Numbers do not lie: 454-259, a .637 winning percentage, six national tournament berths and two 100-match winners. Not bad for Wrestling Head Coach Jim Andrassy’s first recruiting class. And not bad for 2008 MAC Coach of the Year Andrassy either.
“They all bought into the program, and, five years later, this is why the program is having the success we are having,” he says.
This year, Kent State will have the unique opportunity of bidding farewell to a six-member senior class that has led the program from obscurity to national prominence.
Anchoring this year’s class (literally and figuratively) was 285-pound heavyweight Jermail Porter (Akron, Ohio/Firestone High School). Although he never wrestled until high school, Porter placed second at the Ohio High School State Championships as a senior heavyweight, but was not highly recruited.
Porter wanted to be part of the resurgence of a program, so he chose Kent State. “I liked how the program was up and coming under Jimmy. It was his second year here, and I was a part of his first recruiting class. I wanted to try something new and help a program build from the ground up,” he says.
Porter became only the seventh Kent State wrestler to achieve the century mark in wins for their career and ended the season as MAC Wrestler of the Year with a spot in the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Drew Lashaway (Bowling Green, Ohio) at 141 pounds and Eric Chine (Austintown, Ohio/Austintown Fitch) at 197 pounds also helped bring acclaim to the team and the university.
Lashaway was not highly recruited out of high school, but interest quickly picked up when he claimed Eastwood’s first state championship in school history. There from the start, before the state championship, was Andrassy and Kent State.
The big wins for Lashaway do not stop there. Currently ranked 11th in the country, Lashaway joined his teammates in the NCAA wrestling championships.
Eric Chine not only got his first appearance at the NCAA wrestling tournaments this year, but also etched his name in Kent State wrestling history by becoming the eighth grappler to reach 100 wins in his career.
This might never have happened if Chine had pursued his plans to play football after high school. Enter Andrassy and his vision for a winning program.
“Honestly, I didn’t know much about the program. I came out here for a visit, and the campus was awesome. I liked the campus and I liked Coach Andrassy, so I gave it a shot,” Chine says.
Senior Clint Sponseller (Glenmont, Ohio/Millersburg West Holmes) at 149 pounds came to the Flashes via the Air Force, but Sponseller always had Kent State on his radar. Battling injuries this season, Sponseller wrestled to a 9-13 record to improve to 73-52 in his career.
Drew Lashaway (right)
Michael Blackwell (Beachwood, Ohio/Beachwood) also did not have the final season he was hoping for, battling eligibility issues and wrestling to an 11-4 record in open tournaments and improving his overall record of 46-34. Blackwell nearly made the NCAA tournament his junior season, wrestling to a 25-12 record as a starter at 197 pounds.
“I was proud to come here from the start. Personally, being here five years was great, and I am proud to be a part of this program. The guys who have been here five years are like brothers to me,” Blackwell says.
During his Kent State career, Clayton Stark (Westlake, Ohio/Lakewood St. Edward) competed in three different weight classes. His impact will be felt for years to come as he was the first member of the 2004-05 freshman class.
“Coming out of high school, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. Jimmy really came after me and gave me everything I really wanted here,” Stark says. “Ever since I got here, we have always been getting better. When I got here, we were never ranked.”
Despite an injury his senior year, Stark wrestled to a 4-3 record this season and a critical fourth place finish at 149 pounds at the Body Bar Tournament, helping the Golden Flashes finish second as a team.
With all of the team’s success, Andrassy hopes that years from now, people will view this class as the one that changed Kent State wrestling.
“When we look back, we’ll remember these guys as the ones who came in and changed Kent State wrestling as far as how we do things, how we train and the mentality here. You need self-control and discipline, and I think all six of these guys have that,” he says.
“It also shows that it doesn’t matter where you come from,” Andrassy says. “What matters is how hard you work when you’re here.”