Kevin Dresser’s Impact on Virginia Tech

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Kevin Dresser is leaving Virginia Tech much stronger than he found it. (Ivan Morozov)
Kevin Dresser is leaving Virginia Tech much stronger than he found it. (Ivan Morozov)

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.

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45 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I remember the oranges…but never understood the metaphor? Help?

    Anyway, great article, and forget what he did for the SW VA, you could argue his biggest accomplishment is giving a lot of kids an identity. It’s wonderful to know Grundy and Christiansburg (I was aware the Dresser was working with high schools so that helps) have established continuing success. Good luck Coach Dresser, I suspect a lot of us will be rooting for ISU when they play Iowa, Circle the calendar date.

  2. This article made my day. Does anyone know if Coach Dresser reads this board? I sure hope so. He needs to see this article and comments. I saw him at the airport the other day and tried to do my small part in thanking him, his family and wishing him nothing but continued success. I also told the Iowa State pilots that they were getting a coach who is a one in a million and we will miss him dearly.

    1. He did post on the wrestling board and I suppose the reason that we have one. I’m sure he’s busy these days but certainly wouldn’t put it beyond him to post – or at least read – one more time.

  3. Great article! Can’t wait for the next installment. Also, kudos to Coach Dresser on his fantastic career, especially here at VT of course, and I hope he gets to realize his dreams, whatever they all may be. I hope VT gets to the top rung of the NCAA podium soon, so he can take some satisfaction that what he has built truly has matured and developed as he would have hoped. All the best to a great coach and a great man!

  4. I wasn’t paying attention back when it happened, does anyone have a link to an article about whatever happened to the Iowa five wrestlers?

    1. Ah, found an ESPN article that made it sound like VT was taking revenge on brand for leaving so quickly by way of refusing the five wrestlers a release. Of course, the article didn’t question why Brand redshirted those five stellar athletes during a year in which VT went one 1 – 16

  5. Great read Jersey! I’d love to get your perspective on how the coaching search will play out, and who on the team may transfer with Kevin.

  6. Hell of a Article and You had a great subject . Enjoyed reading this. Dresser left more than people realize to the NRV and VT. Maybe one Day VT might bring him back to show the appreciation we all have for him.

  7. Excellent, informative article. Thanks for writing it, and thanks to TSL for giving this great sport some ink.

    I like wrestling and hockey because they’re sports in which it’s possible to be good without necessarily being a genetic anomaly in terms of size. Of course, one has to be athletic and committed in order to excel at the major college – or professional – level in any sport. But so many football and basketball players are so physically large that they are 4 or 5 standard deviations away from a “normally sized” human being. You can’t work hard to become 6’11” 🙂

  8. Agree it sucks for VT, but Dresser deserves a packed house when he’s done what he’s done. As a fan base, it just wasn’t there unfortunately. He shouldn’t have to do practices on the drill field or schedule matches before football games to get a modest attendance.

  9. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the timing sucked … but I blame ISU and weak NCAA rules for that.

    But in the end, the Hokie wrestling team will be OK this year and moving forward because Kevin Dresser built such an impressive program at Virginia Tech filled with coaches and wrestlers of character. Ironically, he built it so well that it will continue to survive and prosper even after he’s gone. That’s what great leaders do. Big things are expected at the ACC and NCAA tournaments this year, and that hasn’t changed. The unfinished goals remain the focus.

    In the end, despite all the drama and emotion of this past week, the only thing left to say to Kevin Dresser is “Thank You” for everything he has done for Virginia Tech wrestling, his wrestlers, Hokie fans, and – even further – for wrestling throughout Virginia and the ACC. The man had a monumental impact.

    Good luck to you and your family in Iowa, Coach!!! You will be missed and remembered fondly.

  10. Super article Jersey. Coach KD is one of those smart, confident leaders you just want to go to battle with. I hope our next head coach can build upon the enthusiasm and success he generated. I’m guessing your individual champ pick is Zach Epperly?? Looking forward to your next article

    1. We currently have 5 guys that could make a run at an individual title with a break here and there. However, yes, IMHO I think Epperly might be the best chance considering the opposition.

      1. Yes…then I would say Joey Dance. He can beat Gilman…just needs to be active and not wait for Gilman to attack.

  11. I agree with JRHokie73 first of all and I really liked the article. Brands and his recruits were working for Iowa a year before he left. They were cheaters whining and anyone involved in the sport knew they were getting let off easy, starting with Brands. And that is my only knock on the article. It is too easy on Brands and his Iowa recruits.
    Nasty bunch.

  12. Great Article, jerseyhokie. As a former wrestler at Blacksburg High School (MANY years ago 🙂 ), I am glad that I wrestled Christiansburg grapplers before Dresser’s dynasty began at CHS. Thanks for the insight into the Hokie Wrestling program. GO HOKIES!

  13. Thanks. I would like to see some information on potential replacements. Also, I am interested in knowing the stats on Kevin as a head coach at VT – years, dual wins, ACC Championships, year end rankings, All Americans.

    1. I second that, I would like your perspective on where Whit should look next. Are one of the assistants likely to get the job?

  14. Great RECAP, but I still can’t understand the move to ISU for many reasons, other than the money; which is his decision alone. There doesnt seem to be any logical upside to this move. He may come to regret this move once he sees what he has really done. I am sure all of us have made dumb decisions, I think we got a QB making one now.

    1. I can’t understand what you don’t understand?
      Childhood dream through his college years wrestling in Iowa.
      Devoted wrestling fan, participant, coach all recognizing the cradle of US wrestling.
      Family connections nearby all of the time and not just on July 4th.
      Chance to knock Brands on his ass.
      Fans numbering over 10,000 at meets, rather be excited about over a thousand.
      Enough legacy wrestlers to go for Nattys before you even start your national recruiting.
      Recruiting budget larger than most schools total budget.
      I could go on and on, before I get to money. This was a no-brainer from the get-go. Him taking his time to accept was all his showing respect to VT. Great man and great coach.

    2. Sorry but if you don’t understand it’s because you don’t want to,,,and you’re not paying attention
      to what Dresser said about his move.

      He gave about 10 motivations/reasons for it, and as much as it sucks for VT he’s clearly drawn to his roots/family, etc. in Iowa, and to coach at one of the few “dream” schools wrestling-wise he would leave VT for.

  15. Very nicely done! Dresser and Brands are both from Iowa but that is where the similarity ends. It is like comparing an apple to an orange.

  16. Jersey, You may not know how much your writings and posts are appreciated. You add so much to Tech wrestling. I hope to meet you one day and thank you in person. As for the article you covered all the bases very well. I am now an ISU wrestling fan, in addition to Tech.

  17. A tough but classy guy. Never followed wrestling before. One day I went to wrestling match with Edinboro before a football game. I was hooked. Great sport and sportmanship. So much action.

    I only wish more fans would show up. I think they too would love it and help keep wrestling big time at VT. All due to KD.

    I also loved his innovations such as practicing on the drill field, matches at the Moss Center.

  18. Great article for a man to be permanently respected as part of hokie lore. I only disagree with the point of view that VT was wrong in how it dealt with the 5 departees – I think that VT’s offer was innately fair and they chose to be dirty.

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