Joe Dubuque was a 2x New Jersey State Champion while wrestling for Glenn Ridge High School. Dubuque capped his scholastic career by being crowned the 119-pound champion at the 2001 NHSCA Senior National tournament. To achieve this feat, the Bloomfield native had to best a field that included such names as: Travis Lee (Cornell’s 2x NCAA Champion), Nate Gallick (2006 NCAA National Champion at 141-pounds), 3x Michigan State All-American Nick Simmons, and 2005 NCAA Runner-up at 133 pounds, Edinboro University’s Shawn Bunch.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Joe continued his career at Indiana University, under the tutelage of a pair former Iowa greats, Duane Goldman and Mike Mena. During his reign in Bloomington, Dubuque built quite a resume, amassing a record of 114-18 on his way toward becoming a 3x All-American, as well as only the 2nd Hoosier to win two National titles. Joe earned the backend of the pair when he defeated New York State’s first 5x State Champion, Troy Nickerson, 8-3 in the 125-pound final of last season’s National tournament.
The 2006-2007 season will mark the beginning of a new test for the former Recreation Sports Management major, the challenge of coaching. Dubuque recently filled the vacancy on the Hofstra University staff created by the departure of Donny Pritzlaff. Joe will be responsible for working with the Pride’s talented core of lightweights, anchored by 2x NCAA National qualifiers, Dave Tomasette and Charles Griffin.
Wishing to introduce himself to his new wrestling family, the Long Island community, Mr. Dubuque took a few moments away from his daily routine to correspond with the Long Island Wrestling Association’s Matthew Diano.
LIWA: Joe, as someone who grew up in New Jersey, but matriculated for the past five years in Bloomington, how does it feel to return to your tri-state roots? Was a return to the area something you always intended to do following graduation?
Dubuque: It feels great to be back on the east coast. I think I would serve best being on the east coast as a recruiter since I am from New Jersey.
I didn’t really have any set plans. I was going to go where it was best for me and my career.
LIWA: Speaking of New Jersey, two (Tom Noto and Dave Tomasette) of the past three 125-pounders for the Pride called the Garden State home. Given your Prep success, as well as the proximity from Hempstead to your home in Bloomfield (approx. an hour away), it goes without saying many of the HU loyalists would have loved to have seen you don the Blue and Gold. Were you actively recruited by former coach, Tom Ryan? If so, how close did the Long Island based school come to making it a Jersey sweep at the weight? What ultimately sold you on Indiana University?
Dubuque: I spoke to Coach Ryan a couple of times, but since they had already recruited Tom Noto they really didn’t have a place for me.
I also wanted to go away to school and really experience college.
LIWA: Remaining on the topic of your scholastic career for a few more moments, you capped your high school career by winning the 119-pound title at the National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) Senior tournament in what many fans call the most loaded field ever. Looking back on that event and on some of the names who you finished higher than (Nick Simmons, Nate Gallick, Travis Lee, Shawn Bunch, etc…) where does this victory rank with you?
Dubuque: Winning Senior Nationals was just a tournament I had to win to prove to the nation that I was the best. I already knew that I was the best; This just got my name out there on the national scene.
LIWA: In the finals of this tournament you defeated former Pride wrestler, Ricky LaForge. With both of you hailing from NJ, have you ever had the chance to discuss the match with Rick? Considering how the Garden State has seemingly taken a proverbial back seat to places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, do you think that the all-Jersey final spoke volumes about the overall depth of your native state? Do you foresee in the near future a time when New Jersey will surpass the aforementioned and takes its place atop the mountain?
Dubuque: No, I haven’t had a chance to speak to Rick since then. I was really surprised that he made it to the finals but it has to say something that a one and a two time state champ made it to the national finals in a field where there were three and four time state champs.
I think NJ is right up there and winning it this year proved that we could compete with anyone.
LIWA: Last question about High school, I promise. As you may have heard, since 2004, New York has been experimenting with a two division system. The adoption of this setup has received considerable criticism because it opens the door for lesser wrestlers to win a state title in the small school division. Being that New Jersey is one of the few states that still utilize a single class tournament, what do you feel are the benefits/merits associated with crowning a single champion? Do you believe that the use of multiple division formats does in someway water down the accomplishment of being a state champ?
