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Kerry McCoy

Kerry McCoy was a 2x Suffolk County champ and was the 1992 NY State Champ for Longwood High School.  While at Longwood, Kerry was a Cadet World Runner-up and Junior World Champion.  At Penn State University he was a 3x NCAA All-American, winning two NCAA Championships.  Kerryís career record at Penn State was 150-18; he also won 131 of his final 132 matches, including an 88 match winning streak.  In 1997 he won the ďDan Hodge AwardĒ as the nationís top college wrestler.

Kerry was a 2x Olympian (2000, 2004) and is a 5x US National Champion.  He has placed in the Top 4 in the United States at the Open level for 10 consecutive years.  Kerry is a 4x World Cup Champion and a 3x Pan-Am Champion.  Kerry won the Silver Medal for the United States at the 2003 World Championships, held at Madison Square Garden.

Kerry is a native Long Islander, born in Riverhead and raised in Middle Island.  He is currently an assistant coach at Lehigh University, the #2 ranked team in the country.

As the first subject in an ongoing series profiling the top names in Long Island Wrestling, Kerry McCoy recently spoke with Bill Faxon exclusively for the Long Island Wrestling Association.


LIWA:  Going back to your days at Longwood, when did you first realize that you were an elite wrestler?
McCoy: *laughs* I donít know if I ever realized that.  I just wrestled and enjoyed it.

LIWA: How about when you were being recruited by colleges?
McCoy: My senior year colleges started calling, but I wasnít what you would call a real big time recruit.  There were a few schools that were interested, but it wasnít like I had every college in the country knocking my door down.  I was getting letters, mass mailings that all colleges send out.  Probably around October of my senior year when I finally started to set up recruiting visits I realized that I actually had a future with my wrestling.

But, even then I didnít think I was going to go on and become a wrestler.  I figured that I would go to college and just wrestle while I was there.

LIWA: Your junior year you were teammates with Nick Hall, he was obviously getting a lot of attention from colleges.  Did you look at it as a preview for the following year when you would go through the process?
McCoy: A little bit, but Nick was a lot better than I was.  Nick was very highly sought after, every college wanted him.  I looked at Hall and said ďIím nowhere near as good as he is.Ē I thought all of the attention was because of whom he was, I didnít think it was normal.  I just realized that he was so good, and this attention was because he was one of the very top recruits in the country.

LIWA: You guys were one weight class apart; you must have had some battles in the Longwood room.
McCoy: He killed me.  *laughs*  It wasnít even a question..it was survival for me when I practiced with him.  Obviously he helped me to become a lot better; some of the beatings I took from him helped me to improve.  I realized when I was facing him that I was wrestling one of the best guys in the country.  When I got on the mat against the competition, nobody was as good as my training partner was.

LIWA: You and Hall met in college and you beat him.  What was that like?
McCoy: We met twice in college.  We wrestled one match; the other time he had to injury default.  I think the first one was a 2-0 match, I got an escape and I rode him out, something like that.  It was a difference in programs.  I went to Penn State, which at the time was more competitive than Old Dominion.  Obviously I advanced a lot at Penn State and I was able to beat him.

LIWA: Going back to those Longwood teams, you had a storied career with the NCAA titles.  Nick was an NCAA All-American.  John Lange was an NCAA All-American.  The line-up was chock full of county and state champs.  At the time, did you realize that it was something special?
McCoy: Yes, we knew it was special.  I was kind of a late bloomer.  My first year wrestling varsity was as a sophomore and I didnít place in the league tournament, but I was still a part of that county championship team in 1990 and 1991.  We beat Sachem all 3 years that I wrestled varsity, which was huge.  We were ranked #1 in the state every year.  We knew that we had the talent, and it was unfortunate that there wasnít a true {team} state championship because those years between 1990 and 1996 Longwood would have dominated the state, and it would have been nice to have an official state title.  You can take the great teams that were around in the early and mid 1970ís, or any other team in the history of the state, and our Longwood teams of the early 90ís would have been extremely competitive against them.

