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Interview with Rob Hjerling

Wrestling fans, this week I am proud to bring to you the head wrestling coach of The Citadel, Rob Hjerling. Coach Hjerling had a very successful college career at Edinboro University and American University. Coach Hjerling spent one year as an assistant high school coach at Manheim Township high school in Lancaster PA. Coach Hjerling also was an assistant coach at American University for two years and at George Mason University for one year. He is currently in his fourth year as the head coach of The Citadel and led his team to some of the best seasons the school has ever seen. Last year the bulldogs beat Appalachain State University for the first time since 1985 and finished in 3rd place at the Southern Conference meet. Also in 2001 Coach Hjerling was named the All Academy Co-Coach of the Year with the Air Force Academy coach Wayne Baughman. Over Coach Hjerlingís five years, he has produced 4 NCAA QUALIFIERS at The Citadel and will produce many more to come. Thanks to coach Hjerling for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do this. In weeks to come look for other interviews with college coaches that have some connection or insight to South Carolina College wrestling. I hope you enjoy.

 

 

RBell Question #1:
Coach Hjerling, 4 years ago I was a sophomore on your first team as coach at The Citadel.  The philosophy you preached then seems to be working.  What is your wrestling philosophy and has it changed much since that first 99-00 season.

Coach Hjerling Response:
Well Robby, the philosophy has not changed but the number of people in the room that are willing to accept it has.   You have been in the room this year; you see that everyone is very focused and deliberate.  When I got here the wrestlers would tell me what they wanted to do but they didnít do anything to reach their goals.  Worst yet, a lot of the wrestlers didnít know what their goals were.  The chemistry is much different now.

Basically, for each individual and for this program, I always talk about reaching your full potential.  As an individual wrestling at this level you need to be working to reach your full potential every day.  And that should be, for most, to be a national champion.  I donít want someone on our team who is setting limitations on themselves.  If you are setting limitations on yourself then we are going to try and find someone else that will not.

That philosophy of reaching your full potential carries over to your academics and your social life also.  It is not a coincidence that our hardest workers are our best wrestlers and our best wrestlers are our best students.  We have a very competitive chemistry in our room and that has been carrying over into the classroom.  The structure of The Citadel helps tremendously in reinforcing our attitude towards academics.

As far as the program is concerned our staff is always looking for ways to improve.  One thing that I have found in my short tenure is that we have not even come close to reaching our full potential.  We have come a long way but we have a very long way to go.  I cannot even imagine what our full potential could be.  All we are now is competitive.  We need to start taking high numbers out to the NCAA Championships.  And we need to be consistently placing individuals at the NCAAs.  That is when people will take us seriously.  I know that we can do that here at The Citadel and when we start doing that then we will have a whole new level to build from.

RBell Question #2:
One of the most frequent questions from coaches, parents, wrestlers, and fans in South Carolina is ďWhat are college wrestling staffs looking for in high school wrestlers they recruit?Ē (Academics, Athletics, etc..)

Coach Hjerling Response #2:
That is a tough question to answer in some ways.  I canít speak for the coaches at other programs.  You have DI, DII, DIII, NAIA, Junior College and club programs that are actively recruiting.  I think that there is a level of wrestling out there and a program out there that is suitable for just about anyone. 

Athletically, I do know that if you want to have the slightest chance of being recruited by any college program and you are from South Carolina, then you better give those coaches an opportunity to see you.  The best way to do that is by going to the Jr. Nationals or to FILA Regionals and FILA Nationals or some of these Folkstyle National Championships.  There are only a handful of states out there that are competitive enough that a coach can see where that individual stands based on their performance in the state tournament.  And the fact is that those individuals from those states are also going to the major national tournaments.

Academically, each coach is restricted by what the academic requirements are of the school.  Communicate with your guidance counselor early and let them know what your academic goals are so that they can keep you on track.  You need to know what is acceptable by the NCAA also.

There are so many factors involved.  For us we are looking for someone that will thrive under the structure of The Citadel and the structure of our program.  Between the school and our program, you will be challenged every day.  We put a lot of pressure on our student-athletes.  If you canít handle the pressure we put on you in the room, how are you going to handle the pressure of winning a big match or acing a big exam?

RBell Question #3:
Many of the former South Carolina stars on your team are doing well, beginning bright futures, and ending successful college careers.  Is native South Carolinians going to play a major role in the success of The Citadel team this year and in the future.

Coach Hjerling Response #3:
Yes.  My goal is to recruit the best South Carolina wrestlers that can fit in with the structure of the school and fit in with the structure of our program.  That is also my goal on a national level.   However, other programs are also recruiting the kind of person that we are looking for.  Just because they are not on our roster does not mean we did not want them to wrestle for us.

I am very happy with the South Carolina wrestlers that are here and those who have been a part of this program.  You were a national qualifier for The Citadel and a co-captain and Mike Regner was a 2X national qualifier and a co-captain.  Your brother is doing a great job as a coach.  This year we have eight South Carolinians that should see some mat time and four that could start.  The Bartges brothers were freshmen when I got here and now they are senior co-captains.   John Bohren is one of the most improved wrestlers on the team and Ryan McClester has a very bright future.  We also have some other good young guys that are adjusting to being in a competitive room.

