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.

Looking for "Number Nine": Reggie Williams Aims to Make History at Johnson City

At first, it was about the trophies.

Reggie Williams missed basketball tryouts and he was looking for something to take the place of hoops in his schedule.

“In sixth grade, I didn’t have a sport to play in the winter,” Williams said.  “One of my friends always rubbed in my face that he had all these wrestling trophies.  I got only trophy per season in baseball, basketball and football, but in wrestling there were more.”

So, he decided to give wrestling a shot. And he took to it right away.

When seventh grade rolled around, Williams began on the modified team like most of his classmates, especially those at the higher weights.  But that didn’t last too long.

“I think I was on modified for a week,” Williams said with a laugh. “I pretty much destroyed everyone.”

So the next stop was the junior varsity, where his stay was longer than a week, but still pretty brief.  About halfway into the season, Williams moved up to the varsity squad only about a year after picking up the sport.

He didn’t waste any time finding success, placing fifth at the Section 4 tournament.

“It was pretty cool that I took fifth,” he said. “Coach [Peter] Capone did a great job teaching me some basics – a double leg, a breakdown, a stand up.  But I still didn’t know what I was doing a lot of the time on the mat.”

Photo by Boris V

He asked Capone what he needed to do to get to the next level and then he got to work.  He began lifting, learning more technique and training with a variety of partners.  A wide variety.

There were, of course, partners like the many he works with in the Johnson City room now, such as fellow state qualifiers Greg Kleinsmith, who Johnson City head coach Jordan Glenn said is exceptional on his feet and Zach Colgan, who is excellent in the top position.   But Williams worked with several others as well.

“I honestly believe anyone can wrestle anyone,” he said. “I was beaten up in the room by a guy who weighed 140 pounds.  I mean, brutally destroyed.  Good technique can do anything.  I wrestle with everyone.  I find myself wrestling the little guys more than the big guys.  I love training with the lightweights, so I can change up the pace of my matches.  After my practices, I also love to go wrestle with the pee wees.  They gang up and all attack me at the same time.  It’s fun to see the smiles on their faces and I try to teach them the basic things, because the basics can take you far.”

They took Williams pretty far as an eighth grader.  In the semifinals of the Sectionals, he pinned an opponent who had placed higher than him in a tournament earlier in the year.  He was headed to the Section 4 title bout and he said he was overcome with emotion.

“I looked at my coach and I started crying,” he said.  “My whole family came for the finals and the crowd was packed.  I wrestled my heart out and ended up losing in triple overtime.  I was hoping for a wildcard to states, but didn’t get it.”

Williams said he was disappointed, but not for too long.  His breakthrough was about to come.

“I felt like I really kept getting better and better without taking one step back,” he said of his ninth grade year.

It showed.  He racked up a 32-14 record as a freshman and captured his first Section 4 crown, winning by bonus points in each of his Sectional bouts.

Williams was unseeded in Albany as one of only two ninth graders in the 189-pound bracket, but he was undaunted.  In the second round, he met the number-two seed, Joe Cummings of Nyack, and came out on top 5-4 after hitting a snap down, spin behind in the third period.

In the semifinals, he fought hard against current North Carolina wrestler Frank Abbondanza, but a big move at the end of the second period was the difference in a loss.

“I still don’t remember how it happened,” he said.  “He had my leg and then the next thing I knew, I was trying to scramble and then I was falling backwards and the referee was counting back points.  I was really down after that match and it cost me a lot.  I didn’t bounce back well and I lost to guys I shouldn’t have in the wrestlebacks.  I learned something there about being stronger after losses.”

He put that to good use that summer as he earned All-America status at the NHSCA Freshman Nationals in Virginia Beach (fourth at 189 pounds).  His mettle was tested early as he fought through a close bout in the first round with some recognizable college coaches looking on.

“At Virginia Beach part of the reason that I finished where I did was that I was more of a straightforward wrestler at the time,” he said. “I didn’t really take angled shots.  Learning some Freestyle and Greco really helped me improve with angles.”

