, one of only two programs to bring in a pair of #1 ranked wrestlers.   (Note: Ironically Cornell is the other.)  Letís start with Alton Lucas.   Many in the wrestling community feel that Alton is the most talented wrestler to come from Long Island since Jesse Jantzen.   But can he reach his potential as a wrestler if heís also playing football?

Ryan: On the high school level he obviously did it.   Alton is like a Catch-22 for us.   Football has put him on the field, which means that we donít have to pay for him anymore, football does.   So heís free as far as weíre concerned, and it opens up another scholarship.   Itís not a bad situation.   He gets his money from us this year, but he gets it from football from this year on.   As far as him achieving his goals, of course any time you commit to one thing you have a better chance of success.   But what Iíve seen of the kid so far, I love everything about him.

If heís supposed to do 8 hours of study hall, he does 10.   Heís playing football, he finds time to get his drills in, to get his runs in.   Itís a long wrestling season.   He comes out of football in the end of November, heís still got 4 months of wrestling. 

Heís very special.   He hasnít won a match yet, but I think he is going to have tremendous success for us on the wrestling mat despite the fact that heís playing football, as long as he stays injury free.

LIWA: And Alton will redshirt this year?

Ryan: He may or may not.   Weíre not sure yet.   He may go 165, he may go 174, he may redshirt.   It really depends on what Mike Patrovich does and how Chris Vondruska looks.

LIWA: When you signed Mike Pucillo in the early period, most people thought that he was a good recruit, but he wasnít a huge name nationally.   Then he goes out, beats Patrick Bond and wins the Beast of the East.   And then he beats Jon Jones, who all New Yorkers know, and Jake Varner on his way to winning the high school Nationals.   He finishes as the #1 ranked 189 pounder in the country.   Did you know he was this good, or did you get a little lucky?

Ryan:  Probably a little of both.   We did a lot of homework on him.   His coach was Clint Musser, who wrestled at Penn State.   We spoke to him.   His club coach, Jeff Jordan, said that Pucillo was the best wrestler in Ohio and if you have any chance that you should get him.   We knew from these guys that this kid was pretty special. 

We knew that the year before he took 2nd at the Beast of the East, that he won the Ironman.   Heís had success for more than a year.   His high school coach compared him favorably to {2002 NCAA Champion} Joe Heskett, saying that he might even be more talented but needs a different type environment.   We knew that he was going to be a good one, based on the experience of a lot of coaches that have been around a lot of good wrestlers.   Walsh Jesuit has produced a lot of great  wrestlers, and they were speaking very highly of him.   And when we met Mike, when we spoke to him, we knew that he was special.

LIWA: Your third recruit, Mitch Smith, is a from West Virginia, so a lot of Long Islanders arenít that familiar with him.   He won Junior Nationals, which is a tremendous accomplishment.   What else can you tell us about Smith?

Ryan:  Heís one of those rare kids that starts wrestling in 8th grade and just doesnít lose.  Heís just a natural.  We looked at his workout partner situationÖ.which was none.  He did it by wrestling over the summer, trying to find camps and clinics.  His high school coach was very good, but the situation was limited.  We felt that he had a ton of upside. 

Not a lot of people were on him early, because he was from West Virginia.  Tom Brands WAS on him, but decided to go with 3 Iowa kids and that really opened the door for us. 

With all 3 of these guys, Lucas, Pucillo and Smith, Hofstra and our small class sizes was a perfect fit for them academically.  With all 3 guys, getting them was a combination of hard work and getting a little lucky.  And Hofstra really was the best place for all 3 of these guys.

LIWA: You mentioned Alton at 165 or 174.  What can you tell us about Mike Patrovich, in terms of his weight, his health, and his eligibility remaining?

Ryan:  At this point Iím up in the air about his weight.  I think he is too, Donny (Pritzlaff) and Rob (Anspach) are too.  Heís big.  Heís big and strong, so weíre not really sure. 