RBell Question #4:
What is the most important information or advice you have received about being a head coach?  From who?

Coach Hjerling Response #4:
My high school coach, Harvey Sitler, in Lancaster, PA, was a coach in a city school for over 30 years.   He has been inducted into numerous hall of fames.  But people donít look at his coaching win-loss records or how many regional and state champions he had.  People look at the influence he had on other people and how he effected their lives.  He always stressed that you need to have the big picture.  He was a high school coach but I often think about how he would handle some of the situations I find myself in.  I look at what he did for me and how he always found a way to get me back on track.  My first year of coaching was actually as his assistant at a high school back in Lancaster.  It really wasnít one piece of information or one piece of advice, it was the whole relationship.  I hope that answers your question.

RBell Question #5:
What advice would you pass on to high school coaches in South Carolina to make their programs and wrestlers better?

Coach Hjerling Response #5:
Again, each coach and each program is different so I canít give one blanket statement.  I think that it is very important to challenge your guys.  Give them something to shoot for and find a way to give them a sense of accomplishment.  I also like to keep my wrestlers guessing.  Try and change things as much as possible.  It creates some anticipation.  Basically, donít get into a rut.  Donít waste the little bit of practice time you have each day.

Also, coaches need to be open to new ideas and they need to keep learning.  Find out what is working in other programs and other states and on a national level.  Have a big picture.  Your wrestlers need to be wrestling in the summer.

Another thing, coaching is not a one-man show.  You have to have good assistants and a good support group.  I have great assistant coaches.  They are very focused.  If your administration is backing you then the sky is the limit.  If your administration is not backing you then let them see how important your program and your wrestlers are.  Results speak for themselves.  Promote your positives.

RBell Question #6:
Could you give ideas, comments, or advice of how high school coaches in South Carolina can recruit athletes from their teams and promote programs when our country is so in love with football, basketball, and baseball?

Coach Hjerling Response #6:
Football, basketball, and baseball are big from where I come from also. It just so happens that so is wrestling and other sports.  Basketball is the only sport that has a major conflict in schedule with wrestling. It drives me crazy when I hear that programs wonít let their football player or baseball player wrestle.  Nationally, there are a ton of wrestlers that play other sports.  And, as far as football is concerned, football players are encouraged to wrestle where I come from.  Many of the national powers in wrestling also have very good football. And vice verse.  That is not a coincidence.

Wrestling is one of the only sports where anybody of just about any size can compete in.  Not only that but you can excel on a state, national or international level and you could only weigh 125 pounds.  I donít know why schools wouldnít want to give people this kind of opportunity.

RBell Question #7:
Are there any changes you would like to see in high school or college wrestling?

Coach Hjerling Response #7:
We need to have more wrestling programs at the high school and college level.  I come from a small city in Pennsylvania and there were two Division I programs within ten minutes of my house and several Division II and Division III programs within a short drive.  I thought it was like that everywhere.  It is such a great sport.  It has had a huge impact on so many peopleís lives. High school and college coaches can help by promoting their program as much as possible.  Let the fans know you are out there.  That is something that we have been working very hard at The Citadel.  Our fan base is getting better but we still have a long way to go.

RBell Question #8:
What should current and future wrestlers you coach expect from you?

Coach Hjerling Response:
If you want to wrestle for someone who is always going to challenge you and expect more out of yourself than you thought you could give, then I think we have the right kind of program for you.  Iím a no nonsense guy and run a structured and hard working program.  Because that is the way it is supposed to be at this level.  Along the way you are going to earn a Citadel degree and you will get to wear The Citadel Ring and should have things in place for a bright future.  If you are serious about your academics and your wrestling, then that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

RBell Question #9:
The 4A, 3A, and 2A-1A State tournaments have been held together under one roof the past few years at Furman University and The University of South Carolina.  This year it will be in Charleston at The Citadel.  Are you looking forward to this in promoting one of our only two college wrestling programs left in the state and the only Division I college program?  Do you think it will promote the sport of wrestling in South Carolina?

Coach Hjerling Response:
Yes.  It will promote wrestling in South Carolina.  It is especially important to have the tournament at a school that actually sponsors a wrestling program.  I donít pull those strings but it seems like the most logical thing to do.  I hope that it will be a success.

RBell Question #10:
Is there anything that you would like to add or anything that I didnít ask that you would like to cover?

Coach Hjerling Response:
Sure is.  First, I think that you are doing a great job of promoting South Carolina wrestling in your short time.  The articles that you have been posting are excellent and I hope that they have been educational for South Carolina coaches and wrestlers.

Second, on Sunday, December 1st from 2-6 p.m we will be hosting our Third Annual Thanksgiving Technique Clinic.  This would be a great opportunity for local coaches and wrestlers to come and learn first-hand some of the techniques that we do in our room on a daily basis.  Please contact us for information at 843-953-4865.

Thirdly, we will be hosting the Bulldog Wrestling camps again this summer.  We have had past NCAA Champions and All-Americans and Citadel Coaches as clinicians and Citadel wrestlers as camp counselors.  We have different camps for each level of wrestler and we have a Team Camp and an Intensive Camp.  The Bulldog Camps have been getting better attendance each year and it is a perfect opportunity to promote wrestling in South Carolina.