Senior wrestler Ian Brown wanted a school that would challenge him both academically and physically throughout his collegiate years. He discovered Lehigh would do both, but what really sold him on the university was the coaching staff.
Brown said he felt like coach Pat Santoro was genuinely invested in him as a person and not just as a wrestler.
“He’s not just concerned with having good wrestlers on his team — he wants guys who are morally and ethically good people,” Brown said. “Those are things that I value as well, so the combination of everything and knowing that I had the coaches in my corner, literally and figuratively, was pretty awesome.”
Santoro felt a similar connection to Brown. When recruiting Brown, Santoro noticed he was a talented and explosive wrestler. But the more the pair got to know one another, the more Santoro realized Brown was a good person in addition to a good wrestler.
Brown’s teammates attest to his character as well. Senior wrestler Brandon Diaz said Brown has been a constant source of support.
“He’s been really supportive and helpful whenever I needed something,” Diaz said. “Whether it be helping me get my technique down or just helping me push through a tough practice or situation, he’s there to not only better himself but also his teammates.”
Brown arrived his freshman year hoping to break into the starting lineup right away. He said the transition between high school and college wrestling can be difficult because of style changes.
Brown decided to redshirt his freshman year, and looking back, he realizes it was in his best interest.
“By the end of that first year, I had seen a complete difference in my style and even physically in my body,” he said. “And by looking back and realizing that I wasn’t ready, I could look forward to the next years because that’s where I was, and this is where I am now.”
During Brown’s sophomore year, the first year of his eligibility, he moved up a weight class. Santoro recruited him for the 141-pound weight class, but Brown landed a spot in the 157-pound weight class. He saw success there, placing third at the Southern Scuffle, a national tournament that Santoro said is one step below the NCAA tournament.
Not long after that, when Brown’s teammate in the 141-pound weight class fell to an injury, Brown took on the challenge of dropping back down a weight class. He competed well in his original class, but his teammate soon recovered and Brown was needed back in the 157 class. So he put the weight back on.
By then, he’d lost his groove at 157. He placed at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships but didn’t make nationals. Brown said it was an improvement from the year before, but he wasn’t satisfied.
His second year of eligibility looked promising, but Brown injured his neck in the preseason wrestle-offs, leaving him sidelined for eight weeks. He used that year to develop and learn from his teammates and coaches.
Then, he began his comeback.
“There’s a physical and there’s a mental recovery,” Santoro said. “So we had to get him back just getting reps in and real live matches in so he could learn to trust it. And I think that once he did that and got that trust back, he had the whole summer to really feel good about it and then hit with his feet running this year.”
On Nov. 10, Brown won 13-5 in a five-takedown match against Christian Bassolino of Bucknell University. On Nov. 12 at the Journeymen Collegiate Classic, Brown sealed first place in the 157-pound weight class, beating out opponents from Lock Haven University and Army. Although Brown lost his matches against Edinboro University and Princeton University, he had a major 7-5 win over University of Michigan’s eighth-ranked Alec Pantaleo on Nov. 19.
Santoro credits the success Brown had so far this season to his versatility and unique style, both of which are helping him get closer to his goal for the season — to get himself and his teammates on the podium in March.
“We want to get our team on the podium, and I want to get on the podium and become an All-American, and that’s something I know I can do,” he said. “Hopefully in the next few months, we find out.”