He will have 2 years left.  He clearly lost a year due to a medical injury.  So we fully expect that heíll get a 6th year and that heíll take it and compete while working on his Masters.

LIWA: Does the fact that heís thinking about 174 have anything to do with Joe Mazzurco? I know its high school, but Patrovich did beat Mazzurco in the state finals and now Mike watched Mazzurco wrestle into the NCAA semifinals at 174. 

Ryan: Yeah, that was a factor.  They worked out this summer.  Mazzurco is an excellent wrestler, but Mike certainly feels that he can compete with him.  Mike grew, he got bigger, and he got stronger. 

The thing with Mike, ultimately, is that the goal isnít to be an All-American.  The goal is to be a National Champion.  So do you want to go after (Johny)Hendricks and (Troy) Letters or do you want to go after (Ben) Askren and (Mark) Perry?   Those are clearly the 2 best guys at each of the weight classes. 

LIWA: And Patrovich wrestled well against Hendricks last year.

Mike Patrovich is a very impressive person.  Heís had TWO reconstructive shoulder surgeries.  His first time on the mat last year was a week before the Oklahoma State match and he goes out and gets the first takedown on Hendricks.  Mike hadnít been able to put in a full summer since he was in high school.  This is the first summer since heís been at Hofstra that heís been healthy.  Heís just had bad luck with that shoulder, and the fact that heís even competing with Hendricks after taking a year off is just amazing.  Mike made the All-American round at the NCAAs and the guy had only wrestled a month to a month and a half.

We expect big things this year.  Heís in the best shape that heís been in.  At this level thereís no time off, you need to be in shape all the time, and he did a great job this summer. 

LIWA: Speaking of Oklahoma State guys being in the way, can Masa beat Zach Esposito?

Ryan: I think he can beat Zach Esposito.  Masa is full of confidence right now, he just needs to put a full year in the way he put in 6 or 7 weeks last year.  Heís done a much better job so far.  Last year he came in real heavy, this year he came in about 8 or 9 pounds lighter.  Weíre happy where he is right now.

LIWA: Masa wrestled great in last yearís NCAA tournament, but was erratic during the season.  The losses during the season cost him in terms of a bad seed at last yearís NCAAs and an earlier meeting with Esposito than you would like.  How important is it for Masa to wrestle well all year to get a good seed, and how do you stress that with him?

Ryan:  Masa loves to wrestle, he loves the sport.  But his weight coming in last year was just way too high.  He works hard, but he was undisciplined with his nutrition.  If you look at the dual meet with Nebraska, he was crushing Shufelt, he was up 3 takedowns to none in the first minute, but the weight management caught up to him.  He was in shape but he was cutting too much weight.  So we really stressed it, and he realized that he had to come in lighter.  And he did.

LIWA: Speaking of weight management, is Ricky Laforge back and is he really going 133?

Ryan: Laforge is not back yet.  His case is under review with the NCAA.   There are 2 years in question and our compliance guys are looking to get back one of the two years. 

He saw at last years NCAA tournament, guys like Travis Lee, Clum, Simmons guys that he beat and placed ahead of at high school Senior Nationals go out and win and do so well at the NCAAs.  His weight at Senior Nationals, where he was the runner-up, 5 of those guys placed in the Top 3 at the NCAA tourney over the first 2 weight classes. 

Laforge watched his weight all summer, he ran all summer.  He came in at 142 pounds.  He was very disciplined and was very set on making 133 the right way, doing the things that he didnít do 2 years ago. 

LIWA: When will you find out if heís eligible?

Ryan: Hopefully soon.  I think in the next 2 weeks.  The NCAA keeps asking us a lot of questions, which our compliance guys feel is good.  We want him back.  Is he up and down some times? Yes.  But he works hard.  He struggles at times like anybody else.  We want him back, and if heís back heíll be in the line-up.  If not Charles Griffin will be our 133 pounder.

LIWA: And Griffin will redshirt if Laforge is back?   

