Men's Wrestling Anthony Cassar

Penn State's Anthony Cassar defeats Ohio State's Kollin Moore during the Men's Wrestling match at Rec Hall on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. The no. 1 Nittany Lions defeated the no. 2 Buckeyes 19-18.

Anthony Cassar's story is that of a quintessential underdog.

Ever since high school, Cassar has had to battle to prove his worth as a wrestler and that has continued during his time at Penn State.

It took him four tries to qualify for the New Jersey state tournament, before he finally went 45-0 as a senior at Montgomery High School and captured a state title at 195 pounds.

Now history appears to be repeating itself as Cassar — once again in his senior year, though this time at Penn State — is trying to carve out his spot as the heavyweight starter in the nation's best lineup.

The Rocky Hill, New Jersey, native redshirted his first season in 2014-15, missed the two subsequent seasons and then following an injury to former three-time NCAA qualifier Matt McCutcheon, burst onto the scene at 197 for Penn State last season.

Cassar experienced a meteoric rise and continued success last season — which included knocking off four ranked opponents, including then-No. 1 Kollin Moore of Ohio State by 6-3 decision in the dual between the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes.

Despite that, coach Cael Sanderson and company opted to go with Cassar's friend and teammate Shakur Rasheed at 197 come postseason time in what was a difficult decision for Sanderson.

"It was a tough situation last year at 197 with the success that he [Cassar] was having," Sanderson said. "Then Shakur just started doing really well and we tried to make the right decision. Shak earned that spot, we thought."

Cassar had a decision of his own to make.

The experience put Cassar in a unique spot as he was clearly talented enough to earn a starting spot on Penn State's roster, but not when it really mattered.

So, he could either stay in an uncertain position and try to earn a starting spot again, or go to another program and likely start right away.

But Cassar insists through all of the trials and tribulations he's faced during his time at Penn State, leaving never crossed his mind.

“No, I never considered it,” he said during Tuesday's preseason media day. "I’m Penn State all the way. When I committed here I knew that. It was never something that I looked outside of me and said, ‘I have to leave this school to get what I want."

It's clear what Cassar wants and what he's after this year — a heavyweight national title.

It's also clear Cassar is going to have battle yet again to both win a starting job and then a national title.

Standing in his way is two-time All-American Nick Nevills, who has two of Penn State's three heavyweight All-American honors in the Cael Sanderson era.

Nevills has never had to battle for a spot the way Cassar has, but is aware that at this level, it's what it takes to be named a starter.

"He's a heck of a wrestler. I mean you guys saw him against the Ohio State guy. He's clearly capable of getting out there and getting after it," Nevills said. "It's interesting because I haven't really had to wrestle off before but now that he's here, it's just something you have to do. It's how life goes."

Cassar meanwhile embraces the challenge and even shed some insight on how it's the challenge in the Penn State wrestling room, coupled with on the mat challenges, that has led the Nittany Lions to put out a sound product.

"I knew coming here I was gonna’ have battles in the room and I like that at Penn State you have to battle for a spot, because then we're putting out the best product," Cassar said. "I know that if I'm out there starting, I'm the best guy for it and I'm at my best."

***

One of the people who helped Cassar be at his best and gave his toughest battle in the room was one of his best friends on the team, Shakur Rasheed.

Men's Wrestling, Indiana, Cassar

Anthony Cassar dives to take down Spencer Irick, of Indiana, in the match against Indiana at Rec Hall on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. Nittany Lions defeat the Hoosiers 44-3.

Rasheed, who is now starting at 184, spent so much time around Cassar that the two would often be the subject of jokes from the coaching staff.

Through all of the jokes the duo endured and through all of the battling that the two did, it fortified their friendship

"He's one of my best friends," Rasheed said. "We'd train to the point where coaches would be like 'There they are going again.' If we happened to wear the same outfit they'd joke 'Did you guys plan that?' It got to the point where me and him would have to schedule for them to not go like 'Yo we can't go today because they're gonna’ get on us.’"

Rasheed also felt wrestling Cassar was one of the best teaching tools he's been exposed to in his time here.

"Regardless of us competing for that spot, we push each other and it really helps. That's what happens in this room. He's an animal," Rasheed said. "He's very strong, keeps it going. Everything he does pushes me to learn a different style."

Sanderson also took note of the benefit for both guys and recognized it wasn't easy for Cassar to battle every week and not know if he was getting the starting nod or not.

That feeling was confounded by Sanderson's belief in Cassar and knowing he would've been productive for the Nittany Lions.

The 10th-year head coach admired Cassar's strength and didn't take his loyalty to Penn State for granted.

"He stayed strong and a lot of that is coming from a strong family and just being an exceptional individual," Sanderson said. "It would've been easy to say whatever he wanted to say, but he stayed."

Now that he did stay, Cassar is looking to become the mainstay at heavyweight, where he feels more natural and well-equipped to succeed.

"I knew going into last season it was my last year at 197. Only those close to me knew that," he revealed. "I'm naturally a big guy with a big frame. I don't like to cut weight and I'm at my best when I'm lifting heavy. Heavyweight was inevitable for this year."

Sanderson and Cassar were on the same page on the move up in weight and Sanderson said Cassar is "a bigger, stronger version of an already big and strong dude."

Cassar's belief in himself and Sanderson's mutual belief in Cassar are both at all-time highs and there's a real sense of eagerness to see what Cassar can do.

If Cassar can crack the starting lineup and solidify his place at heavyweight, then his odds of performing well in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments grow exponentially with Michigan's Adam Coon and Ohio State's Kyle Snyder having graduated last year.

He's well aware of this, but also knows he can't and won't let the moment pass him by like they have in the past.

"I've learned what I need to do differently and the big thing from last year is to seize every opportunity and make the most of every moment since moments come and go and then they don't come back," Cassar said.

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