LIWA: You spoke about how you were the younger guy to Nick Hall in 1991, but the next year you were the elder statesman to a terrific group of younger wrestlers, including John Lange.  Did you think that he was special at the time?
McCoy: I knew John was special WAY before then.  He and his brother Jimmy, really their entire family, were very important in my development as a wrestler.  When I first got into the sport I was closer to Jimmy, he was closer to my age.  As we got older, probably from my freshman year to my senior year, John and I hung out just about every weekend.  I knew he had a lot of talent, and we were close on and off the mat over the years.

LIWA: You and Lange were teammates again at Penn State.
McCoy: It was great being teammates.  He was up and down with injuries through his career, but he was tough.  The first time I won the National tournament it was his senior year of high school, and he was there in North Carolina when I won the NCAA title.  Even his dad came down.  I was one of his coaches his senior year at Penn State when he won the Big 10 Championship.  I believe he was the first guy in history to lose his first round match but come back to take 3rd at the NCAA tournament.  John and I have been together for a lot of milestones in each others careers.

LIWA: Another standout on those Longwood teams was Rason Phiffer, who had a legendary high school career.  Phiffer did not wrestle in college, but what can you tell us about his talent?
McCoy: The guys that have won National championships in the lighter weights over the past few years are lucky that Rason Phiffer never wrestled in college.  He definitely would have won a couple of NCAA titles if he went to school and he competed.  Heís definitely one of the most talented wrestlers that Iíve ever seen.  For a 100 pound kid, he had the strength of a 250 pound man.  He just went out and destroyed people.

When he was in 7th grade Rason would take the seniors to the limit.  My senior year, when Section XI had 11 guys in the state semis and around 10 state champs, Phiffer lost in overtime to one of the state champs, Brian Fischneich from Huntington.  Rason went undefeated the next two years, winning the state titles easily.  He was definitely one of the most talented wrestlers that Iíve ever seen.

LIWA: Who were the toughest guys that you wrestled in high school?
McCoy: My toughest competition was always in the room at Longwood.  Nick, obviously.  John and I were training partners when he was at 145 and I was a 177 pounder.  My cousin, Junius Gradney was on the team.  Duane Thompson, those are the guys that I used to battle with.

Outside the room, my junior year I wrestled Jason Dove from Hauppauge in the county finals.  He was ranked #1 in the state, I was ranked #2.  I ended up getting the close win.

My toughest match in high school was against Mike Quaglio.  He was the state champ at 167.  We were supposed to go to the Mid-Hudson tournament, but something happened and it got cancelled.  A bunch of the teams got together and had some dual meets.  Mike went up to wrestle me just to get the competition, I won the match, I think the score was 1-0.  It was tough because he was such a competitor, but also because he was such a good friend of mine.

In freestyle the other guy that was always around was Jason Kraft.  He was a state champ that year at 155, Quaglio was the state champ at 167 and I was the state champ at 177.  We all wrestled each other starting back in 7th, 8th, 9th grade.  Finally I got bigger and Kraft stayed the same size, but he was one of the guys that pushed me back then, because I knew he was always ready for competition.

LIWA: How did you wind up at Penn State?
McCoy: Itís a funny story, Jason Kraft is probably the biggest reason that I went to Penn State.  He was coming from the same high school as Dan Mayo; so he wanted to go to Penn State.  Like I said, we had battled each other for so long growing up; he said that it would be great if we could wrestle for the same team, so he told the Penn State coaches about me.  They came to watch HIM in the Longwood/Sachem match, and he told them to keep an eye out, that I was pretty good too.  Jason had turned them on to me.

I had no clue about colleges.  I just wrestled because it was what I liked to do.  When Penn State first came in the picture, I was still thinking of SUNY schools like Brockport, Stony Brook.  I thought Penn State was their version of a SUNY school or a community college type, so I had no interest whatsoever.  They were actually last on my list.

