Cael Sanderson: Master Motivator
Clay Steadman could have been nervous Sunday. As he jogged in place behind the Rec Hall bleachers, preparing for his 197-pound match against Bloomsburg, the Nittany Lions were losing to a team that gives only half as many scholarships as they do.
Which is the kind of thing that, in part, led to Penn State hiring wrestling icon Cael Sanderson as its new coach.
Steadman, however, steadied himself with two deep breaths, just as Sanderson—who often drills with him in the wrestling room—had advised. And then he repeated the mantra Sanderson had given him 30 minutes before, during the “halftime” break: You’re a pit bull on a PBJ.
Funny what works. Steadman, a redshirt sophomore who posted a 5-16 record last season, scored a takedown with 30 seconds left in the third period to win his bout, and the Nittany Lions went on to beat Bloomsburg 23-15 for Sanderson’s first victory at Penn State.
“It was going to be just a pit bull on peanut butter,” Steadman said. “But we started talking about it, and we decided it was better with jelly.”
Well, that’s a superior sandwich, to be sure. But who knew it worked as a motivational technique?
Sanderson, in his dealings with the media, can be dry. He measures his words carefully. But it’s clear that behind the scenes, Sanderson has a sense of humor—it was evident at his introductory press conference and his blog, and now as Steadman told of his pre-match preparation. “We thought about what kind of jelly it would be, too,” Steadman said, although they didn’t reach a consensus.
Like a lot of the Penn State wrestlers, Steadman was blown away when Sanderson was hired. As a young wrestler, Steadman had begged his mother to buy him Sanderson’s wrestling shoes (he keeps a pair in his Penn State locker), and he is constantly beseiged by text messages and e-mails from his high school wrestling buddies, wanting to know what it’s like wrestling someone who has legendary status in his sport. The wrestlers have a tough time explaining Sanderson’s status in wrestling. They tend to fall back on the “it’s like if Michael Jordan were coaching your basketball team” analogy.
“When Cael tells you what to do,” Steadman said, “we just soak it up like a sponge.”
Lori Shontz, senior editor