Wrestling, which began as a varsity sport at Stevens in 1919, has gone through some major transitions over the past 92 years. For the past five years, Mike Clayton, who became the head wrestling coach in 2007, has initiated and led many of these revolutionary changes.
Starting with the numbers, the team’s roster has grown from 15 wrestlers back in 2007 to 40 members for the fall 2011 season. This number includes three Neupauer Scholars and six wrestlers who made the President’s List this past year with a GPA over 3.75.
Academically, the team has gone from 19th in Coach Clayton’s first year coaching to 10th, 6th, and 3rd this past year in all NCAA Div III wrestling – as the team had an impressive collective GPA of 3.551. The team also earned Stevens’ highest national ranking this past year at 18th and has had three All-Americans, a title no wrestler in Stevens’ history had held prior.
“Our success over the past four years has been the direct result of setting high goals and a willingness to work hard to reach those goals. We continue to attract top student-wrestlers from around the nation and we have a committed support staff that helps them focus on their academic and athletic priorities,” says Coach Clayton.
Team member Ryan Dorman, a three out of five Mechanical Engineering major, asserts: “Coach brings energy, not only to the wrestling room, but also to the image of the team overall. He promotes the growth and success of the team more than any other coach to come through the Stevens wrestling program.”
“He also cares for the athletes at both the athletic and academic levels, which is essential for the future success of student athletes as they look for employment upon leaving Stevens,” Ryan adds. “He does as much to prepare the athlete for the mat as he does to prepare the student for the business world.”
Wrestler Joe Favia, a four out of five double major in Business and Technology and Social Science, remarks, “Coach Clayton has spent his career at Stevens tirelessly working to improve our program. He has built the program from a once unranked team to a top 20 team, with this upcoming year’s goal of landing a top 10 ranking. He has given us these opportunities by surrounding us with a great training environment. He has recruited the best wrestlers and the best coaching staff. Our staff alone is one that can rival a Division I program.”
“A wrestling team is nothing without great training partners and a coaching staff that is fully committed to the team system,” continues Joe. “Coach Clayton has provided our team with all of those amenities and more.”
While coaching at Stevens, Coach Clayton was able to focus on his studies as well and obtain a Master’s degree in Management from the Howe School. He has also served as a member of the ROTC and Stevens Veterans Office for the past three years. A veteran of the Navy Supply Corps, he enjoys helping other vets in their educational pursuits.
There were a number of things that first attracted Coach Clayton to Stevens, in particular, the academic success, spectacular location, career placement, and the salary statistics for graduates. He believes that the combination of these strengths help improve the ability to recruit students to Stevens and the wrestling program.
When asked what he expects from the wrestlers wanting to come to Stevens Clayton says, “Total commitment to academics and discipline to get the training that will help them reach their goals in wrestling as well.”
The wrestling team had never won a match in the Centennial Conference. In the past four years, however, with Clayton’s determination and passion, the team is now 22-6 in the conference. He mentions how he has toughened the schedule to compete against some of the highest ranked teams in the nation annually.
“The season is long which is hard in itself. During that time you are challenged to battle one-on-one in competition 30 or more times. As many athletes know, game day is the most brutal part of competition sports, but what sets wrestling apart from other sports is the "mano a mano" physicality,” adds Ryan.
He goes on to explain that unlike any other collegiate sport, wrestling forces its athletes into a ring for seven minutes, during which each athlete tests and pushes the other for the smallest sign of weakness (this is part of the reason why a wrestling competition is called a "match" not a "game"). Couple that with the day-to-day mental discipline and desire to be the best which pushes each athlete past their physical breaking point on a daily basis.
“As a team this causes athletes to join together and push one another to the next level to get them through any tough times,” says Ryan. “The team aspect of wrestling is very important for this reason.”
Joe echoes the comment: “Being surrounded by athletes who share a common goal and work endlessly to achieve that goal no matter what it may take is my favorite part about the team. It is a new year with new wrestlers and we plan to work hard to come out on top.”
The team is expanding the wrestling room over the summer in addition to running a summer wrestling camp. Also, Clayton is currently working to build a wrestling team locker room. The newly expanded Wrestling Center will offer the 2011-2012 team over 3,000 square feet of mat space and more than 1,000 square feet for cardio workouts, weight lifting, and conditioning training.
“Not only has the room expanded, but generous donations have allowed us to paint the entire room in red and gray and improve our signage to show off our wrestlers’ accomplishments over the entire history of our program,” says Coach Clayton.
Joe concludes, “Our team is a close group of wrestlers. We share blood and sweat. Nothing can bring a team closer. We feed off each other’s energy, in and out of the wrestling room, constantly pushing each other to reach high levels of success on and off the mat. We have high goals and even higher expectations for our own success every day. It forces us to work hard and become a tight group fighting for a common goal: A National Championship.”
The wrestling team sets the perfect example of what it means to be a student-athlete in a Division III college. As much time that is put into the training is put into the studies as well, giving any individual the opportunity to go above and beyond after college. Coach Clayton undoubtedly sets the example for what this means and brings out the best in the wrestlers to achieve their highest potential.