Ron Headlee has seen a lot in his 12 years as Waynesburg University’s head wrestling coach.
He’s turned the Yellow Jackets from a doormat to a powerhouse, and to do that, he needed the talent.
With every season comes a new recruiting class, and the Jackets have had some quality influxes of talent. The 2009 class that featured future three-time All American Alex Crown.
In all of Headlee’s years, however, he can’t remember coaching a freshman class as talented as the one he has right now to ring in the 2020s.
“Except for I guess my first year, when they were almost all freshman,” Headlee said.
In Headlee’s first season, the Jackets finished with a losing record. Now, Waynesburg is the premier program in the PAC.
This year, as the Jackets pursue a fourth straight conference championship, four freshman in particular— Rocky McGeary, Colby Morris, Harley Constable and Jace Guy— have made an impact.
The ‘M&M Boys’, McGeary and Morris are nationally ranked, while Constable has been named PAC Rookie of the Week three times, and Guy has battled through injury to progress in his rookie year. It’s because of their contributions that Waynesburg has gone from last in preseason predictions, to perhaps the favorites heading into Saturday’s PAC championships.
According to conventional wisdom, Waynesburg’s most prominent freshman shouldn’t be a freshman. Had McGeary followed the the traditional education trajectory, he’d be finishing up his sophomore season, nearing the halfway point of his college career.
After graduating from West Allegheny High School in the summer of 2018, McGeary took a year off. Initially, he didn’t plan on going to college at all.
But somewhere along the line, he realized that a college education would be beneficial, and he also missed wrestling.
After bonding with assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Gennaro Bonaventura, McGeary picked Waynesburg, following national champion and NCAA wins record holder, Jake Evans, as the Jackets’ No. 1 heavyweight. Ranked in the top 10 nationally, McGeary, in the 285 pound class, is quickly following in the footsteps of Evans and other Waynesburg heavyweights with a record of 32-3. But whether he’s No. 8 or 800, McGeary doesn’t sweat rankings much.
“Whether they’re doubting you or praising you, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “You still have to go out there and wrestle. So I kind of want to go with my own expectations, not what other people are saying about me.”
At the moment, McGeary is on pace to be a PAC champion individually, ND he also has a chance to qualify chance qualify for the national tournament as soon as this year this year.
“I think if he has a really good [regional] tournament, and just stays level headed…,” Headlee said. “As a freshman you get some nerves and things like that, everybody does. He’s done really well in our matches, that’s helped build his confidence. You just take them one at a time, and he’s had some really tough kids.”
The hometown boy
Ironically, the hardest recruiting sell of this freshman class was to the kid who grew up in Waynesburg.
One, Morris was a very good wrestler from a very good school, so he had multiple colleges looking at him.
“Any time you can get a Waynesburg Central grad, it’s a slam dunk,” Bonaventura said.
Two, Morris wasn’t sure if he was going to go to college at all, as he had some opportunities in the workforce.
“Me and Colby just had a good relationship, and the fit just worked out,” Bonaventura said. “Sometimes, you just have to get a little bit lucky.”
Ultimately, being from familiar with the Waynesburg University program, and knowing what he was getting into, sold Morris.
“I’d say just being local, and then the coaching staff for sure,” Morris said. “Knowing Ron and [Bonaventura] and also [Volunteer Assistant John] Yates, I knew I was getting into a good program.”
Morris has been an asset to that program, with a record of 22-5, and earning him a No. 20 ranking by d3wrestle.com
If everything had gone according to plan, Constable probably would have ended up somewhere other than Greene County.
Constable dealt with a knee injury that kept him off the mat for the entirety of his senior season at Albert Gallatin High School. Bonaventura said that without the injury, Constable might have gone somewhere other than Waynesburg for his wrestling experience.
“He probably wasn’t getting as many looks just because he hadn’t been wrestling,” Bonaventura said, “but I knew just through the coaches, they spoke very highly of him, and [myself] just talking with the kid. He’s a solid kid.”
While Waynesburg may not have been Constable’s ideal destination, both he and Bonaventura feel that it’s been a good fit. In particular, Constable appreciated the fact that Waynesburg still wanted him even when he was in no condition to wrestle.
“I was still on crutches when I talked to them,” he said. “So it was motivating to have them want me on their team even though at the time I was injured.”
Constable hasn’t received quite the same recognition as the M&M boys, but he’s quickly developing into one of the better newcomers in the PAC, having three-times been named conference rookie of the week. The reason for Constable’s success, Bonaventura said, is his work ethic.
“He’s every day, in the room, strictly business. Down to business every day,” he said.
For Constable, getting hurt taught him about some things that could benefit him down the line.
“I think the injury was a good test for me to see how I could deal with adversity,” he said, “and I believe my reward for dealing with it was having the opportunity to come to Waynesburg to get an education and wrestle.”
Guy hangs tough
The fourth freshman, Guy, has had a rough go of it, with his record just 7-10. But Guy, like Constable, has also dealt with adversity, not the least of which is struggling to make weight.
He has goals set for himself, and lofty ones at that.
“I want to be an All-American, national champion,” he said. “So I just have to keep on myself, keep my weight in check, and hopefully over these four years, those things will come.”
Right now, the goal ahead is Saturday’s Presidents’ Athletic Conference championships at Washington & Jefferson. As significant as another conference title would be, Headlee knows his rookies are capable of accomplishing more, hopefully joining the list of All-Americans that have wrestled at Waynesburg
“They have higher goals than just PAC champs,” Headlee said. “They want to get to nationals. So for them to be able to do that, they’re going to have to do well at PAC’s.”
Waynesburg is one more quality performance away from winning a fourth straight PAC championship, and if this freshman class rides out its final three years, championships five, six and seven could be in the cards. As Bonaventura watches this class progress, his goal is to recruit more batches like them to keep the wrestling program at the top.
“I’m working my butt off for another solid recruit class to mix with these guys,” he said. “The future is bright, so hopefully everything works itself out and we’ll be seeing more freshman studs every year.”