Kevin Innis enjoyed a dream high-school athletic career. He was a standout football player and wrestler at St. Peter’s Prep. As a senior at Prep, Innis was the Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year, a dominating linebacker on defense (named the Reporter Defensive Player of the Year) and the state runner up at 215 pounds in wrestling.
After graduating from Prep, Secaucus native Innis decided to take his talents to Boston University, where he was going to concentrate solely on wrestling.
“Coach Carl Adams was a really nice guy,” Innis said about his decision to go to BU. “His goals seemed to be the same as mine. I liked the team dynamic. It really ended up being a good fit.”
Since he’s been a member of the Terriers’ wrestling program, Innis has fared well, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament twice. He’s moved up to the heavyweight (285 pound) division, where he’s won 60 matches in three seasons.
“The first year was kind of tough,” Innis explained. “I only had one other heavyweight to train with. It was a work in progress.”
Since then, Innis has made his mark at BU, becoming one of the program’s most successful wrestlers. He’s set to be the team’s co-captain this year.
Last April, Innis and his teammates were hit with heart-wrenching news. The school had decided to eliminate the wrestling program.
“The coach didn’t even know,” Innis said. “And he’s been here 32 years. He had a recruit on campus that day and he didn’t have a clue. He found out on the school’s website.”
Last week, the Terriers began practice for what will be the last season of wrestling at Boston University.
For Innis, it’s his senior year. He will graduate in May. But he was planning on taking a red-shirt year to help develop a talented incoming freshman from Michigan named Bob Coe.
“I would have had the year to develop him, then he would have taken a year off while I finished,” Innis said. “I would have stayed on as a graduate student, because I had another year of eligibility.”
However, once Coe heard that BU was dropping the sport, he decided to go elsewhere.
“I don’t blame the kid,” Innis said.
Innis is still a little shell shocked by the whole thing.
“It really came out of nowhere,” Innis said. “It’s really unfortunate.”
Innis said that there is an active campaign trying to save the sport, but he has no idea how well the movement is working.
“We had meetings with the athletic director, the president, and the board members,” Innis said. “It’s really tough to get an answer. They just say that wrestling is not in the direction where they want the school to go.”
Innis had high hopes for the upcoming season.
“We were getting it done,” Innis said. “We beat Iowa State and Army last year. We were on the way up. No one ever imagined we could knock off a Big 12 school [Iowa State]. We were taking on some big-time opponents.”
Innis will begin his senior year as the No. 17-ranked heavyweight in the nation. Teammate Nestor Taffur, a native of Bound Brook, is ranked No. 14 at 157 pounds.
“We were doing so many good things,” Innis said. “We were active in the community. We were involved in a holiday reading program in Boston and volunteered to help the needy on Thanksgiving. It’s so frustrating.”
When the Terriers began practice last week, there was a funeral feel.
“It’s so devastating,” Innis said. “It was a completely different feeling. I mean, we have Penn State coming to us this year. We’re wrestling at Madison Square Garden to face Hofstra and Penn. Why would you want to shut it down when things look so promising?”
Boston University is just another college that eliminated wrestling. Schools like Syracuse, Seton Hall, and Montclair State have dropped the sport in recent years. The International Olympic Committee wanted to eliminate wrestling as an Olympic sport, only to have it reinstated for 2010. It’s becoming a trend.
“We’re the only school that had wrestling outside of the Ivy Leagues in our area,” Innis said.
Instead of being depressed about the fate, Innis said that the Terriers have taken on a different disposition.
“I think it’s put a fire under us,” Innis said. “We’re really pissed off. We’re hell bent on success. That’s how we’re handling it. We’re pushing each other through the roof. We’re going to beat people that we shouldn’t be able to beat. We’re going to show people what we’re all about.”
More important, they hope to show the administration at BU that the decision to eliminate wrestling was a bad one.
“It’s devastating on our end, because we had so much hope,” Innis said. “I’m graduating. I’m leaving. What about the others? Where do they go?”
The same thing happened to another former Prep athlete who first went to Boston University.
James Souder, a key member of the Marauders’ 1994 NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state championship, left Boston University when the school dropped football in 1998. Souder then played his final season of eligibility at Bethune-Cookman and eventually went to training camp with the Minnesota Vikings.
“Until we know for sure, we’re going to fight tooth and nail until the next season rolls around,” Innis said. “We’ve received such great support from other athletes on campus and from alumni. It’s tough to see this end for such a hardworking group of guys. It’s actually upsetting.”
But the Terriers won’t quit until the doors of the wrestling room are padlocked forever. Innis is hopeful that people will take notice and come to the rescue of the program at the last minute. Until then, it appears as if this will be the last go round, both for Innis and the BU wrestling program. And if that’s the case, it’s definitely a sad state.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.