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If co-captain Jesse Jantzen is the Harvard wrestling team’s Rocky Balboa, then one might call first-year assistant coach Jared Frayer the Crimson’s Apollo Creed.
Just as Creed assumed the unlikely position of friend and teacher to Balboa—his former rival—in Rocky III, Frayer has developed a similar relationship with No. 1 Jantzen (149 lbs.)—the wrestler whom he had managed to defeat twice in three match-ups while attending the University of Oklahoma.
History, if you’re looking for it, exists between the two.
When they wrestled against each other in the 2002 NCAA tournament, for example, Frayer won on a 6-2 decision and went on to advance to the national final, while Jantzen—then a sophomore—was ultimately held to the first of his two consecutive third-place finishes.
Coach Jay Weiss, however, thinks that this year the team has a unique edge on the way to improving on previous years’ performances—and in part, it’s precisely because of Frayer’s experience with the Harvard co-captain.
While the Sooner’s presence has positively influenced all involved with the Crimson program, the hope is that Frayer will be a huge impact in Jantzen’s final run to capture a national title.
And as for Rocky?
Well, his title bout with Clubber Lang was tough to be sure, but the last time Harvard could boast a national champion was 1935.
A Match Made in Heaven
When assistant coach Brian Snyder decided to leave the Harvard program to attend graduate school at the University of Nebraska, a key slot in the Crimson coaching staff opened up. Looking for a similarly experienced big name from a storied program, Weiss turned to the Big XII a second time and found Frayer, who had ties to Harvard through fellow All-American and Clearwater, Fla. native Dustin DeNunzio ’99.
Denunzio—a former Crimson stand-out—still serves as a volunteer assistant coach with the team.
“[DeNunzio] is one of my buddies, so I’d always known of Coach Weiss and Jesse through him,” Frayer says.
A four-time NCAA Tournament qualifier, two-time Academic All-Big XII and two-time All-American, Frayer also garnered the Wade Shalls Award—given to the nation’s top pinner—his senior year, and left Norman, Okla. second on the school’s all-time pins list and third on its all-time wins list.
“Oklahoma’s a big time program, they’re in the top five in the country every year,” Weiss says. “Jared brings what they’ve done there to here.”
The prospect of a potential Jantzen-Frayer rapport also loomed large in Weiss’s decision-making process.
“Assistant coaches in wrestling are so valuable on the mat, so obviously with Jesse ranked No. 1, my big thing was to get someone who could be an excellent workout partner,” Weiss continues. “Also, Jared’s beaten Jesse twice in college, so I already knew of him from competition. When I met him, I felt he was a perfect fit for the whole team—not just Jesse—personality and everything.”
Frayer only echoes that sentiment.
“I think Weiss kind of knew that I was a people person,” he says. “He knew that I would enjoy working with these guys, and I think that he knew my technical background, as well. He knew I could help in certain areas of the program.”
The other critical aspect to Frayer’s candidacy, Weiss says, was the fact that he was still in the midst of training for international and Olympic events.
“It’s important that he’s not only a workout partner, because both guys will need the training. If both need training, it’s easier that way, and he sets the standard for the whole team: if a guy’s assistant coach is training harder than them, then they know that something’s wrong.”
Indeed, the team is very quick to point out that Frayer’s position as assistant coach is not simply as some kind of special partner hired for Jantzen.
“He’s had an impact on everyone,” Weiss says. “He trains with everyone, even the heavyweights. His style is one that shows he’s been around wrestling. He’s been able to help every individual on the team, and others would say the same thing.”
No. 14 sophomore Max Meltzer (141 lbs.) agrees.
“In practice, he’s not primarily Jesse’s [workout partner],” Meltzer says. “He makes a great effort to work out with all the guys, and makes himself accessible to everyone on the team. Especially over the past few days—if you needed to get a workout in because of a paper or a test, he was just willing to be there for you.”
Eyes on the Prize
None, however, deny that the road to a national championship will most likely run through Jantzen, who is currently the top-ranked wrestler by W.I.N. Magazine, Amateur Wrestling News and the Wrestling Mall.
“Jared’s helpful in that he brings a lot of experience, being in the same weight class and even wrestling at the same time that I did,” Jantzen says. “He knows the way I wrestled, and my technique, as well as the styles of other athletes [I’m competing with now]. He’s able to give me insight on the competition.”
Weiss notes that their past battles—particularly the 2002 NCAA tournament match-up—are especially instructive of Frayer’s perfect role as someone whom Jantzen can use to get better.
“They had a huge style conflict two years ago,” Weiss remembers. “Going into nationals, it was tough because they shared strengths. Jared was good where Jesse was good, and Jared was good on top. Jared’s the only one I’ve ever seen that can counter Jesse’s crab-ride move, which has been murder for just about everyone else. It’s really the perfect training situation, when you get to go against that and prepare.”
Frayer wholeheartedly agrees.
“When we wrestled he was tougher than anything. I guess it did start a little rivalry between us, but there was a lot of mutual respect there, and we just knew of each other. Over time, I knew what I to do to beat him, and the same with him to beat me.”
“We feed off each other,” he continues. “It’s almost like the best advice I’ve been able to give him is that he needs to back down sometimes. He really works harder than everyone in the country. I’ve joked with him before that the Long Island guys have thick skulls and it’s hard to get through to them, but he takes everything in stride. He’s definitely ready to end his career on top.”
Frayer, however, also points out the mutual benefits from working with a wrestler of Jantzen’s caliber.
“It’s fun to work with him. We’re close to the same age, and we hang out; I hang with him, as well as Meltzer, on just a social level…And as far as experience is concerned, he really does the same thing in wrestling for me—I pick his brain as much as he picks mine, as I’m still in competition and training for wrestling [on the] international level.”
Jantzen also dismisses any awkwardness or leftover bad blood between the two.
“We’re good friends,” the co-captain says. “We’re all happy to have him, and he’s a good workout partner and a great coach to have on staff.”
“One of my main coaching goals is making sure [Jesse] finishes his career on top as a national championship,” Frayer says. “And we both know in the future that we may both be opponents again on the international scene. But right now, my job is to make him the best that he can be, and I have no qualms about that whatsoever. I want to see him win in everything he does, and if we meet later on, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Right now, we’re just really good friends, and it’s a great situation overall for me with the team.”
—Staff writer Pablo S. Torre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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