Bryce Hepner is used to competing under a national spotlight as a member of the St. Edward wrestling program. So it’s no surprise the Avon resident believes having the best opportunity to win a national championship was a great reason to pick Rutgers University as his next career stop.
Hepner gave his oral commitment to the Scarlet Knights and tweeted it out June 13.
“I want to be a national champion and I feel Rutgers gives me everything I’ll need to accomplish that,” Hepner said Wednesday night. “Their coaching staff just really clicked with me and I connect with them well. Their campus, the team … just everything about it seems like it’s tailor-made for me.”
Rutgers will be getting one of the nation’s best, as Hepner enters his senior year with a pair of Division I high school state championships under his belt — he finished as the state runner-up his freshman season — and ranked No. 13 in the U.S. at 145 pounds by FloWrestling.
He joins three other nationally ranked wrestlers from the 2020 class — Elyria’s Dylan Shawver is ranked No. 6 at 126, DePaul’s (N.J.) Connor O’Neil is ranked No. 8 at 170 and Colonia’s (N.J.) John Poznanski is ranked No. 5 at 182 — who have committed to Rutgers, which is in Piscataway, N.J.
“I feel like Rutgers is on a really big come-up right now,” Hepner said. “Their 2019 class was top five and I feel our recruiting class will be top five, and with their coaches and the opportunities they have there … I feel like we have the tools to create a really special team.”
With Hepner and Shawver — an Amherst resident — living in bordering cities and competing in many of the same high-level tournaments, they’ve known each other for years.
“Dylan is actually a really, really good friend of mine. He’s a great wrestler,” Hepner said. “He didn’t have any influence on the decision, which is good. Sometimes having a friend go to a school makes you want to go there.
“He’s going to be a great teammate to have and I know he’s as passionate about wrestling as I am, so when we both get there we’ll have the same goal of making something big happen.”
Athletes use different adjectives to describe the recruiting process. Some think it’s exciting and some look at it as terrifying. Hepner had mixed emotions.
“The first two weeks of the recruiting process was fun, but after that it started to get a bit stressful,” he said. “It’s where you’re going to spend your future five years so it was tough. It came down to Cornell, Ohio State and Rutgers, and it just seemed like Rutgers was the best fit.
“I sat down with my coach and we talked about the pros and cons of each and came to the decision. I feel Rutgers was the right school. It stood out from the others for me.”
He said the most difficult part was telling the rejected coaches he wasn’t picking their schools.
“Especially Ohio State because I have a great relationship with them,” he said. “‘I’m sorry, but I’m going to go this way,’ that sucked. It really did.”
Plus the campus in Columbus was a bit too far from the hustle and bustle of the East Coast.
“(Rutgers is) 40 minutes from New York City, 40 minutes from the Jersey Shore and an hour away from Philadelphia,” Hepner said. “I plan on majoring in business, so being that close to those huge hubs of people is huge for me. It’s just another reason that I ultimately chose them.”
Hepner said he can now get back to the business of preparing for his final high school season and his shot to become a three-time state champion.
“I feel like my senior year is going to be smooth sailing and I feel like I’m going to make a huge jump,” he said. “I want to finish in the top three in the national rankings, and I feel like it’s going to be a really good year.”
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