Once I went there I met some guys, and everything fit.  It all fit for me, and one of the things that they said was that Adam Mariano wasnít going to be on the team anymore, that he wasnít going to be around next year.  If Adam was going to be there, I definitely would NOT have gone to Penn State.  We were the same weight, and I donít want to say that he was my idol, but he was everything that there was as far as wrestling on Long Island.  For me to think that I could go and beat him out was beyond reality for me.

LIWA: Your freshman year at Penn State you were basically a .500 wrestler.  The following season you were an undefeated NCAA champion.  What do you attribute that to?
McCoy: After my freshman year I said that I wasnít ever going to lose again.  Just saying it isnít enough, I worked and I trained with the idea that I wasnít going to lose another match.

The weekend after the NCAA tournament, I competed.  I competed in 7 tournaments after my freshman year.  University Nationals, Espoir Nationals.  I went to the Espoir Worlds in Greco-Roman.   I went to the NYAC.  I just trained, and trained and trained.

I came back and I wanted to exact revenge on all of the guys that beat me my freshman year.  I went up to heavyweight.  I was small, but I was getting better every single day.  I could train everyday without worrying about 2 days for cutting weight and 2 days for recovering.  I was training every day and getting better every day because I didnít have to worry about my weight.  It made it that much easier.  I did everything in my power to make sure I wouldnít lose.

LIWA: You and Stephen Neal had a long series of matches.  You beat him to win your 2nd NCAA title.  He beat you a few times and eventually won the Gold medal at the 1999 World Championships.  You beat him to make the 2000 Olympic team.  Tell us about you and Neal.
McCoy: I definitely credit a lot of my success to my competitors.  The guys that I had to compete against made me that much better.  I knew I had to improve to beat them.

Neal and I did go back and forth.  Going into the Olympic year we had wrestled 8 times, and it was 4 to 4.  I beat him 3 of the first 4; he beat me 3 of the second 4.  He was a great athlete, a great competitor, a great wrestler.  We always had a lot of respect for each other.

This year, before the Nationals, he called me up right before the National Finals to wish me luck.  We still get along well.  It helped me improve to know that I had to get better to beat Neal.  I owe him a lot of my success.

LIWA: Speaking of this yearís National Finals, you wrestled Steve Mocco.  This was a match that people in the wrestling community were looking forward to for a long time.  Were you aware that there was a buzz about this match? What was the key to your win in the match itself?
McCoy: Yeah, I definitely keep my hand on the pulse of whatís going on in the wrestling world.  I knew a lot of people were talking about this match.

It actually started back when he was a senior in high school and thinking of coming to Lehigh.  Was I going to be done? Was I going to compete? There was a lot of speculation that he originally went to Iowa because he knew that he was going to have to wrestle me to make the Olympic team so he didnít want to train with me.  I donít know if itís true.  There was a lot of hype around it.

My main focus has always been just to get better every day.  I realized that the hype was there, but I didnít focus on it, didnít get caught up in it.  My goal was to be an Olympic Champion.  Obviously to get there you need to make the US Team and then move on.

I wasnít going to focus on one person; I was focusing on making myself better so that I could beat the rest of the world.  Through all of the hype I just focused on that idea, improving myself, I wasnít worried about what people were talking about.

I thought Tolly Thompson, who was the #2 ranked guy, would have beaten him if they wrestled.  Tolly got caught and pinned earlier in the Nationals so that kind of opened the door for Steve to cruise to the finals.

I was feeling good, I was wrestling well.  I peaked at the right time.  The match went 0-0 in the first period.  I won the clinch in the second period, I turned him and he didnít really come close to scoring for the match.  I won 3-0.  It was one of those things where I just stuck to my game plan and I was able to come out on top.

LIWA: In 2003 the World Championships were held in New York City.  Being a Long Islander, this was basically your back yard.  When you look back can you feel good about winning the Silver Medal, taking 2nd in the World, in your own hometown or does it stick in your head that you were in overtime, that the Gold medal was that close?

McCoy: Itís definitely both.  A lot of people talk, and thatís the way it is in sports, about not being able to win the big one.  I look at myself, and I never won a World Championship or the Olympics.  I only won one medal.  I look at my career, everything Iíve accomplished, and there are things that stick out.  I have been that close so many times and I never quite got over the top.

