The final part of our lineup projection preview series is here as we look at the Rutgers Wrestling upperweights (174-285lbs). In case you missed it, you can find the lightweight preview here and the middleweight preview here. This is my projection of how the lineup will shake out after all the dust settles, as nothing is finalized yet.
Since heavyweight Billy Smith departed the banks after 2016 season, there hadn’t been an upperweight wrestler for Rutgers that scored significant points at the national tournament. That all changed last season as the group absolutely exploded onto the scene with two wrestlers earning All-American honors. With those two wrestlers projected to return to their respective weight classes and an incoming NWCA All-American transfer, the upperweights at Rutgers are now the most important part of securing that top-ten finish at nationals. Here are my projections for the upperweight group.
174lbs: Likely Starter - #8 Jackson Turley (Sophomore)
After a 2019-20 freshman campaign that saw him down at 165lbs wrestling mainly in open tournaments, Jackson Turley moved up to 174lbs last season and was initially behind mainstay 174lber for Rutgers, Joe Grello.
After Grello struggled and was eventually injured, Turley stepped in and proceeded to show the country why he was such a highly ranked recruit out of St. Christopher’s in Virginia. His second varsity match at 174lbs was against then 13th ranked Jake Allar of Minnesota, whom Turley dispatched quickly via technical fall, 17-2. That result put Turley on the national radar, but then he failed to place top seven at the Big Ten Tournament, which would have guaranteed him a spot at nationals.
Thankfully, Turley’s 9th place finish at Big Tens and his overall performance throughout the season earned him an “at-large” bid to nationals where he entered the tournament as the 26th seeded wrestler. Turley lost his opening round match, but then went on a huge run to earn an 8th place finish and secure All-American honors. It was an incredible sight to watch as Turley was dispatching ranked wrestlers like he was drilling against high schoolers.
Rutgers assistant coach Anthony Ashnault recently joined OTB Managing Editor Aaron Breitman for the “On the Banks” Podcast and the new coach spoke highly of Turley, saying he’s one of the most talented wrestlers in the room who can beat anyone in the country. Coach Ashnault also said he wants to see more consistent base level wrestling from Turley to compliment the flashy and funky style that makes him so unique.
It’s hard to replicate runs like Turley had last year, but there is confidence he has all the pieces to go even further. As it stands now Turley has seven ranked matchups on the schedule, including three in the first semester.
184lbs: Likely Starter - #5 John Poznanski (Freshman)
One of the most anticipated recruits of Coach Goodale’s tenure, John Poznanski of Colonia High, arrived on the banks as the presumed starter last season at 184lbs. Poz hit the ground running winning his first three Big Ten matches, including two against ranked opponents.
He fell in his last match to then #19 Owen Webster of Minnesota, but he would avenge that loss come the Big Ten Tournament. During the Big Ten Tournament, Poz’s skillset was on full display as he finished in 3rd place, making an impressive run to the semifinals before losing to eventual NCAA Champion Aaron Brooks of Penn State.
He continued his impressive run at nationals, rolling through his opponents until his semifinal match against Trent Hidlay of NC State. A defensive struggle, Poz was just barely edged out by Hidlay, falling 2-1 in overtime. Undeterred, Poz won his next match to set up a 3rd place bout with Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa. Another back-and-forth match saw Poz again come up just short as Keckeisen took the match 5-4.
Despite ending the season with a loss, Poz put together quite possibly the best freshman campaign in school history, securing All-American honors and a 4th place finish at nationals.
As Coach Ashnault highlighted in his interview during the “On the Banks” podcast, Poz is a leader by example who brings a positive attitude to the wrestling room daily and does everything right off the mat.
As it stands now, Poz is set to face off against #10 Lou Deprez of Binghamton during the opening day quad meet at the RAC on 11/7. If weights and rankings hold, that will be his only ranked competition until the Midlands tournament in late December.
Action will pick up in the second semester though as Poz will potentially face six ranked competitors including bouts with #1 Aaron Brooks of Penn State and #2 Myles Amine of Michigan.
For depth, Coach Goodale mentioned during the summer that last year’s 197lber, redshirt sophomore Billy Janzer will be cutting back down to 184lbs, so he will presumably back up Poz. Jazner is a stud wrestler so who looked much better at 184lbs his freshman year, so this makes sense for now. There could be quite a logjam at this weight soon though, as highly ranked 182lbs recruit Brian Soldano of High Point will enter the fray next fall.
197lbs: Likely Starter - #15 Greg Bulsak (Grad Student)
Transferring into the banks is Greg Bulsak, formerly of Clarion University, who was a 2020 NWCA All-American selection. Bulsak is a four-time NCAA tournament qualifier who carries a 77-25 overall record coming into this season.
Bulsak was also the first ever MAC champion for Clarion, winning the title during the 2019-2020 season. He doesn’t have a ton of notable wins, as the level of competition in the MAC is lacking when compared to the Big Ten, but Bulsak is a talented and powerful wrestler who should fit well in this lineup.
Bulsak will be tested early and often as he has potentially three ranked matchups during the first semester, more than most of his teammates, and then the usual bruiser of a Big Ten schedule once the second semester rolls around.
Kyle Epperly, a freshman who saw some action last season, provides depth here and was a two-time NJ State medalist.
HWT: Likely Starter - Boone McDermott (Redshirt Sophomore)
Rutgers fans said goodbye to three-year starter Christian Colucci after a solid career while representing the Scarlet Knights. Entering as the projected starter is Boone McDermott who transferred into the banks last season after winning a 2020 NJCAA (junior college) National Championship while at Iowa Central.
He started off strong in Piscataway, going 2-1 in limited competition last season. Based on his career at Iowa Central, he seems to be more offensively inclined than Colucci was, but we’ll see how that pans out when he gets into the heart of the Big Ten schedule.
This year, six out of the first seven ranked wrestlers at heavyweight reside in the Big Ten, including recently crowned Olympic Champion, Gable Steveson of Minnesota- so it will be an uphill battle for McDermott.
He will also be tested in the practice room as there are currently five wrestlers on the roster at heavyweight for Rutgers, including 5th year junior Alex Esposito who himself has had some exciting moments on the banks. And there is another Colucci in the house as little brother Niccolo joins the squad after a solid career at St. Peter’s Prep.
For years it seemed the only groups that made a big splash at nationals for Rutgers Wrestling were the lower and middleweights, but those days are long gone. The big boys are here now and with ¾ of the group being underclassmen, this should be a hugely impactful group for years to come.
The roster representing Rutgers this year is arguably the strongest it’s ever been top to bottom. It’s also one of the younger rosters they’ve had as I’m projecting 7/10 underclassmen starters this year.
The fact that the team is in consideration for a top ten placing speaks volumes about the talent Coach Goodale has assembled on the banks. Stay tuned as media day is rapidly approaching (10/28) and we’re sure to get a lot more lineup related information then.
Note: This article orginally stated Kyle Epperly was a four-time state placewinner in NJ, but he was two-time placer. Thanks to the guys at wrestlestat for the heads up.