Pitt and Penn State don’t wrestle in dual meets as often as they used to, but that doesn’t mean the in-state wrestling foes aren’t still rivals on the recruiting circuit within the Keystone State.
This weekend, Penn State appearances to have gained the upper hand. Friday, the Nittany Lions appeared to have flipped one of Pennsylvania’s most coveted lightweight prospects, Reynolds’ Gary Steen, who is current ranked No. 14 in the class of 2021 by FloWrestling. Flo also has the Reynolds senior as the No. 8 120-pounder in the class as well.
Steen, a two-time PIAA champ, had previously given a verbal commitment to Pitt last year. But on Friday, Steen announced on Twitter that he instead will attend Penn State.
After much thought and time I am excited to announce that I will be furthering my academic and athletic career at Penn State University. I want to thank my family, friends and coaches that supported me along the way. #WeAre🦁 pic.twitter.com/R5jNH0wsOz
— Gary Steen (@GarYsTeeN_) January 29, 2021
Steen’s prep accomplishments speak for themselves. He took home the PIAA state title as a freshman in 2018 and as a junior in 2020, thanks to a dramatic ending. He finished third as a sophomore in 2019. This season, he’ll be a top contender for the 2021 PIAA 120-pound crown.
In addition to his state championships, Steen has previously captured titles at elite tournaments, which include Walsh Ironman and the Powerade, while competing at 113 pounds earlier in his career Other national level credentials for the Reynolds Demon include a seventh-place showing in Fargo at the Junior Greco-Roman National Championships, and third place at the 2018 Ironman.
Congratulations to Gary Steen on his third place finish at the 2018 Ironman tournament ! pic.twitter.com/iO2Vem1zhv
— Reynolds Wrestling (@ReynldsWrestlin) December 10, 2018
Each season in the Reynolds lineup, Steen has amassed more than 40 individual wins. Should he do so again this season, he will end his prep career with north of 175 wins, which would place him among elite company. Currently, his overall record stands at 148 victories and 7 losses, according to PA-Wrestling.com.
While this change of heart may be a little surprising, it is by no means shocking, given what the Nittany Lion program has accomplished over the last decade under Cael Sanderson. However, it does represent a big loss on the recruiting trail for Pitt fourth-year head coach Keith Gavin.
Had Steen stayed committed to Pitt, he would have had significant lightweight resources available to him:
Steen’s primary coach (from strictly a weight vantagepoint) within the Pitt coaching staff would be Drew Headlee.
Headlee was solid as a competitor as a collegian for these same Pitt Panthers, where he now coaches. At Pitt, he was a three-time NCAA qualifier, two-time Eastern Wrestling League champion, and a 2005 All-American in2005 at 133 pounds.
On the freestyle circuit, Headlee is also accomplished. Most notably, he won the final Olympic Trials Qualifying Tournament in 2012 with a 4-0 mark while racking up wins against three former All-Americans. The Western Pennsylvania native also has third-place finishes to his name at the 2010 Sunkist International and 2011 Cerro Pelado International and a runner-up finish at the 2009 NYAC International.
As a coach, he has not only helped coach the lightweights that have come through the Pitt program since 2014, but also, he developed a trio of All-Americans in Darian Cruz (125), Reynolds alum Mason Beckman (133), and Mitch Minotti(149) while a volunteer assistant coach at Lehigh prior to arriving at Pitt in 2014. Under Headlee’s guidance, Cruz became Lehigh’s first true freshman All-American in 34 years
Steen’s direct training partner currently on the roster would be reigning two-time 133-pound ACC champion Micky Phillippi, who is presently ranked within the top-5 in every major national ranking.
Furthermore, Steen could learn from Nico Megaludis, a 2016 NCAA Champion, and three-time All-American at 125 pounds for Penn State. Megaludis currently trains with Pitt’s Regional Training Center, Pittsburgh WC.
Lastly, Luke Pletcher, a two-time All-American, a 2020 141-pound Big Ten champ for Ohio State, also trains with Pittsburgh WC. In 2021, he joined the Pitt staff as a volunteer assistant coach.
With the flip, Pitt loses out on what could have been an elite bottom-third of its starting lineup in 2022. Presumably, it would have been Steen (125), Phillippi (133), and 2020 NCAA qualifier, Steen’s former Reynolds teammate, Cole Matthews, at 141.