Ryan: Right, Griffin would redshirt.  Thatís the plan right now. 

LIWA: And the plan for 141 is Manarte and Smith?

Ryan:  Yes, although I think Smith will ultimately grow into being a 149 pounder.    .

LIWA: With guys like Smith and Pucillo, how do you balance whatís best for the team, which might be having them in the line-up right away, with whatís best for the individual wrestler over the long term which might be a redshirt?

Ryan:  My philosophy in coaching has completely changed.  The biggest factor thatís changed my coaching philosophy was the loss of my son.  My whole life perspective changed.  It used to only be about the individual.  The individual is still important, but now I believe that first and foremost itís about the team.  You are part of the team, you are part of the community, and you are part of the family.  The team is always first.  I tell recruits that when I bring them it.  Your career is important , but you are part of the team.  Of course you donít abuse an individual for the team, but if itís close you go with team first.

LIWA: Something thatís hurt the team over the years has been the heavyweight class.  Hofstra was in the running for Steve Mocco, but after he decided to go to Oklahoma State you have had a lot of issues at heavyweight.  You went with the football players for financial reasons, but youíve lost multiple matches over the past few years because of not having a heavyweight.  With the addition of 2x Junior College All-American John Andriac do you feel this issue is resolved?

Ryan:  Most likely we beat Nebraska and Michigan last year if we had a heavyweight.  Now that weíre fully funded it became a no-brainer to get a heavyweight.  In the past, we had guys like (Gian) Villante and (Dan) Garay.  They were both high school All-Americans and pretty athletic overall.  So for me to fund somebody, theyíve got to be able to beat those guys.  Otherwise in December weíre going to have a football player come off the field and the guy that weíre funding is going to be riding the pine.  So letís put our money in other weight classes unless we can get someone that can beat either one of those guys.  We did go after some people, but we just didnít get them.  And we want to get guys that can get our program into the Top 10, not just guys to stay off of their back.  This year we had the funding, and Andriac was clearly a guy that we wanted to have.  Heís going to help us tremendously.  Heís huge, he loves the sport.  Heís a full time guy.  Weíre excited about him. 

We also have a walk-on thatís really impressive in the room.  His name is Gus Delvecchio.  Heís only about 220 pounds, but heís really athletic.  Heís been a nice pickup for us as well.

LIWA: Previously James Strouse looked like a 149 pounder that was wrestling 157 because of Masa.  Has he grown into the weight?

Ryan: Absolutely.  Heís as strong as an ox.  The guy works so hard.  The important thing is that Strouse really believes that Strouse is good enough to compete at the highest level.  At last yearís national tournament he lost two 1 point matches to two All-Americans.  He beat Zinck during the year, heís right in there with the best guys.  But losing close is one thing, winning close is another and we need him to start winning.  And heís going to do it.  Heís made another big jump and we think that heís ready, but the important thing is the mental aspect, that he not be putting people on a pedestal just because they were an All-American.

LIWA: Your three freshman from last year, Tomasette, Griffin and Rovelli, all three won against Oklahoma State, they all showed flashes of greatness during the season, but they all had rough NCAA tourneys.  Was it just inexperience?

Ryan: Griffin started to have a hard time making the weight.  He wasnít as disciplined as the coaching staff wanted him to be.  And we probably should have watched him a little more closely.  He had a very tough draw, but he should have beaten Ciasulli in the first round.  He was in on a takedown late in the match, and he should have gotten it.  If he gets it, we win.  Instead heís in the wrestlebacks and you get one of the top kids in the country who was upset in the first round and you catch him in the wrestlebacks. 

Freshman, in general, struggle late in the season.  Itís such a long season for them.  Griffinís in way better shape right now then he was last year at this time coming out of high school.  No comparison.  I think overall the freshman were very good, and the season just got a little long. 

The kid from Oklahoma State that Rovelli beat was good, but he didnít wrestle enough top competition during the year.  As a staff we were all a little humbled at the NCAA tournament because we thought the freshman were capable of doing something.  But they will this year.

