Wrestling: Like Father, Like Son

  • By Brian Kuppelweiser
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  • December 02, 2011 11:22 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - It was a day that West Virginia wrestling coach Craig Turnbull says he will never forget.

Over three years ago, former Mountaineer grappler Rick Pennesi walked into the Turnbull’s office and introduced his son, Nathan Pennesi.

The Pennesi’s were in Morgantown with Nathan to check out the WVU campus, as their son began his search for the home of his collegiate wrestling career.

Nathan remembers it like it was yesterday and says he knew he was going to be a Mountaineer.

“I always knew this is where I wanted to be,” said Pennesi, who is now a redshirt sophomore on the team. “My family would come down for football games and for wrestling matches.”

For Turnbull, however, the experience was, well, new.

It was the first time that one of his former student-athletes had brought their son to the campus as a prospective wrestling recruit.

“It was a dark day,” Turnbull jokes. “I went home and said to my wife, “I am getting old.”

Turnbull began his career with the Mountaineers as a graduate assistant during the 1975-76 wrestling campaign and constantly worked with Rick during his senior year.

“Rick really had a lot of potential, and he got significantly better that year,” Turnbull says. “He was one of the guys that I personally worked out with and we did a lot of work together.”

Now, with Nathan in the program, Turnbull has taken some time to reflect and realizes that the apple does not fall far from the tree with this father-son relationship.

“Nathan has a lot of his dad in him,” Turnbull says. “Rick did a good job of getting Nathan some of the experiences he needed through his early years of wrestling.”

Turnbull even took a little time to say that the younger Pennesi may be one-upping his father in some regards.

“Nathan is a very good student, and he is probably even a better student than Rick,” Turnbull says with a laugh. “Rick didn’t have some of the advantages that Nathan does, though.”

Nathan, who is an engineering major, has made the dean’s list twice during his time at WVU, but it isn’t just the classroom where he is succeeding.

After redshirting in his first year with the program, Pennesi qualified for the 2011 NCAA Championships and compiled a 42-10 overall record, including a 9-0 mark as the team heads to Las Vegas for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.

“All the experiences and success that he had last year in his first year gave him an idea of a what level he needs to work at,” Turnbull says. “He is off to a really great start this year.”

Pennesi credits the use of the redshirt during his first year and his work with assistant coach Danny Felix as the reasons for his early triumphs.

“If I didn’t redshirt my first year, I would have had to learn as the year went on,” Pennesi says. “It was a great thing to take the year off from trying to make weight, so I could go and learn how to be a better wrestler.”

Now, with the heart of the tournament schedule ahead as well as the always tough Eastern Wrestling League slate, Pennesi has turned his focus to standing amongst the best at the NCAA Championships this season.

“I want to be an All-American,” Pennesi emphasized. “If I don’t get there, I still will probably consider it to be a good season, but not to the degree that I want it to be.”