Ever heard of Seton Hill University?
Well, at one time, neither did most of the recent wrestling recruits of the NCAA Division II school located in western Pennsylvania.
"I have to make people realize we have a D-II wrestling program. That was the hardest battle. It's still a battle I'm fighting," Seton Hill wrestling coach Brian Tucker said.
Tucker, a 2005 Dallastown High School graduate, is in his second year in the full-time position of leading the Seton Hill program. And in addition to educating potential recruits about the school, the 26-year-old coach is also in the beginning stages of developing a sales pitch to get grapplers to come join him.
"I'm still trying to figure that out, man. If you're looking for a big school in a big city, we're not gonna be the school you want to go to. We're a smaller-knit community. It's an area very similar to York over here in Greensburg," Tucker said. "We're building a program here where you're gonna get matches right away, even if you're not a starter. And the academics are awesome. For being a small-time university it has big-time resources."
Located about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, Seton Hill is a small private Catholic institution that was originally a women's college until 2002. Most known for liberal arts education, Seton Hill has a student population of just under 1,700 undergraduates. By comparison, D-III York College has more than 5,100 undergraduate students enrolled.
"He has to fit academically, because we have high academic standards," Tucker said of potential recruits. "Once I meet a kid, I get a sense of his character. And if you have a good character and come from a good family, you're less likely to cause trouble off the mat. I want to worry about on the mat and academics. I shouldn't have to worry about off-campus stuff."
Two of the more recent recruits to fit that mold were Dallastown grads Cooper Deller and Tanner Druck. They'll be joined next season by current Dallastown senior Rodney Sunday, who has already committed to wrestle at Seton Hill. Both Deller and Druck placed in the top four of their weight classes at last year's District 3-AAA Tournament to qualify for the PIAA tournament. Both were also part of Tucker's first official recruiting class. While Deller is redshirting this season, Druck is 7-4 so far as the Griffins' starting 149-pounder.
"When it came to tougher matches, he (Druck) didn't understand the pace that needed to be set. He's starting to figure that out now," Tucker said.
It's clear Tucker's Dallastown connections are already paying off. So, too, are his earlier years as an assistant at D-I Bloomsburg and an assistant for a wrestling club near Pitt, where Tucker graduated from in 2009. He had previously tried to walk on to the wrestling team at Ohio State before transferring to Pitt to finish out his bachelor's degree in health and physical activity. He later earned a master's degree in exercise science from Bloomsburg.
"In terms of having to build a relationship quickly with recruits, I almost didn't have to," he said. "Of the 10 kids in our first recruiting class, seven I had a relationship with prior to getting to Seton Hill."
Those recruits will attempt to help Tucker build up a program that has an all-time 36-76 record and has never had a winning season since its first year in 2007-08.
"We've seen some individual success over the years, but we want guys who want to experience both," Tucker said. "We have a real good group of young guys. They're figuring it out. That's the best way to put it."
The Griffins are 2-3 so far this season and most recently lost to No. 10 Mercyhurst in Seton Hill's first match as a member of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Seton Hill's next match comes Jan. 7, when it travels to Millersville, a short drive for York County wrestling fans interested in checking out the Griffins.
"We'll be in the mix for some wins. We'll continue to grow," Tucker said. "We'll shoot up in the ranks. It's fun to hear some of the commotion, like 'Seton Hill signed so and so.' We even have some big-time names whose parents are telling their kids about us."
-- Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.