College: Augustin brings Amherst's program back to life
by Don Seeley, Pottstown Mercury Sports Editor
Posted on March 12, 2009
HAMPTON, Va. -- Eddy Augustin was never one to back away from a challenge.
Once told he was too small to play football, he became a two-way starter and All-Pioneer Athletic Conference running back and linebacker at Spring-Ford, then a four-year starter at one or both of those positions at Millersville University. And when the late Floyd "Shorty" Hitchcock asked if he'd fill the heavyweight slot in his Millersville wrestling lineup, Augustin was in the practice room the next day and scuffling despite giving up 50-75 pounds to nearly everyone he confronted.
So last June, when Amherst College called and asked Augustin if he was interested in joining its football staff - and revive the wrestling program as well - well, let's just say he didn't have a whole lot of questions ... or need whole lot of time to accept the offer.
"I knew it would be the first time I was doing both football and wrestling, that it would require a lot of my time," Augustin recalled earlier this week. "But, man, it was such a neat challenge.
"I had some friends, people I knew from the past who were here at Amherst, who let me know about (the openings). They just felt I'd be a good fit."
With one season of football already completed, and just one more weekend of wrestling to go - with two qualifiers in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association National Championships today through Saturday here at Hampton University's Convocation Center Arena - Augustin has proven to be a perfect fit.
"Amherst is such a great school, and I love the area," Augustin said. "This was just a whole different opportunity for me, working with the football program and then being the head coach in wrestling. It's a very secure job, the kind you don't want to pass up ... the kind of opportunity you don't want to pass up."
Amherst, ranked first in the nation among liberal arts college by U.S News and World Report, has a very respectable Division III football program. The Lord Jeffs are among the New England Small College Athletic Conference's premier teams nearly every season. Last year, Augustin helped a school-record six players earn All-NESCAC honors.
But as the football season wound down, the wrestling season - Amherst's first since the early 90s - was coming to life.
"The school wanted to bring back wrestling, and they were looking for someone to take on that dual role," Augustin explained. "The back-to-back seasons thing wasn't new to me, of course, but coaching wrestling was ... and I was starting from scratch. I mean we didn't have any (wrestling) mats or even a place to practice at first. And it was up to me to get the equipment. But the support from the alumni has been unbelievable."
Finding wrestlers, though, may have been Augustin's biggest challenge.
"I just went out looking for as many bodies as I could get," Augustin said. "I opened it up to everyone, and we had about 13 to 15 guys on a regular basis.
"The funny thing is that a lot of the guys had never stepped on a mat before. We covered the basics, taught the basics, tried to keep it very fundamental. Our goal was to run this as a varsity program from the start, but we also knew that academics is the priority for most of the guys, so we had to work around that."
Two of Augustin's prized recruits - seniors Guy Matisis and Tim Rose - strolled off the football field and into the practice room. The 235-pound Matisis, an all-conference linebacker, and the 285-pound Rose, an all-conference offensive lineman, upset the top-seeds in their respective brackets during the recent NCWA Northeast Conference Championships in Albany, N.Y. Their efforts earned them a spot in this morning's opening round of the national showdown.
"What (Matisis and Rose) have done doesn't surprise me," Augustin admitted. "Matisis was a state champion in Massachusetts, and he was the captain of the football team. Rose was a state prep champion in Virginia. Both guys are tremendous athletes."
Despite the first-year success, there are no immediate plans of elevating the wrestling program from its current club status up to the Division III level.
"Some people are talking about it, and we're getting questions from some of the kids," Augustin said. "We're going to give it a three-time timeline, look at it in three years and see where we are. It will be a challenge, but you have to remember we have that strong alumni support. It's just incredible the financial support we get (from the alumni).
"We have the support from a lot of people. We're a top academic school here, so I think if there is enough support, in time I'm sure (moving up to Division III) can be done. But no one is talking seriously about it yet. We're just trying to get our wrestling program off the ground right now."
Getting it off the ground and being competitive isn't necessarily as easy as one would think, either.
Amherst is known for its academics, and tuitions can run up to $50,000 a year. So selling a club sport like wrestling with no athletic scholarships available requires a unique approach.
"We have some kids on campus who have had some success at the high school and prep levels, so we're pulling for them to get into our program," Augustin explained. "We try to see it to them as it is - not a full-time commitment. It isn't like what you find at higher-division levels, where it's year-around.
"Here, you have the opportunity to compete at a national level, but you don't have to commit the kind of time you do at Division I, II or even some III schools. And there's no doubt some of our kids could compete in wrestling at the higher levels, but they found the (academic) opportunities at Amherst too good to give up."
It's the academics and early success of the wrestling team that Augustin hopes can lure even more athletes into his program.
"We're hoping things keep picking up like they have, and that the word about us gets out," he explained. "We feel things will get better, and we're trying to do whatever we can to get the word out, to promote our program.
"We're running things just like any varsity program, just with less commitment to time. We see guys enjoying (wrestling) again, getting that competitive edge out of themselves. You have to remember, no matter what level you're at, wrestling is wrestling. Seven minutes is seven minutes ... that's never going to change."
At Spring-Ford, Augustin capped his career with 53 carries for 331 yards and four touchdowns in the 1989 Thanksgiving Day win at Phoenixville. He ran for 1,256 yards, 15 touchdowns and 108 points overall that season. He was also an outstanding wrestler, qualifying for states as a senior.
Augustin earned his bachelor's degree in psychology from Millersville and later a master's degree in sports psychology from John F. Kennedy University in San Francisco.
He spent three years on the football staff at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, Calif., then was an academic advisor for athletes as well as an assistant football coach for one year each at Sonoma State College (Calif.) and the University of Pennsylvania. He returned to Millersville as an advisor and coach for two seasons, before moving north to assume the same responsibilities at Norwich University (Vt.) for four years.
Augustin was the strength and conditioning coach at Mansfield University for two years before the school dropped its football program, then moved on to team up with the football staff at Johns Hopkins University for a year and a half ... or before the call came from Amherst.
Seven District 1 graduates, including Pottsgrove's Ryan Michaels, will be on the mats for the opening round 10 a.m. Thursday. Michaels, a two-time NCWA All-American, is at 157 pounds. The other qualifiers are Penn State's Jason Turpyn (Neshaminy) at 125; West Chester's Dillon Evans (Council Rock South) at 149 and Brandon Banks (Wissahickon) at 197; and Williamson Trade's Paul Capirolo (Conestoga) at 125, Justin Adamek (Chichester) at 141, and Eric Powell (Plymouth-Whitemarsh) at 157. All seven worked their way to nationals through the Northeast Conference Championships, where Evans was named the Outstanding Wrestler.
The opening-round matchups are Turpyn vs. Georgia's Frankie Miller; Michaels (21-8) vs. Wichita State's Kyle Cline; Evans vs. Southern Virginia's Ahmed Dorghoud; Branks vs. Colorado State's Ryan Bok; Capiolo vs. Mercer's Kyle Eastis; Adamek vs. James Madison's Wayne Adams; and Powell vs. Florida Tech's Tory Roberts.
The tournament gets under way 10 a.m. today. It continues 9 a.m. Friday, then concludes 4 p.m. Saturday with the championship finals.