Dubuque: I feel single division state tournaments leave no question to who is the best in the state. I think multiple divisions hurts the good kids in the smaller divisions with
recruiting. Some colleges might put more stock on kids that won it in the larger divisions. It shouldn’t take away from the accomplishment the state champ still beat everyone in his division and no one can take that away from him.
LIWA: Turning to your collegiate career, in 2005, you became the first IU wrestler since Brian Dolph (1990) to win the National title. What did this honor mean to you? As a result of it, did you become something of an overnight celebrity in Bloomington?
Dubuque: Obviously winning an NCAA title is every college kid’s dream and goal. It feels great that I set my goals and went out and accomplished them.
IU is still basketball country so it wasn’t like if the basketball team would have brought back an NCAA title.
LIWA: On the subject of titles, you are a member of an exclusive group of wrestlers who won multiple national titles without ever winning a conference title. Do you believe this unusual statistic attests to the overall depth of the Big-10? If so, now that you are coaching in a smaller conference, is the gap in parity between the conferences something that concerns you? Do you ever perceive a time when D1 wrestling will enjoy more of a collective balance?
Dubuque: My opinion is that the Big Ten tournament is the hardest tournament in the country as far as the physical toll it takes on your body. The Big Ten tournament is more of a brawl then a wrestling tournament. It physically and mentally breaks guys. That’s why sometimes you see guys winning Big Ten titles and not reaching that goal at the NCAA’s.
I am not worried at all about the conference. I feel it will get our wrestlers ready and have them physically fresh for the National tournament..
LIWA: This past season, despite the fact that you entered the National tournament as the defending champion, a lot of the talk seemed to be aimed at guys like Hazewinkel, Simmons, Ott, and Nickerson. Did you perceive this as a lack of respect? Were you able to embrace the role of underdog and use it as a motivational tool?
Dubuque: Yeah, I feel people thought it was a fluke or that I just had a great tournament. I really felt disrespected. Even though magazines and websites had me ranked first, they really didn’t believe I was the top guy.
I didn’t let it get to me. You just have to move past it and believe in yourself because once you start doubting yourself, that’s when you’re in trouble.
I would have to say I am a self-motivated guy. I don’t need things that other people are saying or thinking to motivate me.
LIWA: In the finals of the nationals, you beat the only five-time state champion in Empire State history, Troy Nickerson. Recently, Nickerson spoke very highly of you, saying “Dubuque is a great champion; he really brought it this year at the NCAA.” Despite winning that match handily, was there anything that you came away with that suggested how good this kid can be in the not so distant future?
Dubuque: I know he’s a great wrestler. Obviously, making it to the NCAA finals speaks for itself. But I think he was really shell shocked. I don’t think I got his best match. However, his best match or not, there was no way I was losing that match.
LIWA: You also had to go through Dave Tomasette, a wrestler that you will be responsible for mentoring next season. Even though you blanked the HU sophomore 4-0, did you see any element of Dave’s game that impressed you and that you plan to build on going forward?
Dubuque: Dave is a great wrestler; I feel he has the skills and the work ethic to get him to the top of the podium. I think if we, as a coaching staff, can keep him healthy and fresh, he’s going to make a lot of noise at Nationals.
LIWA: The two gentlemen who preceded you as the champion in 125-pound weight class, Stephen Abas and Jason Powell, both turned their attention towards competing internationally following their commencements. Is this an avenue that you see yourself also pursuing? If so, would the China Olympics be your goal, or do you regard 2012 as your time to shine?
Dubuque: For now I am going to put all my energy into coaching. I want to learn all of the ins and outs of college coaching, and I think having me train would not be best for the team.
LIWA: Before being officially named to the HU coaching staff, there were a number of rumors circulating around the internet that you were being interviews by several schools looking to fill vacancies. One of the institutions that repeatedly garnered mentioning was Virginia Tech. Were you ever in serious discussion with Coach Dressler? In the end, what was it about Hofstra that ultimately won you over?
Dubuque: Yes, it came down to VT and Hofstra.
I felt Hofstra was just a better fit for me. They were already an established program and, I felt I would be able to bring to them the necessary skill and motivation to win an NCAA title.