The fact is, I did medal in a World Championship, which most people donít get a chance to do.  I was that close to the Gold.  Different official, different time, things could have worked out differently.  Some things just arenítí meant to be.  I can sit here and honestly say that I trained as hard as I could.  I put in all the effort I could to be the best I could, but when it was all said and done it just wasnít meant to be.

I think about it every day.  I think about 2003, 2004.  I think about 1998 when I basically had the match taken from me.  I won the match in the semi-finals and was all set to wrestle in the finals, that was another medal that I should have had.  They protested, overturned the match and I took 4th.

LIWA: Most wrestlers donít get to go out on their own terms.  One guy that did is Rob Rohn, who you helped coach to an NCAA title in a match where he was trailing and came back to pin his opponent.  To anyone that was in Albany, or who was watching on TV, and saw your reaction and your excitement at Rohnís win, it was pretty obvious that coaching is something that has become important to you.
McCoy: Definitely.  It was amazing.  I caught a lot of grief from the guys over it, but it wasnít a plan that I was going to run out and jump in Robís face if he won it.  I was just so overcome with emotion.

It wasnít just the way that he won it.  It was that he had so many ups and downs not just that year, but over his career.  He lost in the conference finals, but for him to have the tournament that he did, and to win it all the way he did, it was just an incredible experience.  I was overcome with emotion.  That was one of the most rewarding times of my career, coaching or otherwise.  To see him come through the way he did, after everything he had gone through, it was just amazing.

LIWA: Is coaching something that you are going to pursue?
McCoy: Definitely.  Within the next 3 to 5 years I hope to be a head coach.  I want to run my own program, to be able to do things the way that I want to do things.  Iíve been real fortunate to have a lot of great coaching mentors.  Coach Fritz, Troy Sunderland, Greg Strobel, Kevin Jackson, every coach that Iíve ever had has shown me something, taught me something.  Whether it was a developmental coach, a coach on one of the winter tours, a high school coach at Junior Nationals, Iíve had so many coaches that have helped me to get where I am that Iíd like to be able to employ some of the things that Iíve learned, take a page from every person and mold it into my own coaching style.

LIWA: SUNY Binghamton recently reinstated their wrestling program and is looking for a coach.   Is this something that you might pursue?
McCoy: Iím considering applying.  I donít know where, what and how they are going to do, but Iím anxious to see what their plan is.

LIWA: Is it important that a coaching job keep you on the East Coast, near your roots in NY and PA?
McCoy: My dream job is to be the head coach at Penn State.  Thatís where I developed and made it to the next level as a wrestler.  That community gave me so much, helped me to get where I am today.

Second to that is going back to New York at some point.  Thatís my foundation.  All of the coaches, all of the wrestlers, all of the fans and supporters in NY those people are important.  There are people like Steve Meehan, who has known me since 7th and 8th grade and have supported me the whole time.

 I definitely believe that Binghamton and other SUNY schools can all be national competitors.  Itís something that Iím interested in.  What opportunities arise and when will really dictate where I wind up.

LIWA: You are interested in coaching, but some of your old competitors have gone onto other post-wrestling careers.  Kurt Angle has gone into professional wrestling.  Stephen Neal plays in the NFL for the New England Patriots.  Rulon Gardner has signed to do mixed martial arts fighting.  Have you considered these fields?

McCoy: I think about it every day, just because itís a great living.  Those guys are making millions.  I donít think itís something that Iíd pursue.  Look, Iíd love to be in the NFL.  What a great way to make a living, going out and playing a great game on TV, in front of thousands of people, playing one of our national pastimes.  But I look at myself as a 30 year old guy and there are 21 year old kids that can do everything that I can do, and they can go do it for the next 10 years.  Thereís not a strong market for me in the NFL.

As far as the WWE, Iím a huge fan of it.  I used to watch it a lot more than I do now, but I still catch myself every couple of days getting fixed on a new storyline.  But those guys are on the road more than I was on the road as a competitive wrestler.  They are on the road 200, 250 days a year.  5 or 6 nights a week they are traveling on the road, and Iíve done that for so long that itís not something that I want to jump back into, so thatís unlikely.

