Former Lehigh wrestler and current assistant coach Zach Rey, ‘12, is using his National Championship experience from his days on the mat to help the next Mountain Hawk become an NCAA Champion.
Rey won the heavyweight championship in 2011 but now is trying to instill that same work ethic in current Lehigh wrestlers.
“It takes a whole lot of commitment,” Rey said. “You have to have something built in your body that is different from other athletes. Athleticism and strength but, more importantly, a will to win.”
Head coach Pat Santoro said Rey was always prepared.
“In his sophomore year, when Zach (Rey) lost in the semifinals, he had to dig deep and fight to take third in an overtime match,” Santoro said. “That I believe helped set him up to learn how to win tight matches, including the National Championship.”
Rey was a three-time All-American and the 2011 NCAA heavyweight champion for the Mountain Hawks. He was a four-year starter and ranks fourth on the school’s career wins list.
While Rey had a successful career, he didn’t start wrestling until later in life.
“In my freshman year at Hopatcong High School in New Jersey, I was lifting weights — getting ready for the football season, when the wrestling coach, Eric Fajerman, came up to me and told me to join the wrestling team,” Rey said. “From that point on, I haven’t looked back since.”
Rey said in his first year wrestling in high school, there wasn’t a whole lot of winning. He said he stayed competitive and worked hard to get better every day.
Santoro said the development of Rey was due to his hard work and the help of the coaching staff, in particular Steve Mocco, a volunteer assistant coach.
“Steve (Mocco) worked with Zach (Rey) every day and was a big impact,” Santoro said. “It showed the team that we can be All-Americans and National Champions. It was a big step for the rebuilding process.”
With Rey’s experience on the mat, he now tries to communicate the same values and lessons to current Lehigh wrestlers as a coach.
“One thing for me that I struggled with was developing my skills,” Rey said. “I worked to get through the practice, but now I try to teach the guys to focus on developing a skill that will add to their wrestling success.”
Rey said he has yet to coach a National Champion, but he hopes that down the line, the team will hoist the National Championship Trophy at some point soon.
Santoro said Rey approaches coaching the same way he approaches life: by doing all the little things right.
Lehigh All-American Jordan Wood, who is taking an Olympic redshirt year in 2020-2021, has known Rey since he was in high school.
“I started wrestling with Zach (Rey) through the Lehigh Valley Wrestling Club in high school,” Wood said. “As an Olympic alternate at the time, it was great to work with him at such a young age. Zach (Rey) is a great training partner but an even better mentor and friend that I will have for the rest of my life.”