Oct. 20, 2017

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Three men in suits walked into the room in which Boise State’s wrestling team was warming up last spring. “Take a seat on the wall, gentlemen,” they told the wrestlers, and Fred Green feared the worst.

He was correct.

On April 18, Green and his teammates learned that Boise State was cutting wrestling and adding baseball. The scholarships of wrestlers who wished to remain at the school would be honored, the team was told, but that option didn’t appeal to Green.

“Education gets me much further than wrestling, but wrestling is what put me in the place that I am today,” Green said, “and I have goals set to win NCAA titles. So I can’t do that sitting on the sidelines.”

Six months after that bombshell at Boise State, Green is midway through his first semester at the University of Virginia, where he’s a contender to start at 157 pounds for head coach Steve Garland‘s team this season. It has been, Green said, a roller-coaster ride for him.

“The East Coast is a whole new experience for me,” said Green, who’s from Orting, Washington, a small town near the foot of Mount Rainer, about 45 miles south of Seattle.

“He’s West Coast, man,” Garland said. “I’m learning that he’s a very different kid.”

Green, who’s more laidback than many wrestlers, is also a gifted athlete with a knack for pinning opponents. After hearing of Boise State’s decision to drop wrestling, Garland realized Green, who has three seasons of eligibility left, would be a valuable addition at a weight class where the Cavaliers have little depth.

Still, Garland waited a week before contacting the Broncos’ head coach, his friend Mike Mendoza.

“I didn’t want to be a vulture,” Garland said. “And so I waited, and then finally I couldn’t wait any more, because I heard other teams in our conference had contacted Fred, and I thought, `Well, now I’ve got to do this.’

“And I called [Mendoza] and said, `Coach, I’m calling you first. I haven’t talked to Fred. I haven’t talked to anybody on your team. I just want to let you know that I’m probably going to be reaching out to him, and I just want to get your blessing on that.’

Mendoza responded enthusiastically. “He said, `You’re the only coach that’s actually done this. Thank you for doing it,’ ” Garland recalled. “And then he just raved about Fred.”

A long phone conversation followed between Garland and Green. A bond was formed, and Green, who in high school had wrestled in a tournament in Virginia Beach, visited UVA in early May.

Green also took recruiting trips to Cal Poly and Oregon State, but “they just didn’t compare to Virginia,” he said.

Green, who turns 21 next month, had been at his new school for about four weeks when UVA’s football team traveled to Idaho to play Boise State last month. In a nationally televised game, the Cavaliers won 42-23.

When those teams met in 2015, Boise State romped 56-14 at Scott Stadium, and they were favored to take the rematch, too. So as kickoff approached on Sept. 22, Green recalled, “I was like, `Oh, boy, this is about to be interesting.’ But I was very proud of Virginia for [winning].”

Preseason drills are under way for the Cavaliers’ wrestling team, which is in its 11th season under Garland. Green, however, has yet to get on the mat with his teammates. In May, before leaving Boise State, he had surgery to repair a shoulder injury. He may be cleared to start drill work this weekend, but so far he’s done much more running than wrestling at UVA.

At the Gene Arnold Special Olympics Pepsi 10k last month, Green finished 30th overall — and second among UVA wrestlers, behind freshman Sam Book, who was ninth — with a time of 42 minutes, 28 seconds. More recently, when the wrestling team raced to the top of Humpback Rocks, a local landmark, Green finished first.

“I lead the team in runs,” Green said, smiling. “That’s what I do all day when I train. I’m not on the mat.”

Even so, Green has impressed his coaches with his work ethic.

“He’s one of the guys who, when he does rehab, he does it like the world’s coming to an end,” Garland said. “He’s just so faithful and goes so hard.”

At Orting High School, Green captured four state titles, winning at 106 pounds as a freshman, 113 as a sophomore, 126 as a junior, and 138 as a senior.

In 2015-16, when he redshirted at Boise State, he competed unattached at 157 and 165 pounds and finished 29-10. In 2016-17, he posted a 20-18 record, with all of his matches at 157 pounds.

Of his victories last season, 14 earned bonus points for the Broncos. Green totaled a team-high 10 pins, as well as two major decisions and two technical falls. Against top-25 wrestlers, Green went 2-3.

Virginia’s other options at 157 pounds this season include redshirt freshman Michael Murphy and true freshmen Cam Coy and Jake Keating.

“The good news is, Fred’s capable of beating just about anybody, based on his results,” Garland said. “But he’s also capable of losing to just about anybody. So we’ve got to figure that out, and we’ve got to make sure we’re capitalizing on his strengths and tightening up his attack areas and improving in those areas, because he’s obviously got some deficiencies, if he’s losing matches like that after beating a returning All-American.”

Garland said Green’s style is “funky. He’s good on top, and his thing is his pace. Just like he runs with that much endurance, that’s how he wrestles. He actually does better in the third period. If the matches were 20 minutes long, he’d be set.”

Green said: “I’m very consistent. I go just as hard in the third round as I do in the first round.”

A biology major, Green rooms with Garrett Peppelman, who had to give up wrestling this year for medical reasons. Peppelman, who’s in UVA’s acclaimed McIntire School of Commerce, no longer wrestles every day, but “he’s still there for me academically,” Green said. “He’s a good mentor.”

Green acknowledged that his transition to a new school and a new wrestling program, in a part of the country with which he’s unfamiliar, has been not seamless. He likes his new coaches and teammates, but he’s keenly aware that he has no history with them.

Had Boise State continued its wrestling program, Green would have been one of the team leaders this season. “At UVA, I’m the new guy again,” Green said.

“I’ve already built up this leadership role inside myself, so I want to take charge and I want to push people, but to them I’m just the new guy.”

With time, that figures to change. Not only is Green new to the program, Garland noted, but “he hasn’t been on the mat” because of his injury.

“I envision a leadership role for him, too,” Garland said, “being a leader in the wrestling room, in terms of his effort, and setting the standard in terms of bonus points on the mat. That’s what I expect from him.”

Green said he’s steadily growing more comfortable at UVA.

“Boise was a good transition for me,” Green said. “I don’t know if I would have been able to come in here right away from high school. That would have been a real tough transition.

“The academics are tough. It’s so far away from home. It would have been just a whole different universe. But Boise’s given me a good stepping stone.”

It’s become customary for the Cavaliers to hold an outdoor practice each fall, and that tradition will continue this year. On Saturday, from 11 a.m. to noon, they’ll practice in the open space near the O-Hill dining hall on Alderman Road, across from the Aquatic and Fitness Center.

The season officially starts for Virginia on Nov. 5, at the Clarion Open in Pennsylvania. The `Hoos are coming off a season in which they finished 15th at the NCAA championships and had two semifinalists for the first time in program history. George DiCamillo, in his final college season, was NCAA runner-up at 141 pounds, and Jack Mueller placed sixth at 125 as a true freshman.

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