As far as the UFC and things like that, Iím not crazy.

LIWA: You and Jesse Jantzen have a lot in common.   Do you take a special interest in the college careers of Jantzen and other Long Island natives?
McCoy: Absolutely.  It was easy to watch Jesse, but it was also painful sometimes because he was in our conference.  We saw him at the dual meet, the conference tournament, the NCAA tournament.  I keep tabs on him.  It was tough, though, because we had to wrestle him.

His first year, he had to wrestle Dave Esposito.  Dave kind of had Jesseís number when he was a true freshman.  Since then, weíve had to catch beatings from Jesse over the past 3 years.

I talked to Jesse here and there; I do try to keep that strong Long Island connection.  Iíve got a lot of pride in Long Island wrestling, and New York wrestling in general.  As a whole, thereís not a lot of recognition for NY wrestling.  You only get to see 13 kids in the state tournament, and you donít necessarily get to see the 13 best kids with only sending one guy per section.  The guy that took 2nd to Jesse Jantzen in the county tournament every year probably would have placed in the states.  There might have been times where the guy could have won the states if Jesse wasnít there.

Itís important to keep those connections among those of us who know who tough it is.  The guy that takes second in Section XI doesnít have the opportunity to get a full scholarship to Penn State.  A lot of Long Island guys donít compete in college, but the ones that do, I try to keep tabs on.  Hopefully the more guys that go on and do well, and bring their success back to Long Island, it will help bring recognition and help make Long Island and New York the wrestling powerhouses that they are capable of being.

LIWA: Despite all of the great wrestlers to come from Long Island, only you and Carl Adams have won multiple NCAA titles.  When you factor in your US National titles, your World Silver medal, your 2 Olympic Games, one could argue that Kerry McCoy is the greatest wrestler in Long Island history.  Have you considered your place in history?

McCoy: *laughs* No, definitely not.  I would never think of it like that.  There have been so many great wrestlers.  I might have more accomplishments, but so many guys have done great things.  Jesse Jantzen being the first guy to win 4 state titles, thatís incredible.  I barely won the one title.  John Lange winning 3 titles and the way that he dominated.  Iím partial to the guys I wrestled with, but Nick Hall was one of the more dominant guys in the country.  Adam Mariano, Dean Morrison those are the guys that I looked up to and that set the way for me.  Those are just the more recent guys.  You have my coach, Mike Picozzi and his coach, Lou Giani and all that theyíve accomplished.  Iím only as good as the guys that paved the way for me.  Hopefully someone else comes along and takes it from where I left off.

LIWA: What will you remember most about your career when you look back?
McCoy: Being a 2x Olympian, thatís special.  Most people donít get a chance to be on an Olympic team, and I was fortunate enough to make two.  If you asked anyone that knew me when I started in 7th grade back in 1987, would this kid made two Olympic teams, I donít think anyone would have said yes.

Being there for Nick Hall winning Longwoodís first state title was incredible.  Being there for John Lange winning the Big 10 tourney and coming back from a first round loss to wrestle all the way for 3rd in the NCAAís.

LIWA: Are you definitely done as an active competitor?
McCoy: The only way that I would compete again is if they changed the weight classes.  Itís been a real chore.  Itís very hard for me to keep my weight up.  Even constantly lifting hard, eating all the time, for me to get up to 255 was next to impossible.  Right now Iím walking around at about 235, not really lifting, eating normal.  To have to kill myself to get up to 255, 260 so that I could compete against the big guy, itís just not something that I want to do.

If there was a weight class around 230-240, where I could wrestle my natural weight and just worry about my technique and not all of those other things I would do it.  But, thatís very unlikely that theyíll change the weight classes.  Itís most likely not going to happen, so most likely thatís it for me.

There have been a lot of ups and downs in my career, but I can definitely say that I gave it my all.  In the end, thatís really what itís all about.  I gave it my all.