Cael Sanderson Talks Expectations, New Additions At Wrestling Media Day
After a successful season in which yet another Penn State wrestler captured a National Championship, Cael Sanderson understands that there’s plenty of work that needs to be done in order to continue that success. Three time All-American Matt Brown is gone, meaning Sanderson will have to rely on the next man up, whoever that wrestler might be. Sanderson discussed a number of topics on Wednesday at Rec Hall during Media Day, including a unique new addition to the program.
Sanderson began the session by discussing his current squad and his thoughts on the unit as it prepares to kick off the season with a difficult slate right from the get-go.
“There’s not much to say, other than we’re excited to start the season,” Sanderson said. “I know our guys are ready to get out there, and I think we have a talented team. Our match this weekend will give us a good idea of where we’re at, and we’ll work from there.”
Sanderson wasn’t kidding — Penn State’s schedule is grueling, to say the least. Lock Haven should allow him to gauge his unit in preparation for Sunday’s road match-up against No. 7 Virginia Tech, a stout squad that should provide a stiff test for the top-ranked Nittany Lions.
While discussing his current unit — one that features senior Nico Megaludis, who took a redshirt season after his junior year to refine his technique in preparation for a final NCAA title push — Sanderson elaborated on a unique addition to the squad. Freshman Jan Johnson, a linebacker on the football team, decided to take an unorthodox approach to his redshirt year. Sanderson was in the market for another heavyweight, so he did what any coach would do: call up James Franklin. One event led to another, and Johnson wound up on Sanderson’s roster.
“We’re trying to ease Jan into practice right now, but we’re expecting him to have a productive season,” Sanderson said. “When we found out [redshirt freshman] Nick Nevills was going to be out for a while, I called up Coach Franklin that same night and said ‘Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have anybody on your roster that’s redshirting this year and has wrestling experience,’ and Johnson’s name came up. Franklin was very supportive throughout the entire process, and ultimately it’s Jan’s decision. We’re excited to have him, and I promised Coach Franklin that I’d keep him big.”
Johnson’s story is unique, but not uncommon. It’s typical to see former high school wrestling standouts sprinkled throughout Division I football rosters, but rarely do players carry that prowess onto the mat at the collegiate level. Sanderson explained that, while football’s done a great job in conditioning Johnson, he’s working on getting him into football shape.
Johnson will be playing with a chip on his shoulder as he prepares to anchor the team, wrestling in the 285-pound weight class. The only difference is, he’s nowhere near 285 pounds. The linebacker currently weighs 235 — a sturdy 235 at that — but understands the challenges he’ll face.
“I’m proud to be able to represent two esteemed programs at the collegiate level, but I know the transition won’t be easy,” Johnson said. “I’m just focusing on what I can control while trying to get as big as I possibly can. I’m just excited about the opportunity, and thankful for all the support I’ve received, especially from Coach Franklin.”
As the top-ranked Lions prepare for the season, Sanderson understands that the pressure is on to replicate last season’s success. He’s confident in his team, and believes that big things could be in store.
The Lions hit the mat Friday, Nov. 13 against Lock Haven at Rec Hall.