96 to Heavy: Former Johnson City Star Peter Capone Moves Up the Rankings for Ohio State

According to his father, Peter Capone has asked for a rematch over and over.  Realistically, though, it’s never going to happen.

Back when he was at Johnson City High School, Capone was beaten twice in close matches by current Buckeye teammate Ian Paddock – at 96 pounds.

That’s worth repeating.  96 pounds, less than half of what Capone weighs currently as a Big 10 heavyweight. (Capone took third in New York at that weight as a freshman, beating current Hofstra 133-pound starter Jamie Franco for bronze).

It’s fair to say the former Section 4 star has come a long way from his high school days to become the 12th ranked 285-pounder in the nation today.

“He’s been around wrestling his whole life,” Capone’s father, Peter said. “But I can definitely say I never expected him to become a heavyweight.”

The Buckeye was certainly born into a wrestling family. In addition to uncles that excelled in the sport, his father was a two-time NCAA All-American at Hofstra, including a runner up finish.

While attending dental school at Buffalo, Capone’s father became a graduate assistant coach. Later, he took the head job at Johnson City, where coached multiple state titlewinning teams as well as eight individual state champions.

“When I was at Buffalo, I wrestled my brother Jimmy pretty much everyday,” the elder Capone said. “When he took third (in Division III) and then fifth (in Division II), it made me really proud. And then coaching my son Peter to the state championship when he was a senior in high school was a huge highlight for me.”

That victory at the 2008 New York State tournament came in a solid bracket which saw a pair of current Division I starters – Buffalo’s John-Martin Cannon and American’s Thomas Barreiro – battle for third.

Following that championship, the younger Capone went to Navy Prep for a year but decided afterwards that he wanted to take a different path for college.  He chose to go to the Big 10 over his father’s alma mater, Hofstra.

The Capones had a strong connection to Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan, who watched the elder Capone wrestle for the Pride while he was a high schooler at nearby Wantagh.  And years later, when Ryan became the leader of the Hofstra program, he often saw the Capone family at alumni events and wrestling camps.

“I’ve probably known Pete since he was a seventh grader,” Ryan said. “There were a lot of things we really liked about him.  First, he’s the son of a coach and that’s always attractive.  He knew the whole team concept and what it takes to be successful.  He was also very, very athletic.  We didn’t think he would be a heavy but we knew he hadn’t quite grown into his body yet.  When guys are winning in high school but aren’t physically mature yet, they often do well in college. We were excited to get him to be a Buckeye.”

Photo by Tony Rotundo, wrestlersarewarriors.com

So, it was off to the Big 10 where Capone spent his redshirt year at 174 pounds, placing in the top three in a number of open tournaments.  However, during his freshman season a need arose for the team and he jumped at the opportunity to start – at 197.

He made his debut in the new class at the National Duals and was a bright spot, picking up two victories.  And he continued to be competitive for the remainder of the season while giving up some weight, including a 3-1 decision over nationally-ranked Tyler Dickenson, a crucial win in his team’s 19-16 dual victory over Michigan State.

“Peter was in almost every match for a lot of reasons,” the elder Capone said. “He’s very good on the mat, which is a big advantage. He’s also very athletic – he played soccer and all kinds of sports growing up. He’s agile and if you’re a good athlete who keeps good position, you can be in every match.”

He earned a trip to the NCAA tournament at 197 pounds, despite only weighing 191 or 192 the night before the event began, according to his father.  He went 1-2, defeating Ohio’s Erik Schuth.

The 2011-12 season brought on a new challenge for Capone with another move up, this time to heavyweight. He had some significant highlights, such as a second place finish at the prestigious Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas in which he came within seconds of winning the title.  He registered some quality victories, including over Ernest James of Edinboro and Ben Apland of Michigan and made a return trip to Nationals, where he again won a match.

Knowing he’d be back at heavyweight again as a junior, Capone got to work in the offseason with no shortage of partners to get him to the next level.

