Wrestling: Rising program lands top-ranked recruit

Wade Askew

For two straight seasons, Northwestern has fielded an individual national champion. This recruiting season, they may have sealed up one for the future.

Jason Welch of Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, Calif., will bring his talents to Evanston for the 2008-2009 season.

The top overall wrestling prospect in the nation, Welch earned his 142nd straight high school victory with a dominating 18-8 performance in the 160-pound California state finals. It was his third state championship after finishing second as a 145-pound freshman.

Welch headlines one of the most talented recruiting classes in NU history. Joining him are Brian Roddy of Highland Heights, Ohio, the nation’s top-ranked 171-pounder, and Eric Galka, the country’s third-ranked 130-pounder.

While most wrestlers redshirt during their freshman year, Welch may have the opportunity to compete immediately. He proved his readiness for NCAA competition last December at the Midlands Championships, a prestigious in-season tournament hosted by NU, where he fell in the fifth-place match. Welch was one of seven high schoolers to compete in the 45-year history of the event.

“He’s got a lot of options, and so do we, so we’re going to see how he develops and how he feels once he gets here,” coach Tim Cysewski said of Welch’s first-year prospects. “He definitely can compete at this level right away.”

Brandon Precin, a two-year starter for the Wildcats at 125 pounds since his first days as a true freshman in 2006, is also a believer in Welch. While the lanky high schooler does not have the build of a stereotypical wrestler, Precin said simply, “he’s definitely the real deal.”

Precin cited his coaches and teammates as the top reasons for his early success. Similarly, it is the relationship with the coaching staff, along with a prime location, that helped Welch choose NU.

“The location compared to other Big Ten schools – being by Chicago and Lake Michigan – is pretty cool,” Welch said. “And then I just like the coaches – the coaches are really going to take care of me.”

Cysewski describes Welch as his ideal wrestler – greedy.

He’s greedy in that he wants both a top-flight education and to be part of a premier wrestling program. The coach also lists work ethic, athleticism and a highly coachable attitude as past and future reasons for success.

Welch’s unique athleticism was on display each fall. He captained his high school to its first ever undefeated football season, culminating in all-league honors. He was also named all-league as a North Coast Section champion in soccer.

The commitment of these three top recruits testifies to the national prominence NU wrestling has achieved.

After a last-place finish in the Big Ten in 2004, the Wildcats have reeled off four-straight top-14 national finishes, including a program-best fourth in 2007.

An impressive recruiting class. A 2007 class that featured three national champions. With those assets in hand, Cysewski’s program is on the rise.

“People are realizing that you can be really motivated and succeed and (excel) athletically,” Cysewski said. “It’s not one more exclusive than the other – you can do both here. People look at the program as very unique in that way.”

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