Robert Person called it a “blessing in disguise.”
The Bellmore JFK wrestler was referring to the interesting path that led to his commitment to Binghamton University last week, a place he feels is a great fit for his future both on the mat in the classroom.
“I’m really happy with Binghamton,” he said. “It’s very good academically and when I visited, I loved the campus. The kids on the team made me feel welcome and everyone was friendly and approachable. I got to know Coach [Jasen] Borshoff and Coach [Matt] Dernlan and they’re great. I didn’t get to meet Teyon Ware, but it’s exciting to have a World Team member in the room. I think it worked out for the better for me.”
Person’s excitement about his future is a bit of a contrast to what he was feeling about a month ago. On April 1, in the late morning, he dialed the wrestling offices at Boston University.
“I called [head coach] Carl Adams and told him I would be coming to Boston,” Person said. “He was happy and I was happy. And then six hours later, I went onto Intermat to report my commitment. On the front page, it said ‘Boston University Drops Wrestling.’ I was thinking, it’s April Fool’s Day, maybe my dad is somehow messing with me.”
But it wasn’t a joke. The administration at the former CAA institution had announced just a few hours after Person’s call that they would be shutting down the program after the 2013-14 campaign.
“After the biggest decision of my life, there was a huge letdown,” he said. “It was devastating.”
Person and his club coach Craig Vitagliano of Ascend quickly sprung into action, looking into options.
Person said he originally hadn’t considered Binghamton because he was looking to go outside of New York to experience something different. But when he looked more closely, he realized the school offered all the things he was looking for in a college. He also connected with American and Franklin & Marshall over the past month and visited those institutions as well.
“I can’t be more appreciative to Coach [Mike] Rogers [of Franklin & Marshall] and Coach Teague Moore [of American],” he said. “They were really good to me and although I didn’t choose to go to those schools, I will forever be grateful to them.”
According to Vitagliano, one of the reasons those coaches were willing to get involved late in the process with Person was because of the potential he has to make an impact at the Division I level.
“He was a two-time state placewinner before this year [sixth in 2011, fifth in 2012] and was ranked number one in the state early in the season,” the Ascend Wrestling coach said. He’s as good a technician as I’ve coached with amazing level changes and flexibility. He’s like a Gumby doll. With all of that, he was expected to place high or win the state this year. After he went 0-2 a lot of coaches forgot about him or didn’t pursue him. But most people didn’t know what he was dealing with in Albany and you might not pursue him as a coach if you don’t know the story.”
So, what’s the story?
“This year was disappointing for me,” Person said. He came into the Eastern States Classic as the number four seed, but didn’t place after going 3-2 while competing with bronchitis.
One of his losses was to Nassau rival Chris Cataldo of MacArthur in an 11-9 contest.
“Not taking anything away from Chris, who wrestled a great match, but that was a wake up call for me,” Person said. “I started training 10 times harder after that tournament. I was ready to wrestle and do my thing. I was so excited for a chance to wrestle him again at [the Section 8 tournament].
Just 15 seconds into the county final match, however, Person felt significant pain in his leg and took injury time.
“I felt something pulling. I had no idea what it was, but I knew I had to keep going,” he said. “I kept hitting duck unders because it was all I could do. Adrenaline pushed me through the match.”
“It was amazing how he wrestled through it,” Vitagliano added. “He hit three or four duck unders that were so slick, people are still talking about them. I thought it would be a close match, but he blew the match wide open.”
He sure did, winning the Nassau crown with a dominant 19-8 major decision to punch his ticket to Albany after a 37-2 regular season record with 23 pins.
There was a problem, though.
“I thought I would wake up the next day and be at 100%,” Person said. “My leg hurt a lot but I thought I probably just tweaked it. But it started to hurt more and more. I went to the doctor two days later and found out I tore my hamstring and would be out for six to eight months.”
With the state tournament less than two weeks later, Person knew he had a decision to make. And it was an easy one.
“I wanted to leave on my own terms no matter what,” he said. “It was rough, going 0-2 at states. I worked so hard all year. But I was proud of myself for going out there and trying to wrestle.”
Months later, Person continues to rehab the injury, going to physical therapy three times per week. He said he still hasn’t been cleared to get on the mat, but has been working in the weight room and is hoping to be able to start wrestling by July.
“I’m looking to lift into the 125-pound weight class,” he said. “I haven’t been cutting much weight and I think a lot of my success was because of that. I think my technique is on par, but my strength will be the biggest factor as to how well I do in college.”
“He needs to get stronger and we all know that,” Vitagliano said. “He needs to hit the weights hard because that’s all he’s lacking now – strength. He’s technically as good as anyone I’ve ever coached. He’s also a really good kid with a great sense of humor and a supportive family. It was tough for him to end the way he did because he wrestles with a lot of the guys that placed and is right there with them. It was a disappointing end, but I think he has a bright future at Binghamton.”
Perhaps it all was a blessing in disguise.
Robert Person wished to thank Craig Vitagliano, his parents, and his high school coach at Bellmore JFK, Brian DeGaetano.
Great kid. Bright, hard working. Will do terrific at college both wrestling and in the classroom, most importantly in life.