“The bigger he got, the better his workout partners got,” his father said. “He’s wrestling with the best guys in the country. Some like [2012 Olympian] Tervel [Dlagnev] have had a really big influence on him. I think the fact that he’s shooting a lot more has a lot to do with Tervel.”

“I think the word priceless is probably fitting when talking about Tervel,” Ryan added. “He has helped Pete a lot through RTC [Regional Training Center] practices. Tervel isn’t only a great wrestler but he has a great understanding of the sport and a great way about him that makes you want to work harder. He’s been very influential in Pete’s rise up the heavyweight class.”

As a result of this training, Capone has had a strong 17-5 season so far, defeating ranked opponents such as David Marone of Virginia Tech, Adam Chalfant of Indiana, Levi Cooper of Arizona State and Bobby Telford of Iowa. (The last two are former All-Americans).

And with the schedule he’s faced, he has rarely had an easy bout.

“The bottom line is, heavyweight is loaded,” said the elder Capone. “There were a lot of top guys returning and then you add in the Olympic redshirts coming back into the weight, which makes it even harder.  If you look at the rankings, not including National Duals, Peter will have wrestled more than half of the top 20 this season. That’s incredible.  When I was at Hofstra, I probably didn’t see more than two or three ranked guys all year.”

Courtesy of OhioStateBuckeyes.com

Perhaps the highlight thus far came in one of the best environments in the sport.  In early January, Ohio State traveled to Carver Hawkeye Arena to meet Iowa in a dual televised live on the Big 10 Network.  The Buckeyes trailed 22-6 going into the heavyweight tilt, but Capone made sure his team left on a high note as he topped the aforementioned Telford, ranked fourth at the time, 3-2 in the tiebreakers.  The Hawkeye had beaten Capone 4-1 in the 2012 NCAAs.

“Peter was fortunate to have wrestled at Carver Hawkeye Arena two years ago as a freshman, so he knew what to expect,” his father said. “He actually enjoyed it because he loved the passion for the sport that you see there. It’s not that common to be in a place where everyone is screaming at you the whole time, even when you’re warming up. It’s a hard place for an opposing wrestler to win a match, so it was a highlight. His experience wrestling there before definitely helped him this time.”

He’s hoping similar experience in front of the sellout crowds at the NCAAs will help him make the podium at this year’s national championships.

“Based on what I see, I believe the sky’s the limit,” Ryan said. “I think he can go win it all. He was even with the defending NCAA champion [Minnesota’s Tony Nelson] with 10 seconds left in the match. He went from being a 174 to being a heavyweight and some things take time.  Wrestling the big guys takes getting used to.  He’s learned how to win matches and he’s building belief that he can get things done in March.”

His parents Peter and Sue will certainly be watching in the crowd in Des Moines as they have been for every one of Capone’s matches this year.  Peter Sr. exited the head coaching job at Johnson City a few years ago (he is still an assistant) to allow more time for travel to see his son and his daughter Emily, who is on the diving team at Allegheny College.

It makes for a lot of long car rides to the Midwest, but it’s been worth it.  While Peter Sr. said he misses being in the corner as a coach, he enjoys other things, such as sharing postmatch meals with his son.

“He was always a skinny kid,” the elder Capone said. “To keep 220, he has to eat five or six times a day. The problem is that Peter isn’t an eater. He was one of those kids who didn’t want to stop playing or whatever he was doing to eat. When we take him out, he doesn’t finish all his food. He doesn’t want to. It’s pretty funny. I keep telling him, ‘Peter, eat all your food, you’re trying to be a heavyweight.’”

“He doesn’t like eating,” Ryan agreed. “Which is what makes it more impressive that he’s done what it takes both with eating and in the weight room to become a better and better heavyweight.”

Years ago, the thought of Capone as a heavyweight might not have been believed.

But now the former 96-pound freshman and 152 pound state champion is among the top 285s in the country.

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