Four Big Red wrestlers sign to compete for college programs

FANTASTIC FOUR — Big Red’s Zane Minella, Payton Blasko, Anthony Rice and Jacson Muldrew signed their letters of intent to continue their academic and wrestling careers on Tuesday. (Photo by Andrew Grimm)

STEUBENVILLE — It is a special thing for any high school coach to see one of his or her athletes continue their careers at the college level.

Tuesday, Big Red wrestling head coach Mike Blackburn got to experience that — times four.

Peyton Blasko and Anthony Rice signed to continue their wrestling careers at Cleveland State University, a Division I program that just joined the MAC Conference. Jacson Muldrew signed to wrestle for Division I Gardner-Webb, while Zane Minella will wrestle for Heidelburg at the Division III level.

“Every year graduating seniors, it’s hard to see guys go,” Blackburn said. “You’re with them so much and have a bond. These guys have been leaders of this team for four years. It is a great day for them. It is great to see. It is a testament to our program, where it has come from and where it is going.”

For Rice and Blasko, continuing to be teammates beyond Steubenville was a goal achieved.

“Me and Payton had a goal to go to the same college together,” Rice said. “It is close to home. It was perfect fit. The campus is beautiful. The school is great. The wrestling team is really great, too. They just moved into the MAC, which is a great opportunity.

“It means a lot to me. It was a hard choice to pick, but when it came down to it I knew it was the right choice. I am just blessed to have thing opportunity.”

Blasko was also happy to remain teammates with Rice.

“It means a lot to us,” he said. “We have worked hard together and we’ll get to do it for another four years. It’s really cool I will get to wrestle with someone I already know. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. It’s cool I get to share it with my friends.

“The team that they are building is something I want to be a part of.”

Their coach was not surprised the duo wanted to keep working together.

“These guys are together so much over the four years,” Blackburn said. “They are traveling together, together on the weekends, wrestling in the room every day. It shows the kind of bond they have. It helps them going off to college out of the area having someone there to support each other. It’s going to make the transition better for them.

“The MAC just increased by a few teams and got tougher. They are going to have some good competition. Them being in the MAC and in Ohio, they are close enough where we are going to be able to go watch them.”

Muldrew found his perfect fit in North Carolina.

“It is a step in the right direction,” he said. “I knew I wanted to wrestle at the college level, so I am excited. I really liked the campus and the way the way the team was together and really connected. It’s family-like. The coaches were probably the biggest factor in my decision to go to Gardner-Webb.”

Minella is excited about what he’s joining in the Cleveland area.

“It is exciting to continue my wrestling career,” he said. “They have a great team and a great program.”

Blackburn could not have asked for a better group.

“If you look at these guys, they are pretty much four well-rounded student athletes. Good GPA’s, really good in the classroom, had really good high school careers for us,” he said. “They are all competitors. You don’t want to see these guys leave, but you’re really glad you had them.”

It also sets an example for the next wave of Big Red wrestlers to follow.

“For all the kids it shows that there is opportunities to go on,” Blackburn said. “With hard work, they can do it. Especially the guys on the team and the eighth-graders coming up, they see what these guys have done and how they got there and it gives them an idea of what they need to do and a goal to reach for.”

To fill the void the departing group is leaving, that next wave has it’s work cut out for it.

“It’s going to be tough to replace them, but we say that every year,” Blackburn said. “We have been pretty lucky the last eight or nine years. We lose a good group of seniors and we just keep reloading. Our underclassmen have to step up and hopefully we will be right back where we were.”

(Grimm can be reached at agrimm@heraldstaronline.com)

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