South Plainfield, New Jersey's Anthony Ashnault always dreamed of being an NCAA national champion in wrestling. Those dreams became a reality in March of this year when the Rutgers University six-year senior defeated Ohio State's Micah Jordan 9-4 in the 149-pound final of the NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Ashnault became Rutgers' second national champion. His victory came less than a hour after his Scarlet Knights teammate, Nick Suriano won the NCAA title at 133 pounds.
Ashnault, a four time All American and three-time Big Ten champion, finished his senior season undefeated, something he was used to at South Plainfield High School where his record was 170-0.
Ashnault tells SportsJam host Doug Doyle his next goal is to win an Olympic gold medal. His first match as an NCAA championship is this Monday night at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. It's the Beat the Streets "Grapple at the Garden" where Team USA wrestlers take on NCAA Champions. Ashnault will face four-time NCAA champion James Green of Nebraska, a two-time World bronze medalist who is from Willingboro, New Jersey. Ashnault is ready to show everyone his career is far from over.
"I've been on a couple of teams with him in high school. He's older than me, but we won a state title in the same year one year. He's a great kid, great athlete, great wrestler and I'm just excited for the opportunity. I believe I could win and I believe I'm ready to go represent America and win world titles and Olympic titles. This is a huge test for me and this could be a huge statement for me as well."
Ashnault underwent two surgeries after his junior season at Rutgers and wasn't sure he was going to get to shoot for a national title. After being granted a sixth season, Ashnault says he trained hard and realized how much he loved the sport of wrestling.
"I definitely love the one on one, it comes down to just you. You go out there you make a mistake you lose a match. There's no person you can point fingers at, it's just you out there. At the end of the day, it's one person versus another person. You have only yourself to blame or yourself to be proud of. You learn a lot of life lessons out of it. You learn a lot about yourself. I feel like going into life now with a college degree and getting a master's degree and being a student-athlete the whole time, I just feel like I have a huge advantage over maybe another person who didn't have all those experiences."
Ashnault credits the climate in South Plainfield and his family as the big reasons for his success on the mat.
"I was just into it from the start and I think that came from watching my brother at tournaments succeed, maybe just trying to be like him and his friends a little bit. When I got to the age where I did start wrestling, all my friends were also wrestling. I grew up in a town, South Plainfield, where the wrestling youth numbers are just as popular as you would see in some towns Pop Warner football from K-6 it's about a hundred kids each year."
Ashnault might never have become a Rutgers champ had his brother Billy not transferred from Lockhaven to Rutgers University for his final two seasons on the wrestling team. Billy became a team captain and three-time NCAA qualifier.
"I was able to see his whole college career. To see Rutgers grow and grow each year in attendance and performance, never really breaking through with All-Americans or National Champs yet, but I just saw there was growth and I believed in the coaches. I felt like I could get the job done no matter where I was and I believed in the Rutgers coaching staff to get me there and they did. I still believe in them. That's why I'm going to be staying there training towards the Olympics with them."
Ashnault says he can't really remember what his brother said to him after winning the national title, he was too overwhelmed with emotion.
"It was such blur. I feel like I went into a little blackout stage, just like happiness, a big accomplishment that I've worked really hard for my whole life and something since I won states my freshman year in high school that I really look as the major goal in my life. I just remember being really happy and celebrating with the people close to me.
Click above to hear Anthony Ashnault's stories about his mom and dad on this edition of SportsJam with Doug Doyle.