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As the weather changes and the greens and blues of summer begin to rapidly fade to shades of yellow and orange, school is back in session. With that, high school wrestlers and students all around the country begin to lock in and make the difficult but exciting decision of how they will spend the next few years of their young lives.
With the recent commitment of one of NJ’s top recruits, Joe Zargo, to Wisconsin, I thought I would put together a list of three of my favorite unsigned, under-the-radar recruits in New Jersey’s Class of 2020. I even provided a hint of where I might like to see them end up.
My Favorite Unsigned Recruits In The NJ Class Of 2020
Brandon Green, Paulsboro
This kid is (I hate to start like this…) GREEN – I just couldn’t help myself. But seriously. He’s a returning state champ, he’s built like a brick house, and he’s not even close to as good as he can be. And no, he’s not a brute who overpowers guys just because he’s stronger, or is a better athlete than them. I mean, he is those things. But that’s not all he is. He’s a really good wrestler. This kid is nasty.
It’s easy to forget Green fell in last year’s Region 7 final to Shane Reitsma because only a week later he defended that loss in the state final by double legging Reitsma all over the mat. That day in Boardwalk Hall, he dominated with unwavering confidence and showed there’s no doubt he’s the better guy. Maybe it’s just because I love the drama, but I just can’t not be impressed by his ability to come back and avenge that tough loss a week later. Not only on the stage he did it – but the way he did. It was never close.
It may be obvious because he’s the only state champ, and is the highest-ranked, but Green has by far the highest ceiling of anyone on this list. I don’t love that he’s been an upperweight for pretty much his entire career, but that’s not a major concern. I’m excited to see how he brings it this senior season. If he dominates all year like he did those three days in Atlantic City college coaches are going to be fighting over this kid.
I’ve talked before about Camden Catholic’s lack of production at the NCAA level, but Paulsboro is no different. In the past two decades we’ve seen more former Paulsboro wrestlers play in NFL games than become NCAA All-Americans.
To me, Green really looks to have that next-level talent. We know he’s tough. In Paulsboro, that comes with the territory. He has the leg attacks. Put him in a college room and he’s going to get really good, really fast.
Credentials: # 116 on Big Board, State Champ (2019), 7th in NJ (2018)
Where? Nebraska 184/197
Vince Jones, Jordan Burroughs, James Green…
Go and be South Jersey’s next great Husker.
Andrew Clark, Collingswood
You caught me. Back to back South Jersey guys. I can just hear you now: ”Yeah, you’re not biased at all...”
One of my favorite traits in a wrestler is when a guy has a lot of “stuff.” Meaning, he’s got lots of ways to score. Andy Clark has that. He’s one of those kids who’s been one of the best at his weight for basically his entire career. Ever since his freshman year, he’s shown he’s a volume shooter with all kinds of leg attacks that he’s confident he can score with. He’s an animal on top but has shown some vulnerability from bottom. That’s something that will obviously need to be fixed if he’s going to have NCAA success.
A Flo Big Boarder and a two-time state placer, he’s seasoned and will enter the year as one of the top contenders to take home a state title in AC. Last year, he entered states as a No. 2 seed but fell to Luke Mazzeo in the semis before placing fourth.
This year, we’ll see him tested plenty. Depending on where everyone certifies, we could see a rematch of last year’s Region 7 final against sixth in the state Cooper Pontelandolfo of Cherokee – a match which Clark had to overcome an 8-0 first period deficit with 10 unanswered, winning 10-8. Gritty. They met again on the backside of the state bracket, and he shut out Pontelandolfo 6-0.
Clark could also see conference rival and state finalist Jacob Perez-Eli of Paulsboro if either team feels like getting gully in the dual meet. I’m not sure they’ll be at the same weight in the postseason. But if they are, the two of them and Pontelandolfo could make for a juicy region tournament. And I think I like Clark there.
Clark is also the quarterback of the Collingswood football team. I’m here for that kind of athleticism.
Credentials: # 168 on Big Board, 4th in NJ (2019), 8th in NJ (2018), 3rd in NHSCA’s (2018)
Where? Penn 141/149
It’s only 10 minutes away.
Let’s bring wrestling to Philly. AM runs up the Art Museum steps like Rocky, the Palestra, Cheesesteaks, Sunday’s with Carson Wentz. What else do you need?
Well, actually, maybe you can just watch people eat cheesesteaks….
Cody Walsh, Camden Catholic
Why the hell not?
Yeah, I did it. Three South Jersey guys. And guess what? I’m not apologizing.
Sure, Cody has never placed in the state tournament. But he was a bloodround finisher two years ago, he’s battled in some of the toughest and deepest weight classes in the state…and look, he’s a Walsh. I know, I know. That’s insane logic, but hear me out. Twice now, NCAA coaches passed on these guys. Like a hanging Tim Wakefield knuckleball, coaches saw only the funk and let it go sailing past. The only two teams to see their pitch and hit it – hit home runs.
Big Ten little brother Indiana snagged Taylor, and under the wing of the East Lansing Strangler Nick Simmons, he became an NCAA finalist who led the nation in pins his junior year. Middle brother Chad stayed home at Rider where he was a two-time All-American. Chad, let’s not forget, has a collegiate win over a former #1 recruit in the country, Chance Marsteller on his resume. He also All-American’d the same number of times as Chance.
I’m warning you now, NCAA coaches. Don’t make this mistake again.
The Walshs, for their entire careers, were ignorantly tagged as junkers — kids with stuff that “won’t work at the next level.” Headlocks, reaching back, Three-Quarter Nelson’s. They might as well have hit you over the head with a kitchen sink. Fine. Except that for some reason, for them, it does work. Pretty much always. I imagine this dysfunctional style made most college coaches shy away, as well. I’m sure no one called them blue-chippers. But time and time again, they’ve proven these people wrong.
Of course, Cody is his own person. He hasn’t had quite the level of success so far in his high school career as his older brothers did before him. So maybe, I’m being unfair. And I don’t mean to place that inappropriate responsibility on him. But he wrestles exactly like his brothers and I know he has a bit of that gamer mentality in him.
Last year he knocked off state placer Kaya Sement of Pope John in a pivotal swing match of the Non-Public B Final. Down 2-0 late in the match, Walsh dug deep and was able to secure a turn and a five count to hold on and win 3-2. Camden Catholic went on to win the dual 33-29. So, you could say, he won them the dual. Cody showed he has the grit, the attitude, and clearly the ability to compete with the best guys. There’s obvious room to improve on his feet, but he’s exceptional on the mat and has the athleticism and the hips that apparently is a part of Walsh family DNA.
It’s not about recruiting the best guy, it’s about finding the right guy.
Credentials: Round of 12 (2018), 2x state qualifier
Where? Rutgers or Rider 149/157
Keep this kid at home. I can’t imagine he’s blowing up on anyone’s radar. And if I’m a coach in NJ, I’m going after him before anyone else does. [ahem].. Indiana.