Off of the wrestling mat, sophomore Troy Letters is about as simple as they come. “I do my school work, but after school, wrestling is my life.” On the mat, Letters tries and keeps it simple as well by simply going out and doing his job. And in March, the kid from Shaler, Pennsylvania did “his job” better than every other wrestler in the nation en route to the 2004 NCAA Championship title at 165 lbs.
“It was great,” said an euphoric Letters after the match. “I came in trying to take it one match at a time, and once I got a near fall in the first period, I could sense I was close. The last five minutes of the match seemed like the longest time of my life, but it just feels awesome."
Letters’ title, over a four-time All-American no less, capped off an impressive performance by Lehigh, as the Mountain Hawks placed five All-Americans, the second most ever for the school. Lehigh’s third place finish and 77.5 points scored by the team broke the old mark of 67.5, accomplished by the 1979 squad. Joining Letters as All-Americans were seniors Brad Dillon and Mario Stuart, and sophomores Cory Cooperman and Travis Frick.
What is so appealing to Letters about wrestling? Why does he train so hard? “The competitiveness of this sport is unprecedented and even though it is a team sport, it’s more about individual effort,” says Letters. “The harder I work and the more sacrifices I make, it’s better off for me, so I really enjoy that part of this sport.” It is that drive and determination that developed Letters into the top high school prospect in all of Pennsylvania when he was in high school and also a top-five recruit in the nation in any weight, as well as a first team High School All-American.
This is something that Letters, a political science major, has been working for his whole life. When he was eight, he carried on the tradition that his grandfather, father and uncles began earlier in their lives. Letters explains, “My dad got me into wrestling when I was young, and he has helped me so much. He put a wrestling room into our living room when I first started, and then eventually built an entire room into a wrestling room, which he would wrestle me in, and really put me through some intense training.” Was Troy ever able to beat his father? “I was in ninth grade, and I started to get a little bigger. We had one match that went into overtime and I beat him, and ever since then, we haven’t wrestled.”
Lehigh head coach Greg Strobel says that Letters had to really work to put himself in this position. “Coming out of Shaler High School, this was a great opportunity for Troy to come to a high profile Division I program and also reap the benefits of the academics. But, he had to really buckle down in his junior and senior years (in high school) to boost his grades to come up to the level they needed to be at Lehigh. But, ever since then, he has had no problems.” Strobel continues, “Troy is a major team leader, he trains hard, he does all of the right things, and we couldn’t be happier with his development both on and off of the mat.”
Letters says that coach Strobel and the rest of the coaching staff, coupled with the strong academics were what drew him to Lehigh. “Coach Strobel was the Olympic coach, former assistant Pat Santoro (now head coach at Maryland) was great and Chris Ayres and Kerry McCoy, a 2000 U.S. Olympian, are terrific workout partners. You just can’t beat the coaching staff at Lehigh and obviously the school is known for academics, so that played a key role in choosing Lehigh.”
The laid back Letters says that he would like to become a graduate assistant and possibly get his M.B.A. after graduation, but for now is focusing on getting his degree from Lehigh. He also has some things on the mat that he would like to accomplish as well. “I’ll train freestyle this summer and see how I fare at the U.S. Nationals (in Las Vegas), and then that will be my deciding factor in maybe trying out for the Olympics. But for now, I am just focused on Lehigh and making sure that I am prepared every time I go out on the mat.”
Posted on Monday, April 12, 2004