Beyond the mats, Honecker, wrestling team foster family spirit

Honecker (right) has been a source of stability and guidance for the wrestling team, leading the program to its most successful seasons.Photo Courtesy of Sports Information.

Wrestling is a unique team sport in that it also functions as an individual sport. It is a mano-a-mano contest of precision and strength. However, the skills that make  wrestlers capable of defeating their opponents are in large part due to one’s coach and team dynamic.

“Wrestling by its nature is a pretty individual sport, where one guy competes at a time and either wins and loses on the mat, but our success on the mat is completely a function of all of my brothers sitting on the bench behind me,” co-captain Brendon Seyfried ’18 said. Furthermore, wrestling is unique because athletes focus not only on developing their skill and technique, but also on maintaing and even cutting their weight to achieve success in the sport.

One of the hardest things about the sport is pushing the limits of your body and strictly controlling your weight. “It isn’t enough to just walk into the room once or twice a day and practiceand then compete on the weekends,” Seyfried said. “Once Nov. 1 hits, it becomes a lifestyle, where we are constantly monitoring our diets and making sure [that] we put ourselves in the best position to compete on the weekend. Smart weight management is the key to feeling strong when we compete on the weekends. As hard as the weight-cutting process is, it really teaches you a lot about yourself and what you are truly capable of.”

Chris Washington ’18 started wrestling as a first-year. Like Seyfried, Washington believes that wrestling and weight-watching have taught him about himself and nutrition. “You realize how much weight is in your control. Some might say it is empowering,” Washington said.   

Athletes cutting weight to meet a specific weight class has been a controversial topic around wrestling. Some critics say it promotes unhealthy eating habits. Joey Rossetti ’21, however,  believes that maintaining or reducing weight is detrimental to your health only if you try to be undisciplined in a very disciplined sport. “You can be healthy, eat correctly and be in the weight class you want. It is based on your discipline,” he said. “If you are not disciplined it could be unhealthy, but if you are, and you know where you want to be, and you’re devoted [to] it, it’s fine.”

Washington feels that being a wrestler has made him more knowledgeable and aware of his nutrition and diet.  Furthermore, NCAA regulations prevent wrestlers from dangerously cutting. Athletes can only lose a maximum of 1.5 percent of their body weight per week. The penalty for a first violation of weight management protocols is suspension for eight consecutive competitions on the team’s schedule and a private reprimanding by the head coach and director of athletics.

The combination of weight management and difficult workouts and competitions makes wrestling a grueling sport. “I learned quickly out of necessity and because there are really good people on the team who are willing to teach me. It takes time, but you fall in love with it. Your body is so beat up, but putting in that grind and getting a reward makes it worth it,” Washington said.

Head coach Scott Honecker fell in love with wrestling in middle school. “I immediately recognized that, more so than any other sport that I participated in, you got [out]of wrestling what you put into it,” he said. “The harder you worked, the more you won, the better the experience was.”

The challenges of wrestling have only brought the team closer together. Both Washington and Rossetti described the team as a quirky, devoted, eclectic and fun group of guys. “Everyone wants to get better,” Rossetti said. “Everyone has the same goals. Everyone wants the best for each other. Everyone makes sacrifices for each other. Everyone wants to be there.”

The athletes treat each other like brothers and Coach Honecker like their father. “At the end of every practice, [Honecker] always says, ‘I am heading out, call me if you need anything.’ It is a small thing, but that really does make a difference. He will help you out with pretty much anything. He is raising two young kids, and you feel sometimes like you are part of that,” Washington said.

Honecker has supported his athletes and helped them strive for larger aspirations. “I’ve been around wrestling for a long time, with a lot of great coaches along the way, and I can honestly say that Coach Honecker is the best coach I’ve ever had,” Seyfried said. “There’s no one I would rather have in my corner than him. As a coach, he has pushed me to be better than I could have ever imagined. I can talk to him about wrestling as well as all other aspects of my life with complete mutual respect. It’s hard to not respect the dedication that he commits to each individual on our team, and we are all constantly reminded that we are his family. Whether it’s simple comments such as ‘call me if you need anything’ [or] him driving me to doctors’ appointments, he is always there for us. Honestly, [Honecker] is one of the main reasons why I love being at [the College] and showing up to practice every day.”

Honecker is a huge part of what makes the Williams wrestling team so great. His first five seasons spent coaching at the College have been the most successful the team has ever seen in the 93 years of Eph wrestling. Honecker’s success has to do with his extensive experience and vast knowledge of the sport, but also with his dedicated passion and care for his athletes. Honecker possesses the ability to inspire all 21 of his athletes to continue working and to keep reaching for their goals.

However, Honecker never writes down his motivational speeches beforehand. He says his words of wisdom on the fly. “I’m not perfect in the things I say, and people tend to be motivated when I talk, but it is not because I said the right thing,” Honecker said. “It is not what I said. It is what I meant. My words written down on paper are probably not put together very eloquently, but still my athletes manage to get my point because I am being genuine and it is from the heart. I can’t make them feel a certain way, but I can show them how I feel, and hopefully they tag along.”

However, Honecker doesn’t take credit for all of his athletes’ motivation. The wrestlers already have the desire to be better; Honecker just reminds them of their goals and why they are there. Honecker believes that there are two characteristics found in every great wrestler: passion for the sport and passion for competing. “Wrestling is too hard to continue doing through tough times if you don’t have a burning passion for it,” he said.

Honecker feels fortunate to be coaching at a place like the College where he can recruit athletes who share his passion for the sport. “Williams is a special place, and as a result we attract really special young men,” he said. In addition, he believes that the wrestling program as a whole is a unique and impactful experience. “What makes Williams wrestling great is that wrestling enhances them as a member of the community, as a student. They can apply wrestling lessons across all aspects of life; I do this as a father, husband, member of the community and coach. Wrestling enhances everything they do,” Honecker said.

Seyfried also believes that wrestling will continue to enhance his life even after graduation. “I know that in a little over a year it will all be over for me competitively, but the lessons I’ve learned from the sport and the Williams program in general are ones that I will take with me forever and [that will] push me toward success in every aspect of my future life,” Seyfried said.

The wrestling team truly is a family. Honecker’s favorite time of the year is watching the guys he has built relationships with take their next steps at graduation. “We are a big part of each other’s lives, and we will remain a big part of each other’s lives,” Honecker said. “Seeing them go off to whatever the next steps in their paths will be more prepared than they were when I got them, in part thanks to what we do and in part thanks to everything else that is going on here, is the best.”

In his career, Honecker has coached at the club and high school levels as well, but he thinks that coaching at the College is a great fit for him. “This is an ideal community for me. I live on campus. The guys walk to my house. My kids walk to the wrestling room. I couldn’t do it any other way,” he said, “Wrestling enhances my family, and I like to think my family enhances Williams wrestling.”

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