Big Ten wrestling tournament, Aaron Brooks and Cameron Caffey

Penn State’s Aaron Brooks wrestles Michigan State’s Cameron Caffey in the 184-pound finals at the Big Ten Wrestling tournament at the Rutgers Athletic Center on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Brooks won 3-2 by decision.

Motivation and intensity have never been a question for Cael Sanderson and his wrestling teams at Penn State, and it does not seem like either will be changing any time soon.

Given the coronavirus pandemic, Sanderson and his coaching staff are dealing with new rules and regulations from the Big Ten conference and have been forced to alter their training and preparation processes to fit these new guidelines.

After the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament last season, the 2020-21 season was called into question.

“We were trying to do whatever we could just to keep the kids excited because there was just so much uncertainty and a lot of questions,” Sanderson said. “I think for the most part they were assuming there wasn't going to be a season.”

Sanderson said he and his staff have been working hard to find ways to keep the team busy so they have something to “look forward” to and stay motivated.

With the new rules Sanderson and his staff must comply with, only a limited number of wrestlers are permitted to be in the gym to train at one time.

Because of this, the coaching staff has put in long hours at the gym in hopes of having the team in top physical shape for the start of the season.

“When we started seeing football come back in the Big Ten and then we knew basketball and hockey was going to roll, we knew that we were gonna have the opportunity also,” Sanderson said. “It's definitely been the busiest year of my life without any question just because of the limitations that you have.”

But Sanderson said he’s still having a good time and he loves what he does as a coach.

That same drive and passion for the sport Sanderson possesses is apparent in All-American Aaron Brooks.

Brooks was the 184-pound Big Ten champion, Big Ten Freshman of the Year and was named a first-team All-American selection after the NCAA tournament was canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“I wouldn't say there's any extra motivation,” Brooks said. “Thankfully, I'm always motivated. I'm really grateful for it is the best way I can explain it.”

Brooks had set high goals for himself entering his freshman season, one of which was becoming a four-time NCAA champion. This dream is still possible due to the NCAA awarding athletes an additional year of athletic eligibility.

“Last year one of my goals was, and still is, to be a four-time NCAA champ, so when that all went down last year, it left me with three more chances to do that until this year,” Brooks said. “I'm just super grateful that I get to go out there and still strive to be the best I can be. I get another year to compete and reach my goals.”

Besides himself, Brooks knows and understands his teammates.

Although he personally has not felt any added pressure or extra motivation given the circumstances, he is fully aware of the team’s high level of anticipation as the start to the season approaches.

“I know a lot of guys are ready to take advantage of this year,” Brooks said. “We have a lot of guys who have been redshirting and grayshirting for quite some time, so I'm sure they're excited to get in the lineup finally.

“I think our team is really hungry this year and there is a lot of good competition out there in the Big Ten — so it's kind of hard to not be motivated by that.”


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