TechSideline has generously allowed me to post articles and updates before and I’m going to take full advantage of that privilege to publish my first editorial here, focused on the departure of Kevin Dresser. Anything said is my own opinion, and I do appreciate Chris, Will, Ricky and the TSL crew for indulging me.
When Kevin Dresser made the trip across the country from the black dirt of Iowa to the Appalachian mountains, I’m not sure he could have ever imagined this as the result. From his beginnings at Grundy, to his dominance at Christiansburg and now to his resurrection at VT, his path is almost story book scripted. It’s fitting that he ends the story with a shot to go to his home and coach at one of the legendary schools in NCAA wrestling.
I don’t think any Tech or wrestling fans can fault him for that desire either. There are three big D1 NCAA wrestling programs in Iowa – The University of Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa. That creates incredibly infrequent turnover with high competition in a wrestling crazed region of the country. Doug Schwab has done a stellar job at UNI, winning the MAC championship this dual season and he seems cemented there for many years to come.
Based on last year’s NWCA Oranges rant, Dresser has already disqualified himself as an Iowa head coach, doing so in epic fashion defending VT and his wrestlers to the bitter end. Dresser is one of the last remaining members of the Iowa 5 saga, having a front row seat to the shady dealings as Matt Epperly and Cody Gardner’s head coach. But more on that in a minute.
That leaves ISU as the only remaining coaching option for Kevin in the state of Iowa. And this is likely the last possible coaching change there in his coaching career. This is a case of now or never for Dresser, an opportunity that won’t come again, and I don’t blame him one bit for taking it. He grew up with Iowa State on public broadcasts, coming in over the radio, hearing about the heroes of Iowa and Iowa State even before he committed to Iowa and Gable. This is something that’s deeply part of his life and for that I’m grateful that he gets the experience, as he deserves it.
Circling back to those two high schools, look at the empire Kevin built. After 10 years at Grundy Dresser accumulated five titles, and this past week, Christiansburg won its 16th straight state title, extending back into the Dresser years. Both schools top Class 2A and 3A respectively and it’s due in large part to Kevin. Furthermore, the summer Kevin Dresser Wrestling Camps have taught thousands of VA, WV, and NC wrestlers how to improve and pushed them up the podium towards their dreams. His fingerprints have been on the VA HS scene for nearly three decades now.
Then came the near death blow for VT wrestling. Tom Brands and his attempt to gut our program nearly succeeded if Dresser hadn’t been down the road. Jim Weaver seriously considered scrapping the program, and were it not for Dresser, wrestling would likely be done at VT, and the ACC Wrestling Conference would also likely not exist. Without the prerequisite numbers, the conference would have died, and it’s likely the wrestling renaissance we’re experiencing in the southeast never comes to pass.
Folks like to focus on those five Iowa wrestlers in that messy breakup: Metcalf, Borschel, Slaton, Leet, and LeClere, and their lack of release (which now that we’re moving on was wrong of our then administration to do, but I’m sure they felt they were handcuffed). What gets lost in the churn is the other transfers – Eric Decker left for ODU & Bonilla-Bowman to Hofstra. When combined with the graduation of Dave Hoffman and Mike Faust, the Virginia Tech Hokies lost an entire lineup overnight.
Dresser had duct tape and bubble gum and a mantra: “Adversity Weakens the Weak and Strengthens the Strong”. So he did everything and then some, even resorting to mopping mats as a head coach. Along the way, he convinced Tony Robie to leave his own head coaching position to take an assistant’s job. That rarity is on par with a starting NFL quarterback deciding to leave his team and sit on another. It’s the type of confidence and passion Dresser has inspired throughout his career. It’s the blue collar attribute we love to associate with our lunch pail on the football field, and it matches so well with this sport and this team. He leveraged it to keep local stars like Matt Epperly home, and we watched it build the program up into something to be proud of.
There were highs along the way, including the 2011 NWCA national duals run. VT beat the # 17, #2, and #4 teams before losing to #1 Cornell in the finals. All that five years after facing near death. There were lows too, most memorably one month later where that very same team scored only 16 NCAA points to finish 33rd out of 73 teams.
What remains if Dresser had stayed at VT? Well, there are really only three “big” goals left here. Tech has not had a 4x All-American (though three active roster members have a shot, which could further the Dresser legacy). Tech remains in search of its first individual national champion (again article coming, but I firmly believe this is the year). And finally, there is the big one, that first Virginia Tech National Championship team. Tech is climbing towards that apex and is really really close, save for a ridiculously loaded PSU team.
Beyond the accolades on the mat, Dresser has assembled all the pieces necessary to sustain success in Southwest, VA. We now have a strong and dynamic Regional Training Center, crucial to success in the modern NCAA wrestling era, one that in the past year alone has hosted senior stars Steve Mocco, Dom Bradley, Tony Ramos and Dan Dennis to name a few. We’ve got coaching lineages and true Hokie bloodlines flourishing across the D1 landscape. We have one of the most respected assistants in D1 wrestling. We’ve pulled wrestling recruits from every major hotbed across the nation, places like Young Gunz WC, Don Bosco, Bergen Catholic, Graham, BeCaHi and St. Eds. Best of all, we have a true wrestling room, an above ground space where champions can be made, guys like Ty Walz. In the future, whoever walks into that room as a replacement has the infrastructure in place to succeed, and it is due to our former head coach’s efforts.
So here’s to you Kevin Dresser. This is really bittersweet, and we can understand the motivation, but we’re gonna miss you. You’ve given more to Virginia Tech than you’ve taken, and you’ll permanently be a Hokie Legend. Best of Luck in Ames. We’ll be cheering from Blacksburg for the rest of your outstanding career.