Maryland wrestling has struggled to sign talent from the Midwest hotbed in recent years, with top prospects from that area completely out of reach. But first-year coach Alex Clemsen, who has built a reputation as an elite recruiter throughout his career, is looking to change that.
The Terps’ new leader and his staff sought heavily after Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, native, Jackson Cockrell, a four-time Fargo All-American who was ranked as the No. 16 120-pounder earlier this season. Cockrell said Clemsen’s staff recruited him harder than other school, leading to his commitment to Maryland’s 2020 class.
“The fact that they flew to my house to persuade me, even more, had a big impact on me. I am really confident going to Maryland,” Cockrell told Testudo Times. “I feel that there is no better option for me.”
Assistant coach Nick Brascetta holds Clemsen in high regard for his strength in successful recruitment. He knows that Clemsen and the Maryland coaching staff is on the right path of zeroing in on high-level athletes and is confident in Clemsen’s strategy for the recruitment classes to come.
“He does a great job in selling a vision and selling the program,” Brascetta said. “It is important not to sell the past, but to sell a vision, and where the program and recruits can be in the future.”
Before coming to College Park, Clemson spent the last five seasons with Missouri, serving as the associate head coach for the past four years. In his time as a Tiger, he was able to successfully recruit and develop a program that was dominant on the mat, which hopes to bring to Maryland.
Clemson helped lead Missouri to an elite 84-7 dual meet record, three NCAA individual champions, 22 All-Americans and five top-six finishes in the NCAA tournament while on staff.
Of the athletes that Clemsen has recruited and molded at Missouri was four-time All-American Daniel Lewis. Clemsen and Lewis’ tight-knight bond is what allowed Lewis, and many other of Clemsen’s wrestlers, to thrive on the mat.
“That relationship process starts in the recruiting, but it has to continue to develop once the kids get here,” Clemson said. “Because if you really want kids to sell out and buy in to your vision and buy into your program, they have to trust you.
His recruiting skills sought out the toughest high school wrestlers, which is what helped build his coaching legacy not only at Missouri, but Virginia as well, where he coached 38 NCAA qualifiers, six All-Americans and eight ACC champions.
Well aware of Clemsen’s past accolades, Brascetta knows having him as Maryland wrestling’s head coach is vital for a successful future.
“Clemsen is an elite-level recruiter,” he said. “He sold the Missouri vision in the past and that is what made them so successful in recruiting.”
Now at Maryland, Clemsen isn’t afraid to take chances with the big guys from other states in an attempt to form a solid relationship, even if it isn’t the way the program has gone in the past.
“There is a lot to sell here. Obviously being in the Big Ten —it’s the best conference in the country, and we are a great academic institution,” Clemsen said. “We are really trying to communicate how and why we are different and what that is going to look like down the road.”
The communication of what wrestling at the top conference in the country truly means for a student-athlete is not something to be taken lightly. And redshirt senior Jahi Jones noted that Clemsen is up front with all his recruits about how tough the process of being a Division I wrestler will be.
“Some coaches may portray a fantasy world of what it is going to look like, but Clemsen shows them reality,” Jones said. “We go hard in practice, and the recruits get to see that. They know what to expect when they join.”
Clemsen and his coaching staff have been continuously working to sell the Maryland atmosphere to high school athletes since they took over the program (Clemsen was hired in April, while his two assistant coaches Brascetta and Devin Mellon were hired in May).
Though his relocation from Missouri to Maryland is drastic, Clemsen sees this new environment as a positive when bringing in recruits.
“We are in the DMV — it’s the third best media market in the country. There’s an electricity around this campus that you don’t have in almost any other place in the country,” he said.
The young head coach uses the university’s location to his advantage; with Maryland being so close to the District of Columbia, the opportunities for recruits during and after college are unlimited. Not only can a wrestling career be built here, but so can a professional one.
Recruitment can make or break a collegiate program, and while it is yet to be seen if Clemsen can consistently deliver top talent, the Terps are confident in their new leader.
“Clemsen is hard-nosed, Jones said. “As long as he gets a bunch of hard workers, the future for Maryland wrestling is bright.”