The 184-pound weight class has been a rock for the Virginia wrestling team over the last few years. First, it was Rocco Caponi who won three straight ACC championships at the weight class. Last year, it was Mike Salopek who captured the ACC crown. Now the torch has been passed to Jon Fausey, a redshirt freshman from Dalmatia, Pa. He went through a season of peaks and valleys during his redshirt campaign, but as the season wore on, the lighted clicked on for Fausey and the success followed. He has started the 2010-11 season strong, going 17-5, including a sixth-place finish at the Southern Scuffle. He also has earned a No. 18 national ranking while taking on many of the top wrestlers in the nation. In addition, he is an exemplary student and is planning to pursue a career in the medical field.
He recently sat down and discussed the trials and tribulations of being a redshirt as well as what has contributed to his success this year.
Tell us about the season thus far.
Fausey: I think the season is going well. I've been pretty much injury free, which is always a concern. As a team we've battled some injuries, which is not a bright spot, but I think by the end of the season we'll be fine and firing on all cylinders. For me, the redshirt season last year really helped me out to recognize a lot of weaknesses and be hungry every day and treat every day like you're preparing for the NCAA Championships because if you waste those days, you're going to regret it. Overall, I've had a good start but there's a lot I need to improve on before March.
Talk about the value of the redshirt season and how difficult it was to not travel with the team.
Fausey: It was pretty difficult last year. I always was used to having a structured team with the coaches and competing against another team and getting fired up for big matches. As a redshirt, you travel on your own and you drive your own car (to open tournaments). You have a team, but it's a team of redshirts and on any given weekend it's not the same kids because some go on certain weekends and then not on others. There are a select few of five or six guys and you don't have any coaches in your corner. The atmosphere isn't there when you don't have your coaches in your corner.
It's hard because you don't know what to train for - once I wrestled in the Clarion Open last year, I was done. Then I was just getting the other guys ready for NCAAs and working toward FILA Juniors. But in my mind, I didn't want to let myself come here and just be average. I wanted to use my redshirt year to the fullest potential and take every day, whether it's competition or practice, and use it to get better. From September 1st when I stepped on campus to the end of my redshirt season, I wanted to be 15, 20, 30 points better than I was and then keep building on that every day.
At the same time, is it hard to motivate yourself while you're redshirting?
Fausey: Yes, it was hard at times. For the Clarion Open, I drove all the way up and all the way back - 15 hours of driving. It was tough, and I look back and think that I'm glad my redshirt season is over and that I'm back with the team, but then in the heat of the moment during my redshirt year, I went to the Binghamton Open, the Penn State Open, the Clarion Open and the Southern Scuffle - those are four good tournaments with good competition. For me, the competition got me motivated, even though the structure wasn't there. It was a positive - Quenton Wright (of Penn State) redshirted last year, so I saw him at a lot of tournaments. Ed Ruth (of Penn State) redshirted and I saw him a lot. At the Scuffle, I saw a lot of guys ranked in the top 20.
So you saw yourself grow a lot even though you didn't compete as much as you wanted?
Fausey: I missed the first three tournaments because I hurt my knee and it was a terrible time for me - I was sulking over it and it was just another nagging injury. I got back into it and had a decent Penn State Open and a decent Scuffle, and then about January I remember coming in here with Coach (Scott) Moore and I don't know what it was, but he lit something under me and got in my head and I realized I needed to stop dwelling on where I'm at and go hard to keep getting better every day. That really helped me out.
I remember talking to Coach Harshaw and he provided some great insight. In January, I told him ‘I have two tournaments left and I'm looking forward to FILA Juniors in April.' It was like I was overlooking those tournaments. He said ‘even though it's a long season, you have to realize this is a journey and there are peaks and valleys. You have to take the good with the bad and keep it all in perspective because the ones who don't keep it in perspective, the valleys will tear them apart.' That really stuck with me - I have great days in the wrestling room and other days, they aren't so good. I just have to realize that in March 2011, in Philly, that's what you're ultimately training for. I'll be honest, my first year, I let a lot of things affect me. I let what the coaches thought of me and how I was wrestling each day affect my mood and my whole day. It brought me down for a whole semester, and then the second semester things started to click for me and it was all about getting better.
What was it that ultimately switched that mindset?
Fausey: I think it was the experience of going through it for a semester. I had some success in the room when I first got here and the coaches expected a lot out of me, but I think it was just over Christmas break where I competed pretty well at the Scuffle. The biggest thing was the coaches expecting great things out of me - these kids that are out there in the top 10, you don't put them on a pedestal. The greatest thing about it is they were constantly in my ear pushing me and telling me ‘you're that good. You're there. You train as hard as anybody and you train smarter.' I don't know if it was one event or another, but it was just the constant talk from the coaches that ‘you're training for 2011. You're going to be an All-American and a national champ.' After January or so, I realized they were right and that I needed to stop worrying about where I was and put myself in a position where in I can win a national title in 2011. That's the mindset you have to take. Once you start believing it, you start to make some big gains.
It has to help that you're also off to a great start this year.
Fausey: I expect to win every match. The day after the Lehigh match (a loss to No. 9-ranked Robert Hamlin), it didn't affect me as much as it would have in the past. A lot can happen from November until March. The biggest key is not letting yourself get in a rut or just try to make weight every week. I am going to make the weight, but there are five months for me to get several levels betters. By March, I expect myself to be a different wrestler. I expect that match I wrestled in November to be totally different. I'm not going to be dwelling on what happened in November. It gives me confidence to be doing well, but deep down I know that I have the abilities and I don't want to waste them.
A lot of coaches will say a loss is a great teaching tool. Do you think that is the case?
Fausey: That is true. Until that weekend (against Lehigh), I didn't have any tough opponents. I lost that one and you want that challenge. If I could wrestle a top-12 opponent every weekend, that's what you want as a competitor. I want to win every match, but I also want to wrestle the best of the best because it exposes your weaknesses. He exposed some of my weaknesses, and after the weekend we sat down and watched some film and I saw what he hit me on, what he exposed and what I could do better and capitalize on. It makes you conscious of your weaknesses and sometimes when you don't get tested as much, you might not be seeing what you needed to be working on to win a national title. I like being battle tested. You want that competition.
Talk about the sense of relief, having finals done and just being able to spend time wrestling now.
Fausey: You put so much time into your academics, and it's a grind. It's like anything in life, even when you're grown up and get a vacation from work, the time off helps your mental capacity. You go for 16 weeks with just a few little breaks, but for the most part you're studying hard and you can't procrastinate, especially with my major and the classes I take. I'm not the type of person to settle for a 3.3 or 3.4 GPA. Every class, I want to learn the material and really get something out of it.
Spot on Grounds: Clemons
Wrestling Memory: My sophomore year of high school when both my brother and I made the state finals. We both lost, but I'll always remember the joy it put on my dad's face.
Class: Chemistry or Calculus
TV Show: The Office
Music: Country, Kenny Chesney
Movie: The Departed
Sports Teams: Miami Dolphins, New York Mets
Celebrity: Sandra Bullock