He apparently was a quick study as he went to Fargo for the Freestyle and Greco national championships a few months later and got on the podium there as well – while up a weight class (fifth at 215 pounds).

“Going into Fargo, I had an idea of how big the tournament was, but when I got there, I saw it was so much bigger than I expected,” he said. “I didn’t realize how tough it is to wrestle so many matches in such a short time.  You go hard in every single match against good competition and it got to me.  I’ve never been so exhausted.  If I was in better shape, I could have done better but the experience was amazing.”

Amazing could describe his sophomore year back in New York for the Wildcats as well.  In 2011-12, Williams registered a 39-3 mark, with all but six victories coming by bonus points and with all three losses coming against Shenendehowa state champion Tony Fusco.

The final setback was in the state finals, where Williams had quite a crowd pulling for him.

Courtesy of Reggie Williams

He said he remembers looking up at the stands and seeing Doug Stento, his football coach who he speaks fondly of, his mom and dad who don’t often see his matches, and his teammates.  In addition, he caught a glimpse of the t-shirt that was signed by a large number of Johnson City students (pictured).

“I saw all those people and I had that desire,” he said. “I got so fired up and wanted to do well to represent my school and my section.  Honestly, I felt like I was ready to play in the Super Bowl.  I made three mistakes and they cost me dearly.  Tony [Fusco] isn’t offensive or flashy, but he’s tough and strong.  When I made mistakes, he took advantage.  The worst part was that I felt like I let a lot of people down.”

Williams retreated to his hotel room afterwards, where he was soon joined by fellow silver medalist Keegan Cerwinski of Greene and a number of other Section 4 wrestlers.

“It seemed like the whole Section team was there,” he said. “We went out and walked the streets in Albany, talked and had a good time. Sometimes you have to just enjoy the little things in life.”

Right now, that’s enjoying football season where he is a fullback and linebacker and, for a brief time, he eats whatever he pleases.  But his mind doesn’t often stray from wrestling, which he sees far into his future.

Photo by Boris V

He said he has received letters from a number of top schools, including Iowa, Cornell, Columbia, Oklahoma and Lehigh, among others.  Williams isn’t sure what direction he’ll choose, but did stress that he’s looking for a place where his academic success will be a priority.  He also made clear that contrary to what he might have thought in the past, he won’t be a heavyweight.

“Reggie was thinking for a while he could be at 285 in college but then we went to the Penn State vs. Ohio State dual meet,” head coach Jordan Glenn said.  “After he saw the size of the boys at that level, he didn’t think that heavyweight would be the route for him.”

In fact, Williams said he “should have gone 182” last year and that he may certify at that weight for the upcoming campaign.

But at this point, the most important number isn’t his weight – it’s “nine”.

“We tell the boys all the time about the eight individual state champions we’ve had at this school,” Glenn said. “We talk about who will step up and become the ninth. We’re looking to get number nine this year and Reggie has what it takes to do it.”

“I’m thinking all the time about being number nine,” Williams said before quickly adding, “Or number 10 if one of my teammates beats me to it. That’s what’s driving me so much right now.  I’m going all out. I don’t want to lose a match and I want to pin anyone who steps on the mat with me.  My mindset now is that I have to win.  I wanted to be a three-time state champion but now I want to be the first two-time champion in Johnson City history.  I daydream about what I would do after winning states a lot.”

That would be yet another trophy for Reggie Williams.

 

More Season Preview Articles (and more on the way)

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Section 9 Preview

CHSAA Preview

 

Features (more to come):

Section 1 Feature:  Aslanian and Realbuto, All-State Wrestlers and Workout Partners, Seek to End Their Careers on Top of the Podium

Section 5 Feature: The “Miracle” Continues: The Return of Aaron Paddock

Section 11 Feature: Nick Piccininni Looks to Continue Winning Streak