Sometimes, when you put everything you have into something, you reach all of your goals. Others, it’s about the journey along the way. For my career, I’m still figuring which category I fall into, but I sure have enjoyed the journey.
I first started wrestling when I was in elementary school but didn’t really get serious until 8th grade. Once I started to take it seriously I stopped everything; ignoring baseball and football to focus on my new passion. I then started going to a wrestling club in Somers, New York called Iowa Style Wrestling with my newfound mentor and coach: John Degl.
This early preparation led to the start of my recruitment in my junior year. I started to get letters in the mail from schools talking about their programs, but I wasn’t exactly sure where to look. Thankfully, my coach was well connected with college coaches and helped me speak to the right coaches.
One of those coaches was Pat Popolizio. Now my coach at North Carolina State, he was currently in charge of the program at Binghamton. Confusing I know, but I wasn’t always supposed to be a part of the Wolfpack.
Originally, I talked with Coach Popolizio and he sold me on the idea of staying close to home and competing for a great program in Binghamton. I was so intent on attending the program that I signed my National Letter of Intent.
Then, towards the end of my senior year of high school, I was at lunch when I received the news that Coach Popolizio and assistant coach Frank Beasley were leaving Binghamton to manage the NC State program.
Coach Popolizio reached out after the move and even got me to visit Raleigh, as I had built a relationship with him. At first, I didn’t want to go that far from home. North Carolina was a much farther drive than the 4 hours to Binghamton, and I didn’t know if I really wanted to be that far from my family. However, after seeing the beautiful facilities, I was ready to commit.
When I first got to NC State, the team was split up into two different groups. There were some guys on the team with allegiance to the old coach, while some guys on the team that Coach Popolizio had recruited bought into the new system. As a result, a few guys ended up leaving the team, opening up a spot at 133 lbs. Lucky for me, that was my weight class.
I quickly took advantage of my newfound role, competing hard at every event and improving throughout the season. The hard work paid off when I upset the #1 seed at the ACC tournament, qualifying me for the NCAA tournament.
After having a year of college wrestling under my belt, I set my goals higher. I also moved up a weight class from 133 to 141 lbs. I knew this would be a challenge on its own, but I still set my goals high. I wanted to be an All-American and a NCAA champion at the NCAA tournament.
After having a successful Sophomore season as a Nationally ranked competitor, my goals weren’t all achieved, but I was ready for more. However, my junior year took a different turn.
In season, I contracted the viral infection Mono, forcing me to sit out 3 crucial weeks towards the end of the season. Unable to workout at all, I found myself disconnected as I could only watch my team. This left a difficult end to a promising season but motivated me to come back stronger.
During the offseason, my coaches brought up the idea to redshirt the following season, allowing me to move up a weight class and focus on training. Although it was difficult not to compete, it was a successful experience.
Not only did I get to focus on training rather than competing, but I had more time to focus on my education. I was no longer traveling with the team every week so I could focus solely on the reason I really came to NC State: to get my degree.
Stepping into my final season, my goal now is the same as before: win a NCAA title. As my career is coming to an end I am very excited to see what the future brings. It’s a sad but also exciting feeling knowing I’ll be done with wrestling, no matter what happens this season. Sad because I love the sport and I have given everything to it. But also exciting, as this is the first time I will be off a schedule since I was in the 8th grade.
After almost 10 years, I still have a strong love for the grueling sport. The way I have kept this love is keeping my training fun while maintaining my serious dedication. Of course, everyone likes winning and that is part of the enjoyment of the sport. But there is more to it.
Through my ups and downs of wrestling, I always just remember it’s only a sport. Win or lose, my friends and family will still be there and life will still go on. They were always there to keep me motivated, especially my mom who is always checking in with me. They are the ones who keep me going.
With a sport that has spanned most of my life, my passion is still burning. Wrestling has brought me all over the country and my career has not always followed a straight line, but I am still happy I have done it. If you truly find out how to manage your passion for your sport, the journey can be the most rewarding part.
Sam Speno | Contributor