By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Wrestling requires mental toughness, but one of the most readily recognizable traits of a strong wrestler is the physique. The attention to detail with the nutrition, the strength and conditioning and the work put in for the physical endurance to impose ones will on an opponent.
Virginia head coach Steve Garland wanted someone who embodied those characteristics when the selection was made for the second position on the program’s leadership council. An individual who displayed the mental drive and ability to focus on the details and maintain the physical strength needed to endure the demands placed on the body by competition.
Garland found that wrestler in redshirt junior Will Mason (Virginia Beach, Va.). The 125-pounder encompasses everything the Cavalier head coach was looking for in someone to personify the ideal of the body for his path: The Virginia Way.
“Will was a smaller guy in high school and a lot of programs likely missed on him because of that fact,” Garland said. “He came in here and learned about his body and how to transform it completely. He learned proper nutrition, proper stretching and proper strength and conditioning. Now he is a walking bundle of muscle and power He’s a model of what we want from the members of our program.”
The toned and muscled physique of a wrestler wasn’t one that came easily to Mason, and the struggle to reach his position within the program now has been ongoing since his arrival at Virginia.
Mason stepped on Grounds at what he characterizes as an undersized 125-pound wrestler. He’d succeeded at Cape Henry Collegiate School in Virginia Beach, Va., earning Prep All-America honors four times and finishing as a four-time state champion, but he was about to learn new lessons when he became a Cavalier.
As a redshirt in his first year with Virginia, Mason wrestled unattached and enjoyed some success. He competed in seven tournaments and placed in the final three, but it wasn’t as easy as it had been in high school.
“I wasn’t big enough to compete at my weight class,” Mason said. “I was getting outmanned in a lot of ways.”
The challenge took another step at the end of the first year when finals hit and the stress multiplied. That’s when Mason hit the books, but also began to reach for food, most specifically candy, to help fuel his late night study sessions. By the end of the semester, he’d gone from his under-sized stature at 125 pounds to breaking the140 pound mark on the scale.
Mason wasn’t happy with where he was as his weight ballooned, but went off to work for the summer on construction projects. Through the course of the summer he shed the pounds and dropped back down closer to the weight he held at the beginning of his first year and it sparked a realization in the wrestler.
“That experience of how heavy I got and then cutting back down woke me up to how important my nutrition really was to my goals,” Mason said. “I’ve matured each year and learned more each year with meetings with our nutrition staff and through my studies in school.”
He already had the knowledge of strength training from his time working with a coach in high school who went on to train Navy Seals, but now Mason was seeing additional pieces to the puzzle for success on the mat.
“Through that experience I gained a love for training and strength and conditioning, but once I got to UVA I learned about the nutrition aspect,” Mason said. “That hasn’t come quickly. I still struggle to try to be smart all the time about what I’m eating. It’s something I have to work at and is another piece of my training.”
Mason’s knowledge grew and his roadmap for his future came into focus as he entered his second year at Virginia and realization hit that strength and conditioning would be an enjoyable profession.
“One day I was walking across Grounds and it just hit me that I should be considering strength and conditioning for my future,” Mason said. “It made sense with being an athlete and was something I was so interested in because of my experience. I spend so much time in it and it’s something I love to do.”
The wrestler worked with the Cavalier strength and conditioning program through a practicum in his kinesiology major. That process allowed him to work with Ed Nordenschild, Director of Strength and Conditioning, as he got hands on experience with the men’s soccer program and the women’s rowing program.
“I got such a feel for the other side of things. I had experienced the athlete’s side, but I hadn’t experienced the coaching side,” Mason said. “I got to work more hands-on this past summer in my second stint with the program. I knew I was liking it when I was waking up early to get to work and wasn’t complaining about it.”
His experience translated to the mat as he saw his performance improve. He went 11-3 on the year and placed in two of his three open competitions, claiming the title at the Appalachian State Open at 125 pounds. He noticed the big change in his strength on the mat at Cleveland State and hasn’t looked back since that event.
“I haven’t felt really small at a weight class in a long time,” Mason said. “It really hit me walking off the mat that second year and this past summer that this is why I take the nutritional side of things so seriously. It translates to the mat.”
He continued working with strength and conditioning through the summer following his second year, working with the football program and baseball newcomers. He worked this fall with a program to reverse the effects of specialization among athletes and make well-rounded athletes who can adapt to any situation and not simply excel at a handful of skills for a specific sport.
That experience, combined with the knowledge gained from working with Randy Bird, Director of Sports Nutrition, and Kelly Rossi, Assistant Director of Sports Nutrition, has helped prepare him as the physical model for the Virginia wrestling program.
“I don’t want to preach, but I try to eat well so that if the other guys are looking at me they have an example of what to eat,” Mason said. “I can remember looking up to Nick Sulzer when I got here and if he did something, then I considered that as something I should be doing. I want people to be able to look at me and see me as someone who has been in the program and know that’s what they should be doing.”
His teammates have seen the fruit of his labors and look up to the diminutive wrestler despite his small stature because of that focus and effort.
“His body is purely the result of his work. He works his tail off in his lifts, in the wrestling room and in his nutrition,” said Zach Nye (Enola, Pa.). “He’s the example of what can happen when you work at it.”
“I had the privilege of doing my weight descent closely with Will,” said George DiCamillo (Highland Heights, Ohio). “Seeing how much he’s changed his body. Seeing how disciplined he is with every aspect of his life – both on the mat and off the mat with his nutrition – is inspiring to me.”
Mason will compete for the first time in his redshirt junior season when he travels to the Southern Scuffle this weekend, the tournament where he suffered an injury a year ago.
Virginia, currently ranked No. 16 in the national rankings, kicks off the spring portion of the schedule at the prestigious event and Mason hopes he can have a positive impact on the squad while also turning in a successful weekend in competition himself.