LIWA: Rovelli and Pucillo are going to wrestle off for the 184 spot?

Ryan: That is a wrestleoff.  Pucillo is going to redshirt no matter what the outcome. 

LIWA: And Pucillo canít or wonít go 174 if Patrovich did go 165?

Ryan: He probably could, but he came in a little heavy.  As a staff we felt that it doesnít hurt the team to have either Lucas or Vondruska in there so letís let Pucillo redshirt and really get accustomed to college and college wrestling.  We think heís really special.

The plan is to redshirt Pucillo this year and then redshirt Rovelli next year.  After that weíll have Rovelli move up to 197 when Weidman graduates.   And Weidman is a guy that we think can step in and be an All-American.  Heís beaten Phil Davis from Penn State before.  He can wrestle with anyone.  The big thing with Weidman, that I keep coming back to, is not putting anyone on a pedestal.  I think he does feel that he is capable of competing on this level, and he should.

LIWA: Do you still roll around with the guys?

Ryan: I get on the mat now and then, but thatís what I have Pritzlaff for.  Iíll drill with them, and Iíll get on the mat now and then, but I donít do as much wrestling as I used to.  

LIWA: Speaking of Pritzlaff, there was a lot of buzz over the summer that Iowa was very interested in him for an assistant coaching spot.  Why do you think he stayed, and how important was it that he stayed?

Ryan: It was very important to the program that he stayed.  Forget about wrestling, heís just a great human being.  Heís a winner, heís a class act.  He was instrumental in signing Mike Pucillo.  Our staff gets along very well.  Rob Anspach is a great administrator.  The three of us together make a really great team. 

Youíre right, Iowa did go after him.  But I think we treated him fairly.  We gave him a good financial package.  I think he cares about the team here.  He wants to stay in the East.  I think heíll stay here until heís done competing, and I think his next position will be as a head coach, I donít think heíll make a lateral move.

LIWA: Itís pretty clear that Cornell has been able to leverage Travis Leeís success.  If you are going to continue to recruit the top guys, how important is it that you have an individual National Champion?  

Ryan: Itís very important.  For the first few years I was able to go in someoneís home and say that I wrestled at the University of Iowa and that I know a system that works.  But eventually you have to stand on your own two feet.  Weíre starting to do that, but a National Champion would certainly bring even more credibility to what we do and where weíre heading.

Weíve had guys that were capable.  Chris Skretkowitz was capable.  Jon Masa is capable.  Eric Schmiesing and Roman Fleszar were capable.  But they placed where they placed.  I do think, in the group we have in the room right now, we have some very special young wrestlers and as long as they stay focused I think weíll get a National Champion out of the current group that we have and maybe more than one.  We have a very talented, hardworking group.

LIWA: Your conference, the CAA, has seen some higher profile wrestlers and coaches come in over the past several years, most recently with Coach Martin down at Old Dominion.  On the one hand, having a tough conference is a good sell to some recruits.  On the other hand, Hofstra has been sending 7, 8, 9 guys a year to the NCAA tourney, and with a tougher conference it might be harder to do that.  Is a stronger CAA good or bad for Hofstra?

Ryan:  Itís a Catch-22.  The way the NCAA does wild card allocation for the NCAA tournament itís a lot tougher to go up in spots than it is to go down.  We were at 29 spots a few years ago.  Now weíre down to 24, and we might even be down to 22 for this year.  So even though our conference is bringing in good people and is improving, the formula, which we donít think is fair, actually works against us. 

I still think we would have sent 9 to the Nationals out of the EIWA last year.  If we had a great tournament we bring 9, if we had a good tournament we probably bring 8 out of the EIWA.  Weíve had very few guys get in that wouldnít have gotten in from tougher conferences.  Itís the other teams in the CAA that are having a tougher time getting their guys through.

