When JoJo Aragona and Sammy Alvarez walked into the brand new Rutgers Wrestling room this summer, they didn’t want to wait to embrace its’ endless opportunities.
Now, just two days away from the 2019-20 season opener, Aragona and Alvarez are set to make their varsity debuts. There’s just one thing different than years’ past.
They’re both true freshman.
Both won their wrestle-offs last weekend to earn their spots at 141 and 133 and will make their collegiate debuts wearing the block R in front of a packed house at the RAC.
Aragona was asked about embracing the expectations of being a four time All-American and winning national titles, but didn’t shy away from the outside noise
“I love having that expectation,” Aragona said. “Having people put me on that pedestal makes me work hard and prove them right. Even the haters who say I cant do it, I’m just going to prove you wrong.”
Aragona was a feature at Rutgers Wrestling matches while he was still in high school and ever since his commitment to the Scarlet Knights, he’s been itching to get on the mat in front of a sold out RAC.
“I can’t wait,” Aragona said. “I’ve dreamt about it since i committed here.”
He’ll get his chance Saturday morning.
Back in May, Aragona, along with Nick Suriano and Anthony Ashnault, represented the past, future and present of Rutgers Wrestling at the Beat the Streets event at Madison Square Garden. Aragona flashed his former No. 1 recruit potential by pinning New York state champion Adam Busiello.
JoJo Aragona just doubled Adam Busiello off the stage pic.twitter.com/RGFqtH3TYD— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) May 6, 2019
“I wanted to prove something,” Aragona said. “I’m ready, I’m here. I want to make some noise in college. I had the coaching staff behind me with the Rutgers fans in that room and now I’m ready.”
After defeating 2019 NCAA qualifier Pete Lipari in a wrestle-off last week, there was some discussion of whether Aragona would still redshirt despite winning the spot. The coaching staff left it up to him and ultimately Aragona decided to go now. Lipari will have his opportunities to wrestle and will stay ready in the event a switch is made this season.
“Me and Pete are close friends,” Aragona said. “Even when I was high school he’d ask me to come up and get a roll in while he’s still in college. I can’t wait to continue to scrap with him and continue our relationship. Training with Pete, he’s shown me a lot of things. His style is so unique. I take things from Nick (Suriano’s) style Anthony (Ashnault’s) style. It all just helps me evolve as a wrestler.”
For Sammy Alvarez, he arrived at Rutgers a little differently.
“The way he got here, if you’re a Jersey boy you should never leave,” Goodale said. “He wanted to get back and we’re fortunate. We love it. He’s excited, he’s different. He has a unique way of wrestling, it’s funky. He has a lot of communication with Anthony (Ashnault), Tyler (Graff), and Donny (Pritzlaff). He has an incredible career ahead of him.”
After originally committing to NC State, Alvarez flipped in July and ultimately won the spot out of four wrestlers at 133.
“I didn’t get here the most traditional way, but this is the best possible decision I’ve could’ve made,” Alvarez said. “The starting lineup doesn’t mean I’m the guy at Big Tens and Nationals but I’m comfortable now and I gotta prove that I’m the guy.”
Going from NJ State Champion in March, to Division I starter in the Big Ten is certainly a big jump and Alvarez said it took some adjustment, but he’s ready to begin his college career.
“It’s a little overwhelming at first,” Alvarez said. “Being here for two and half months and training get’s you used to it. Once you find that comfortability and balance between social, athletic and academic life, I think everything falls into place.
“With my wrestling, that’s the least challenging in my college life,” he said. “I think I’m finding a good balance and I’m pleased with where I’ve put myself. I’m excited to prove why I should be the guy and why the coaches didn’t make a mistake bringing me in.”
All eyes will be on these freshman, among others, and Aragona and Alvarez are embracing the challenge and love the fact that they are going to follow one another in the lineup.
“We roll around but he’s a little bigger so we don’t go as often,” Alvarez said. I didn’t even know about this facility at first to be honest but then I came here on my visit and I was like this makes it even better. It’s eye opening. I walk in here, appreciate it but coach always says, sometimes you have the shiniest toys in the world but you still have to put in the work.”
The Sammy bull is woke!! Smart training > https://t.co/kmaaYx3kDr— Pete Lipari (@petalipari) October 31, 2019
“Me and Sammy talked about it (starting as true freshmen),” Aragona said. “We’ve had a couple heart to heart conversations. It’s our time and we have to shine. It’s straight business. We’re ready to go. We call each other bulls, the freshman bulls. That’ll be a thing (at the RAC). Sammy the bull and JoJo bull. We vibe with each other since he’s more mental and I’m physical so its a great balance.”