From left to right: Ohio wrestling assistant coaches Colt Sponseller and Eric Morrill |Daniel Kubus | Ohio Athletics

Ohio Wrestling’s New Assistants Bring New Ideas

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Before the 2015-16 wrestling season began, the Ohio Bobcats had plenty of spots on the team to fill. Graduation, athletic eligibility concerns and redshirt seasons were among the reasons that led to new faces in Ohio’s starting lineup. But athletes weren’t the only thing head coach Joel Greenlee had to replace. When former assistants Germaine Lindsey and Kyle Hansen moved on from the program, Greenlee needed to retool his staff.

For that he turned to Eric Morrill and Colt Sponseller, two 27-year-olds, to help him coach the ‘Cats to new heights this season and beyond. And in just a short amount of time, the new coaches have brought new mindsets to Bobcat wrestling.

Morrill and Sponseller have been working with the team since October. Morrill comes to the Bobcats after four years spent as an assistant at Virginia Tech. When he was there, the Hokies won back-to-back ACC Championships in 2013 and 2014. He coached five lightweight wrestlers to eight All-American titles.

“He’s a proven coach,” Greenlee said. “You look at the success they had with their light weights when he was there and that’s directly correlated to him.”

The Sandown, New Hampshire, native wrestled at Edinboro and graduated from there in 2011.

Sponseller joins the Bobcats after coaching for three seasons at Morrill’s alma mater. In his time with the Fighting Scots, the team earned nine All-American titles. He graduated from Ohio State in 2012 and earned All-American honors as a 165-pounder in 2011. A native of Glennmont, Ohio, he is excited to return to his home state.

In his time at Edinboro, Morrill wrestled at 125 and 133 pounds. As a Buckeye, Sponseller competed 165. While both will work with Ohio’s middle weights, Morrill will take over as the Bobcats’ lightweight coach, and Sponseller will work with the Bobcats’ heavier weights.

Along with Greenlee, former assistants Lindsey and Hansen had similar wrestling philosophies because of similar experiences. In Lindsey’s time as a student athlete at Ohio, he learned under Greenlee. And though they wrestled in college at different times, Hansen and Greenlee share the same alma mater in Northern Iowa. Coming from different programs, Morrill and Sponseller have new things to add.

Rather than conditioning and toughness being a main focus as in years past, technical wrestling will be a main focus with Morrill and Sponseller on the staff.

“I try to focus on the little aspects in the room just because the little things are what matter when it comes down to it,” Morrill said. “It’s good to be tough. It’s good to be hard-nosed and in your face, but when push comes to shove, in certain situations, it’s important to have your hand in the right spot or your head in the right spot or be able to feel out a certain position, because the littlest thing can determine two points, and two points can determine a match … Technically being able to feel certain positions out can change a match.”

“I think that is why Joel brought us in,” Sponseller said about their technical background. “And [it’s] something he wanted us to focus on a lot when we first came here.”

Already in the young season, Morrill has been helpful in teaching redshirt sophomore Noah Forrider the “little aspects.” In previous seasons, Forrider had problems staying in good position when on the attack; poor positioning left him susceptible to take downs. But the new Bobcat assistant has taught Forrider to better defend shots while still staying aggressive on the offensive.

Ohio’s 197-pounder Phil Wellington is also already reaping the benefits of the new coaching style. Sponseller has shown the big man how to improve his shots, especially against high-caliber opponents.

Wellington has even gotten some tips from Morrill. With the NCAA doing away with the three-point near fall and adding a four-point near fall, Morrill has emphasized to Wellington the importance of turning opponents.

“So he just showed me, not like any turns but turns that abide by my style and the bigger man’s wrestling style,” Wellington said. “I was really shocked because he knew turns that would work for a big guy even though he wrestled 125 in college.”

Like Morrill, though Sponseller has his own group of wrestlers to focus on, he does his best to help everyone.

“It’s really [about] wherever I can help a guy at,” he said. “I don’t like to separate myself from everyone, because I feel like I can help out the whole team.”

Another welcomed addition to the Bobcat wrestling room has been the assistants’ youth.  At 27 and just a few years removed from college competition—Sponseller just finished his international wrestling career last summer— they are privy to what it’s like being a college wrestler in recent years.

Their relative youth also allows them to wrestle in practice every day, “and that’s what we need,” Greenlee said.

That last point has been huge for Wellington. In his first two years with the Bobcats, the 197-pounder had heavyweight and two-time All-American Jeremy “Train” Johnson to practice with. After Johnson graduated following the 2013-14 season, Wellington sometimes struggled finding an adequate practice partner. He has found that in Sponseller.

“He gets me exhausted, and that’s what I need,” Wellington said. “When I first came here, I got good because I wrestled with Train all the time, and he would just push me and push me …When Train left I had to really push myself, and I don’t think I was ready for it.”

Sponseller pushes Wellington he needs it, and the coach has shown his wrestler how to push himself even when they aren’t sparring.

That’s a minor detail that Sponseller tries adjust with experienced wrestlers like Wellington. From 157 to 197 pounds in Ohio’s lineup, he deals with four accomplished redshirt seniors in Sparty Chino, Cody Walters, Andrew Romanchik and Wellington. Because of their advanced skills, he tries not to change them too much.

“Now it’s just about getting them into a good frame of mind, tweaking little things, improving little areas [and] not making drastic changes,” Sponseller said. It’s all about fine tuning and keeping them in a positive state of mind.

Morrill finds himself in a much different position. From 125 to 149 pounds, he is dealing with two true freshmen and two redshirt sophomores—three first-time starters—in Ohio’s lineup, and he likes it that way.

“It’s awesome, [because] those guys have a lot of talent, and I get to get my hands on them for another three to four years,” Morrill said. “It’s awesome to see the talent. That’s something as a coach that you get excited about.”

Less than a month into the season, the Bobcats are off to a hot start with the help of both assistants. Despite what they’ve already done to get Ohio wrestling where it is, Greenlee says what they bring to the Bobcats is still yet to be determined. Considering the Bobcats’ success thus far, and with a long season ahead, that potential is something to get excited about, too.