LIWA: Aside from your CAA competition, you also have competition in New York.  Last season there were three New York schools ranked in the Top 20.  Cornell had Travis Lee win a title and then brings in a great recruiting class led by Troy Nickerson.  Buffalo gets Ricky Scott and has Cerminara returning.  Army has gotten top wrestlers.  Binghamton is revitalized.  Is an ďarms raceĒ among New York colleges good or bad for Hofstra?

Ryan: Donít forget Columbia, theyíre doing a good job too.  And I hear Syracuse is trying to bring the program back.  But there are still so many great wrestlers and so few places to go.  At Hofstra we have our niche.  Weíre going to have a tough time getting the guy with the 1300 SAT.  We have brought in guys like that, but for the most part weíre not in a recruiting battle with Cornell and Columbia. 

I also think New York wrestling is back up, if it was ever down, and there are a lot of good wrestlers.  Our top guys are very good.  We also recruit Ohio, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Weíve made a living in New Jersey the past couple of years.  Iím not sure if it helps or hurts to have so much competition, but we go after the guys that fit our profile, and for the most part we get them.

LIWA: While Hofstra wrestlers have had some big moments at recent NCAA tourneys, such as Ralph Everett knocking off Greg Jones and Tom Noto knocking off Leroy Vega, youíve also had a fair amount of wrestlers who had disappointing NCAA tournaments their senior year, with Chris Skretkowitz last year being the most recent example.  What do you attribute this to?

Ryan:  I have to say, some of it has to fall on the coaches shoulders.  Between Noto, Noel and Everett I think we were 0-9 in All-American round matches.  Some of it falls on the coaches, and some of it is that you have an opponent in the All-American round, heís foaming at the mouth ready to go.  3 of the All-American round matches that we lost one year were lost in overtime. 

We think the floodgates are ready to open.  Weíve had some tough losses and some tough wins, and youíre judged by the NCAA tournament.  We need to do a better job as a staff  to make sure our guys are ready in the All-American rounds.  I take responsibility.

Our tough February schedule this year is going to help.  When a guy is in the wrestling room getting ready for Oklahoma State thatís different than getting ready for some other matches. 

Itís also that we canít keep putting other people on pedestals.  Itís going to take the year where we have 3, 4 , 5 All-Americans and then it becomes: ďWeíre SUPPOSED to be on this level.Ē

LIWA: Without comment on specific high school kids, itís been reported that you have a verbal commitment from one of the top recruits in the country.  Should Hofstra fans expect another big recruit this year?

Ryan: You should expect a couple of more big ones.  The weight classes weíre really recruiting now are 133 and 157.  We think Smith will grow into 149 and Griffin will grow into 141.  So weíre looking at 133 and 157, and weíre on some really good people who are very interested in us.

LIWA: What would be a fair expectation for Hofstra fans to have related to the 2005-06 season?

Ryan:  This team is certainly capable of great things.  We have a lot of talent in the room, and certainly our goal is to put guys on the podium at the National Tournament.  But the only thing we guarantee is that we bust our butt and weíll take it one day at a time.  People should expect to see a Hofstra team that wrestles well at ever position and that wrestles hard.   This team can be as good as last years team, and maybe better.

The support of those fans has made an enormous difference.  People like Scott Arnel, when he got involved it had a big impact.  Just like Cornell had Friedman when Scott got involved things really started to happen.  You meet people in the community that make a difference.  Last year we sold 300 season tickets, which Hofstra had never done, and we averaged 1800 people at our home matches.  Iím fortunate that Iím in an area where there are a lot of people that want this program to work.  Iíve grown with the program, and Iím fortunate that there are a lot of special people around that care about wrestling. 

To this day, as a wrestler or as a coach, Iíve yet to have a year where I accomplished the ultimate goal I set for that year.  Iíve been in this sport for 25 years and Iíve never reached my goal.  You can look at it like itís depressing, but I look at it that wrestling is real life.  You are going to have great moments, and you are going to have moments that are tough. 

Itís real life.