The St. Cloud State wrestling program has had much to celebrate under head coach Steve Costanzo’s tenure. The Huskies were national runner-ups each year from 2011 to 2013. They now enter the season next weekend as the defending two-time national champions, looking to celebrate their third title in a row by season’s end.
This Friday, they also celebrate Veterans Day with one of their own members of the armed forces.
Ryan Rodorgio is looking forward to his second season with the Huskies. However, he is not your normal sophomore. Now 22 years old, Rodorgio spent four years after college serving the nation in the United States Coast Guard.
“I was called an EM3,” Rodorgio said. “It’s an E4 [Petty Officer]. First I was stationed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, at a small boat station on Lake Michigan. Our duties there were search and rescue. Then I went to school in Virginia to learn how to be an electrician. I then went to Port Angeles, Washington, where I pretty much ran maintenance on 26 boats.”Rodorgio was part of a wrestling power house during his time at Lake Stevens High School in Washington prior to enlisting in the Coast Guard. He was a top-10 finisher himself in each of his four seasons on the team, helping to lead it to three state titles in his four years. When he enlisted with the Coast Guard, his wrestling days seemed to be behind him. He kept himself in shape going another route of hand-to-hand combat.
“I did a little bit of MMA when I was in, but it wasn’t attached with the Coast Guard,” Rodorgio said.
After four years of floating around the country and climbing the ranks, Rodorgio yearned to get back to what he loved most. He left the Coast Guard, looking not only to go back to school but continue his long-time passion of wrestling.
“Wrestling was one of the reasons I got out of the Coast Guard when I did,” Rodorgio said. “If I didn’t, it would have been too late, you can’t really come back at 35 and wrestle. I felt like I was going to have regrets, and I wanted to wrestle. It isn't that the Coast Guard was a bad time, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do my whole life.”
One of Rodorgio’s younger brother’s close friends, Noah Cuzzetto, was a member of the Huskies team last season. He had known Rodorgio his whole life and told him how much he loved the program, even talking to the coaches for him. Rodorgio decided to enroll in St. Cloud to get an education and return to the mat.
His first season back in the grind was one of ups and downs. Weighing in at 141 pounds, Rodorgio finished 14-14 with two falls. He did capture first place at the Dragon Open while walking away with impressive second- and third-place finishes as well throughout his rookie campaign.
“I had better expectations than what happened,” Rodorgio said of his return. “But I held my own and did alright. I had a decent freshman year. I wasn’t too bummed about it.”
The transition was somewhat easy because, as they say, winning makes everything better. It was a situation in which Rodorgio was very familiar with, starting with his early beginnings in Lake Stevens High. A winning mentality was all that he had ever known.
“It feels like being back in high school,” Rodorgio said of his time with St. Cloud. “I’ve always been part of a really good wrestling team. In Washington, for the four years I was there, we won State three out of four times as a team. Coming here is the same mentality, it’s awesome. I love being part of it.”
Rodorgio was able to take a few things from his time in the Coast Guard and translate it to his overall performance. There are certain undeniable skills taken from the regimen of the armed forces that can be used in all walks of life. They are especially helpful in a sport that is very controlled and precise, where the smallest of miscues could lead to a loss.
“The leadership mentality and being disciplined,” Rodorgio said of the qualities he brought with him from the Coast Guard. “You had to be very disciplined in the Coast Guard. But it goes back to wrestling in high school. I used the mentality instilled in me there to help me in the Coast Guard. That’s all helped me in college. And hopefully it will help me in the future.”
The long-term future Rodorgio is hopeful for sees his wrestling career extend for many years, however, on the other side of the mat. He has ambitions of being a teacher, and in turn, a wrestling coach to pass his life lessons on to a new generation. He certainly has a high-caliber mentor in head coach Steve Costanzo, the reigning NWCA DII National Coach of the Year.
“He’s a great guy,” Rodorgio said of his coach. “”I like his coaching style. He’s really personable. He has a way how he words stuff to keep you motivated and keep you on track.”
And keep them on track he has done, with an impressive 152-27 record since taking over the Huskies program 11 years ago. This 2016 team is loaded, returning All-Americans like Austin Goergen, Matt Nelson, Clayton Jennissen, and last year’s 125-pounds national title winner Brent Velazquez.
“Our mentality is always to win it, especially since we’ve won it twice,” Rodorgio said. “You don’t ever want to go down, and we always want to go up. Our goal is not only to just win Nationals, but to dominate everything. We want to be the most dominant team in DII and win our National Duals which we didn’t do the past two years.”
The quest for the coveted “three-peat” for Rodorgio and his Huskies teammates starts November 19 with the Cobber Open.