Year after year, the University of Michigan and University of Oklahoma—two of the nation’s most dominant and successful collegiate wrestling programs—manage to recruit and sign many of the best wrestlers that high school programs have to offer. Wolverines head coach Joe McFarland and Sooners head coach Jack Spates offer valuable insights on what they look for in recruits.
We like to see athletes go on to compete at some of the national tournaments, specifically the Cadet Nationals and Junior Nationals. Obviously, if we can get a guy who competes well at the national level in high school, there’s a good chance he will continue to succeed at the highest level in college.
I’m looking for accomplishment at the highest levels of competition, or at least the potential to do so. The number one thing an athlete can do is wrestle in national competition. It’s a great gauge to evaluate how good you are, although not necessarily how good you’re going to be. A great thing to do for exposure is to compete at Junior Nationals.
We want kids who are winning state titles, but that doesn’t mean we won’t look at an athlete who doesn’t win the state tournament. Sometimes we get guys from smaller programs, where they didn’t have the experience to develop into a state champ, but they’ve got an upside to them.
I look for the blue collar achiever who has that passion and dream to be successful—the athlete I believe has the potential to be an All-American and national champ. Leonce Crump didn’t win the Louisiana State Championship as a senior in high school, and he never placed in high school nationals or Junior Nationals. But he went on to become a three-time Big Twelve champ and two-time All-American for us. When we evaluated him, he was relatively new to the sport, but we saw tremendous athleticism. He had a passion to achieve, so there was great upside in terms of his potential. We’ve had a lot of success with guys who were not supposed to be big-time athletes, but came with big-time dreams.
Film is very, very helpful. It gives me an idea of where an athlete is in his development as a wrestler—in terms of technique—how he competes and how hard he wrestles when he’s out there. I like to see complete matches. Sometimes I get highlight films, which really don’t do me any good. I want to watch a number of entire matches. The best situation is when I can see an entire series of matches, through the state tournament. At the end, I also like to have some off-season stuff. And if he wrestles freestyle and Greco, I like to watch a little bit of that as well.
Film is really important, but not highlight films. We want films that show you being challenged, so we can see your prowess. Particularly, I like to see a whole match. Highlight films don’t impress me, because anyone can hit an isolated move, especially against poor competition. I want to see whole matches, preferably against better competition.
We consider how well an athlete can compete in the classroom, because Michigan is a strong school academically. I think some kids neglect the academic end of it, thinking, “I’m a great wrestler, so I’ll get a lot of opportunities from colleges.” But all the schools I know look for outstanding wrestlers and outstanding student-athletes.
Start being a good student now. Sit in the front of the class and participate. Try to learn, rather than just get through the class. You have to be there anyway; and if you work hard, learning will become a lot more enjoyable and easier for you. Knowledge is power, and you’ll have many more opportunities later in life if you’re a learner.