When Williams Baptist College head coach Kerry Regner received news that his school was launching a Greco Roman program, his brain immediately began spinning. Naturally — after all, it was Regner’s idea in the first place. A former National-level Greco competitor during his days at the Northern Michigan Olympic Education Center, Regner is in command of the Eagles’ NAIA collegiate program (currently ranked ninth in the country) and though he was instrumental in bringing WBC’s Greco team to fore, he wouldn’t be taking over both squads. Finding the right candidate to fill the role meant tabbing someone who could not only develop and train athletes but also, represent the school accordingly.
They have found their guy. And the best part is, he was right under their nose the entire time.
The new Williams Baptist Greco Roman head coach is another former NMU alum, Jonathan Drendel. Drendel was a promising competitor himself on the National scene not too long ago and following a brief sabbatical from wrestling, joined Regner at WBC as an assistant. When the college announced the Greco Roman program’s approval, Drendel was automatically deemed a worthy candidate, essentially ending the coaching search right where it began. “Jon fits the needs of the program perfectly,” says Regner. “He not only has an understanding of the college and and its identity, but his own identity aligns with the school. He’s beloved by the students, faculty, and staff. Plus, he was trained by Ivan Ivanov, so the foundation he has to train athletes is second to none.”
We caught up with Drendel to get his reaction on becoming the head coach for the Williams Baptist Greco Roman team as well as give him an opportunity to share other insights regarding the immediate future of the program.
5PM: How does it feel being selected as the first coach in the history of the Williams Baptist Greco Roman team and also, what it means at this point in your career as a coach?
Jonathan Drendel: For me, when I stopped competing, I left the sport. I came out of wrestling with no degree and really, no plan for the future. My plan was wrestling. I left the sport for several years until I came down to Williams to work with Coach Regner. It was like it opened up an old world for me. I got reacquainted with an old friend and I never thought I would be coaching the first collegiate Greco team. It’s pretty unbelievable and I’m thankful for the opportunity. I am ready to step up, take the bull by the horns and see what we can get done here.
5PM: One of the more intriguing elements to this is that a program like WBC’s fills a pretty substantially-sized void. You’re opening up an opportunity for athletes who want to pursue Greco but might be turned off by the lack of available options past high school. What is your perspective and approach on relating to high school kids who want to continue but don’t have the options?
JD: The uniqueness is that guys can keep wrestling Greco while at the same time, prepare for life. The other option is you put off your career, you put off your education, and you put everything on the back burner to train internationally. And you know, most people don’t make it and they come out with nothing to show for it other than a pile of dept. We want every athlete to perform to the utmost of their ability but at the same time, we want to prepare them for life. To have a career in mind, to have a purpose and be driven towards something beyond wrestling. Because when it is all said and done, wrestling is going to end. Even if you get a coaching job, it’s not the same as being on a wrestling mat and competing. We want people to be prepared to step into life and work to support themselves.
5PM: One of your biggest responsibilities in the near future is recruiting. You know the Greco youth athlete extremely well. You know what that type of athlete is like. What are the primary points you want to get across to potential members of the program?
JD: I think the big thing is that this is an opportunity to chase a dream. Every little boy sits around and watches the Olympics and watches the superstars of wrestling. That is what they want to be and it seems like a far-off thing when you’re young, but as you get older, that dream starts becoming closer to a reality. But it doesn’t come without the right training and the right coaches. It takes those things to get you there and here at Williams, we can offer that. We want set our athletes up for success both on and off the mat.
It’s a small school and the teachers work with the training and traveling schedule, and we have an athletic department that is willing to give us what we need to make that happen. We also raise our own funds, so we are never in dept. We really take care of our athletes here. We make sure their needs are met, we make sure they are comfortable, and we make sure they walk out the door with a degree. They walk out better as both athletes and educated young men.
5PM: What kind of kid are you looking to recruit? What kind of athlete are you looking to bring in?
JD: In all reality, I’m looking for tough kids. I’m looking for kids who are ready to get out on the mat and fight for victory. Whether they are superstars and just struggling to make teams, I’m ready to develop athletes. Most kids come out of high school with very mediocre Greco experience, even Fargo placers. I remember going up to Northern the first time, spending one practice in the room and coming out thinking I didn’t know Greco. And I was a two-time finalist. We had kids who came in who didn’t even place at Fargo making World Teams and placing in the nation. I want kids who are willing to come in, ready to battle, and are coachable, trainable, willing to grow, adapt, and learn the sport.
5PM: Aside from the wrestling and even the educational aspect of Williams, what are some of the other attractions the campus and surrounding area have to offer?
Jonathan Drendel: It’s a small, comfortable campus. We have very mild weather. You don’t get the feet of snow every year, you don’t get the bitter cold. We have a moderate winter and very nice summers. They’re a little warm, but they are very survivable. Arkansas is a very natural state. Ten minutes from us you start to get into the hill country. An hour from us you get into the Ozark Mountains. There are forest preserves surrounding the area. We are about 90 minutes from Memphis. We live in a small area. It’s farm country. It’s quiet, but it limits distractions and provides a safe, comfortable place to train athletes. It’s not the flashiest campus, but it is small, comfortable, and you won’t find a better community. Everybody loves you and is looking out for you, and you won’t find a friendlier campus in the US.
5PM: What I think people are excited about, is that for a long time in the US people have talked about building up Greco development and in your segment, the only example for that we’ve had is Northern. It seems like there is enthusiasm for a program that is emerging that can offer Northern competition in the US, but also serve as a hub for development in another part of the country.
JD: I think you’re exactly right with what you are saying because people have been talking about this for a long time, how we need to expand and develop the sport. This is the step that everyone has been looking for but not willing to take. The more opportunities we present for wrestlers in this country, especially Greco wrestlers, it is going to change the way we do things. It is going to expand opportunities, it is going to put more athletes in the field. It is going to be beneficial to everyone in Greco. I know on the surface we are going to be a competitor for Northern Michigan but at the same time, the deeper the field gets, the better we all get. The more opportunities we put out there for athletes, the better we get in Greco.
Guys will sidestep the sport and wrestle folkstyle for four years and then try to take a swing at the Olympics only to realize they are falling short. They are going in a backdoor way and there are no opportunities for them to step in. This (program) is what we need. We’ve all been saying this is what need and we’re doing it. There is no mystery to this, there is no great plan. It has been the diligence and persistence of Coach Regner to get it done and I want to carry that on and hold that up as the program’s goal.
5PM: Do you imagine a time in the future where there are dual meets between Williams Baptist and Northern?
JD: That is a goal of mine in the future. I’d like to keep a close relationship with those guys. I trained with those guys and those coaches, and we have a very solid relationship, and I’d like to keep that alive. I think part of the camaraderie of the sport is competition. We go to battle together and we shake hands after. That is just the nature of the sport. In order to get better, we need to compete against each other.
5PM: Williams is a Christian school. What are some of the values and what is the atmosphere that sets it apart from other institutions?
Jonathan Drendel: We are a Christian college, which is something that I love. People here love people. They will give you the shirt off their backs. We have professors who chase down kids who don’t show up to class or do their homework. They are eager for people to succeed and it is all because of the love of Jesus Christ. It is very prominent and it is very present here, but it is never forced. It is always very comfortable. I’m a Christian myself, but we have athletes on the folkstyle team who aren’t and are very comfortable and loved at the school. We have a very strong community. We really hold to a high standard the way we treat people and take care of people. We want to see people do well. That goes from the maintenance workers all the way up to the president of the university.