LIWA: It is no secret that during your days as a college wrestler, you formed a very close relationship with your assistant coach, Mike Mena. As you get ready to embark on your first coaching job, which characteristics of Mena do you see yourself borrowing from? Have you spoken coach Mena since being hired? If so, what advice or last minute knowledge did he impart on you?
Dubuque: I think Mena and I are really alike. Mena didn’t just help me on the mat, he was always there for me if I needed him. He really cared about me and was always looking out for my best interest. I think that’s something I want to bring to Hofstra. I think once you realize as a wrestler that your coach truly cares about you and not just the “W”, the two of you can accomplish anything.
LIWA: As alluded to earlier, as the new lightweight coach, one of your primary responsibilities will be to work with Hofstra’s core of young talent, namely Tomasette and true freshman Lou Ruggirello. While both are immensely talented, the concern around them has been that they are not physically imposing enough to dominate on the Division I level. As someone who’s appearance has drawn comparisons to the Incredible Hulk, do you plan to personally instruct them in the weight room, as well as the mat? Has either contacted you to inquire about your off-season training regime?
Dubuque: Yes, especially with Dave. I want to get in the weight room with him and try to put on a couple of pounds of muscle before the season starts.
I don’t think Lou will have any problem filling into a good sized 133-pounder.
They have their off-season training packet that the strength coach put together for them.
LIWA: In addition to working with the current roster, one of the principal jobs of any coach is to be able to bring in the talent. Other than name recognition (which will undoubtedly serve you well), what aspects of your personality do you feel will enable you to walk into a potential recruit’s home and instantly sell him on Hofstra as his ideal college choice?
Dubuque: I am real personable guy. I can get along with just about anyone. I think high school kids are going to connect well with me because I just got out of college and they can relate to that. I think kids want to know what it takes to be an NCAA champ, and I can definitely put them in the right situations to achieve that goal.
LIWA: Furthermore, by being named the new assistant coach, one of the other tasks that will be asked of you is to act as an instructor for the next generation of wrestlers, as a valuable part of Tom Shifflet’s newly formed Strong Island program. What, if any, experiences from your youth wrestling do you feel really helped to build the foundation for the wrestler and man that you became? Do you consider this opportunity to work with the younger wrestlers to be a privilege?
Dubuque: I think just enjoying the sport really helped me thrive in it.
These younger kids need to know the basics and have fun. There’s no reason why little kids should not love the sport of wrestling. I have a great time working with little kids. I enjoy watching these little kids do the moves you teach them and have fun.
LIWA: Stepping away from wrestling, let us get a feel for Joe Dubuque, the man… You have accomplished so much at such a young age. Yet, from everything that is said and written about you, you have maintained that perennial fire in your belly. What it is about life that continues to motivate you?
Dubuque: I just want to be the best; the best wrestler I could be, the best coach I can be, and especially the best man I can be. I think my principles are a strong part of my life. I stand up for what I believe in.
LIWA: Now, while this may be your first coaching job, you are certainly no stranger to work. In 2005, while in the process of working toward your undergraduate degree, you spent some time as an intern for the New Jersey Jackals of the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball. First, did they ever make you wear the hotdog suit? More importantly, based on this experience, would you say that you are the kind of person who learns from every situation, no matter how small?
Dubuque: No, we didn’t have a hotdog suit but we did have a Jackals suit, but I was too small for it.
I think that internship gave me the necessary experience I needed for my major and my career as a working person.
LIWA: Dan Gable once said that wrestling is the greatest mistress in that it demands all of your time. While this is certainly true, there does reach a point when it is necessary to let it all go and relax.. When this happens, what kind of activities do you turn to as a means of blowing off steam?
Dubuque: I am a big video game player. I can easily lose myself in a PlayStation 2 game. I also like to hang out with my friends, as well as spend time with my family
LIWA: And finally, we have all come to associate words such as champion, beast, warrior, lion-heart, etc. with you as a wrestler. However, wrestling does not fully encapsulate who you truly are. What vocabulary would you use to define that side of you that many of us have yet to see. When wrestling is not in the equation, who or what is Joe Dubuque?
Dubuque: I would have to say “joker” would definitely describe me off the mat. I always seem to make the people around me laugh. I think people who don’t know me would have a hard time believing that.