5th Season, Column 29: Gardner a Constant for the Ozarks Eagles

The University of the Ozarks has quietly been building a Division III power in Clarksville, Arkansas, one of the most beautiful parts of the country you may not have visited yet. No shame there, but your loss if that’s true. What’s also true to the mark is the unerring path Leroy Gardner has led the Eagles on since his arrival six years ago. Coach Gardner graciously agreed to giving a perspective on his team, his school, his life and how those three ingredients have blended perfectly in Clarksville. Here is the Eagles flock leader in his own words.

You come from the military and are a member of the U.S. Navy. Did that desire to serve lead you to wrestling to better your physical/mental strengths and abilities, or was it the other way around?

“I came upon serving in a really pragmatic way, to pay for graduate school, but it grew into one of the most meaningful things I have done in my life personally and professionally. I will say that being a member of an athletic team [and wrestling specifically] helped me value a shared mission and those I have the priviledge of working together with in service. I hope that some of the experiences I have had in wrestling have helped me be of value, too. I think they have. I knew that most often if I stuck to my preparation, work my process, then most of the time I can put probability on my side for success in whatever the mission is.”

Talk about the synergy between the Armed Services and wrestling.

“I think I touched on some of that [in the answer to] the previous question but with anything when you get well prepared, committed people all together giving their best towards a shared outcome or goal, things can get really cool in a hurry. I think you keep chasing those moments once you’ve experienced them. I think the purpose of working towards something bigger than oneself is a powerful experience. We can get that from wrestling in the best cases, and one can find that in the military too.”

University of the Ozarks is located in one of the most naturally beautiful areas of the United States with a very reasonable cost of living. How do you leverage these advantages in your outreach to prospective student-athletes? “

It is a special place here and the University is also. I think we’re looking for student-athletes that want to enjoy and appreciate those aspects of life in the Natural State. [We also] have many that didn’t know they could appreciate it until they arrived here to attend school. We really are glad when prospective student-athletes are able to visit in person to campus because we know how great it is in person. It is two-fold, making sure student-athletes know this opportunity exists here and letting them get a chance to see all there is to experience here.”

You are the Mens Coach, the Womens Coach, and the Assistant A.D. charged heavily with recruiting. Please explain how you balance these jobs.

“I can’t say that I do. [Handling] all of those aspects is possible because of our staff. Vinny [Barber, Assistant Head Coach] has been putting blood, sweat, and heart into this team for five years. Doyle [Trout, Assistant Mens Coach and former Wyoming wrestler] has been a great addition, joining basically right before Covid, and Charlotte [Fowler, Assistant Womens Coach and former Campbellsville AA] on the Womens side has been a real leader too. Their effort and work is the main reason the wheels run. The administrator work is new for me. I have a great appreciation now [as opposed to] the ignorance I had as a Coach to the constraints and challenges administrators face in shaping a great experience. Vinny and Doyle have the lead on the Mens recruiting and Charlotte is the face of our Womens recruiting. I value growing our people and [our assistants] want to be head coaches. That means getting a chance to touch all the areas of running a program. Our experience wouldn’t be possible without this team. They deserve the credit.

Tell us why Division III Wrestling should be the first place for any prospective wrestler who is not a Top 100 prospect to look at.

“My personal experience, having only been a state qualifier in high school, and [wanting to continue] because I wasn’t ready to be done with wrestling is a common story that I wish was more commonly known. There were times I didn’t think I was going to be “good enough” but I knew they were going to have to lock me out of the facilities to get me to quit coming. I kept working, found very meaningful experiences, learned about myself, grew and had success too. I believe that those same experiences are available to every high school wrestler should they choose to give their best effort, attitude, and challenge themselves to improve their craft. I don’t think this is limited to the Top 100. Any wrestler that values both their academic and athletic experience and wants to work both without sacrifice to one or the other, well, Division III can offer that. It really is about where they can find the best fit for a really meaningful pursuit of their best”.

In our next column Coach Gardner breaks down this seasons Eagles squad and its leaders, the amazing diversity of University of the Ozarks, the special relationship he has with the schools acclaimed Strength and Conditioning Coach, and more.

Folks we’re still waiting on

Spencer Lee, the 3x Defending National Champ for Iowa, has been a 125lb cipher so far this season. Wrestling fans wailed and gnashed their teeth when a showdown 2 years in the making between Lee and Princetons Patrick Glory failed to occur in the Hawkeyes-Tigers dual earlier this year. Lee is listed as a possible go for Iowa at next Monday and Tuesdays Collegiate Duals in Niceville, FL.

Also a 125lb MIA, AA Killian Cardinale of West Virginia. Cardinale and Lee shared a match, a major decision win by Lee, at last years NCAAs.

Promising young 197lb Logan Andrew of UTC hasn’t been seen. Andrew made the NCAAs last year in college wrestlings most grown-@ss man class as a freshman. The Mocs keep team news close, so it’s simply hoped here that a ready and healthy Andrew will return soon. BTW, BIG congratulations to UTC Head Coach Kyle Ruschell and wife Allie on their first child. You two will want to back the next one up by a few months, Coach. It’ll be easier on everybody.

Former 133lb National champ, 2X AA Nick Suriano, formerly of Rutgers, formerly of Penn State, [1] is supposedly a 2nd semester go, this time for Michigan. Ditto for Michigan 2x AA Logan Massa who like Coach Ruschell is a proud new dad.

Rumors have former Central Michigan AA 125lb Drew Hildebrandt bolstering Penn States roster come 2nd semester. His presence on the Nittany Lions roster would be a huge boost for Penn States title hopes.

125lb Connor Brown, 133lb Matt Schmitt, and 149lb Brock Mauller have 10 seasons, six NCAA appearances, three All American awards and 111 wins against 14 defeats for the Missouri Tigers between them. What none of them have is mat time this year. Midwest wrestling sage and USA Wrestling writer/podcaster David Mirikitani, among others, suggests that will stay that way, with injuries and redshirt seasons being the reasons. That’s a WHOLE lotta talent on the bench.

Ethan Laird is a whole lotta talent on the bench all by his lonesome. The Rider University big man is redshirting this year after 4 years of starting. Plans are for him to be a full sized 285 in 2022. Wrestlestat and Rider both have him as having seen action this season, but freshman Dave Szuba has been reliably shouldering the big man load in tournaments and duals for the Broncs at 5-3 so far. Rider is coming to the Scuffle so perhaps there’s still a chance Coach Hangey and crew will turn both their big men loose in Chattanooga. Not likely, though.

141lb Real Woods is due to don the Stanford singlet this month. According to Coach Rob Koll the NCAA qualifier is returning from a hand injury. Whether that return is at the Reno Tournament of Champions or the Southern Scuffle wasn’t specified in Coach Kolls latest missive. One thing that was pointed out was the number of high level recruits who announced they’d follow Coach Koll to Stanford. Koll originally recruited them to Cornell, but he left when the Ivy League in general and the school in particular lost their collective minds during the Covid 19 pandemic. Similar to what the Cornell administration is doing now. That story is still unfolding so more later.

See you sometime soon!

Ted Carreras

  1. formerly Penn State, formerly Rutgers, but ALWAYS JERZEY.