Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cahokia's Gantt Hopes to Finish College Wrestling Career on Top

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cahokia's Gantt Hopes to Finish College Wrestling Career on Top

Article excerpt

When Pat Popolizio took over as wrestling coach at North Carolina State in 2012, he knew he had some work to do.

"At that point, the reputation of the program was not a very positive one," Popolizio said. "As someone on the outside looking in, I knew that I'd have to make some changes in order to get the program turned around."

A Wolfpack freshman at the time, Cahokia High graduate Tommy Gantt saw a lot of the same problems from within the program.

"They were good guys and we had some talented wrestlers in the program, but we were definitely missing something," Gantt recalled. "It just seemed like guys were more into partying and having a good time than they were about their wrestling. I tried to work through it, tried to set an example, but I was a freshman so there was only so much I could do."

But all that changed when Popolizio took over.

"From his first team meeting, you just knew things were going to be different," Gantt said. "Coach talked a lot about dedication and discipline, about doing the right things on the mat, in the classroom and in the community. He talked about working hard and achieving goals and rebuilding the program.

"Right away, I knew he was someone I wanted to wrestle for."

One of the first things Popolizio did at NC State was clean house, sending most of the 30 or so wrestlers in the program on their way. Gantt was one of the exceptions.

"It was a mutual decision," Popolizio. "From the start, Tommy was a guy who bought into what we were doing. He's a guy with a tremendous work ethic he's probably the hardest-working guy I've ever coached and he's willing to listen and learn. He's an excellent student and a quality person. Tommy's the type of student- athlete every coach wants in his program."

Gantt will wrap up his college career at the NCAA championships, which run Thursday through Saturday in New York. The 23-year-old enters at 24-0 and is seeded second behind defending champion Isaiah Martinez of Illinois at 157 pounds. …

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