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A Steady Set of Leaders

February 28, 2011
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Chad Porter, Aaron Kelley and Josh Pelletier are three redshirt seniors that have left their mark on the Liberty wrestling program.

The following article was first published in the Jan./Feb. edition of Flames Illustrated. Liberty wrestling's three redshirt seniors helped the Flames post a 14-7 dual meet record this season and now look to claim their fifth-consecutive East Regional title. The 2011 NCAA East Regional Championships take place at Liberty's Vines Center on March 5. The tournament begins at 2:30 p.m., with the Championship round starting at 6:30 p.m.

Consistency within a program often leads to success. And while consistency in collegiate wrestling can be tough to maintain due to injuries and the nature of college athletics, the Liberty wrestling program has been able to keep a certain level of steadiness since being reinstated for the 2006-07 season after a 12-year hiatus.

Much of this can be attributed to Chad Porter (165 lbs.), Aaron Kelley (184 lbs.) and Josh Pelletier (HWT), three grapplers who are redshirt seniors this season and have been with the program since the 2006-07 season.

"Our three redshirt seniors have been an integral part in our recently reinstated wrestling program here at Liberty University. They are the last vestige of the charter team in 2006," stated head coach Jesse Castro on the class which will soon close the Liberty chapter of their lives.

Choosing to attend and wrestle at Liberty was somewhat an easy decision for each of the three.

For Porter and Kelley, Liberty was a very comfortable choice, as former coach Pat Sole and four former teammates from Parkersburg South High School in Parkersburg, W. Va., would be on Liberty Mountain along with them.

Kelley also expected a good all-around experience at Liberty, saying, "It seemed like a school with a good, solid foundation that would keep me focused with academics and wrestling."

While Porter had some other options available, the familiarity of the situation sealed his final decision to become a Flame. "I was kind of split between here and a couple other schools, and it came down to that I could come down here and be with coach Sole and five guys I already knew," Porter explained.

Meanwhile, Charleston, Maine, native Josh Pelletier found his way to Lynchburg through a full scholarship. "I actually got a four-year scholarship for Army ROTC. I was offered it at two different places and decided to come to Liberty."

The other option for Pelletier was the University of Maine, but as Pelletier described, "It was too close to my house and I wanted to go to a Christian college, so it was a no-brainer when they offered me the full scholarship."

Their decisions have worked out well for each of them, as well as the Liberty wrestling program. In terms of career victories, the trio holds a record of 218-136 (61.6%) through the end of their regular-season careers. This makes them the second-most prolific group of graduating wrestlers since the reinstatement of the program, trailing only the combination of Christian Smith (125 lbs.), Tim Harner (141 lbs.) and Patrick Walker (HWT) by the slimmest of margins. That trio graduated in 2009 with a collective record of 219-123 (64.0%).

Being a part of the program has been a great experience for each of them, especially with the support system that the wrestling team has. "Most people don't understand what it takes to not only compete on the weekends, but also how mentally tough every day you go through is. Overall, just being with these guys and knowing what they're going through helps you push through," commented Pelletier.

For Kelley, his senior season hasn't been what he expected, as he continues to battle a shoulder injury which also caused him to redshirt last season. He looks to return to the mat during the second half of the schedule, but recognizes how much his sport can teach you outside of competition. "You learn so many life lessons, like discipline and how to deal with struggles, like I'm dealing with my shoulder injury."

Part of the Flames' support system and the source of lessons is the coaching staff. Head Coach Jesse Castro has been another constant for the program, as he has been at the helm since reinstatement and leads the wrestlers on and off the mat.

"Coach Castro is very motivational," Porter stated, "He can sense when we're down and when we don't really want to be in the wrestling room, but he can really find ways to motivate us."

Pelletier added, "You know he really cares about everyone. He's a great coach and he cares more about your spiritual life than about wrestling. And he cares a lot about how we do on the mat."

During their time as Flames, Kelley and Porter both recollect trips to the NCAA National Championships as favorite memories. Kelley made his trip in 2008 after winning the NCAA East Region title at 174 pounds, while Porter has won three NCAA East Region titles at 165 pounds. Out of his three trips to NCAAs, Porter recalls the 2008 version as the best, as he picked up two victories, one in the championship bracket and one in the consolation bracket.

Castro recalls the 2008 NCAA Championships, saying, "Aaron and Chad are members of a group of wrestlers in 2008 that holds a precedent for the reinstated program and former program alike. A group of 5 national qualifiers won a total of 5 matches at the NCAA tournament that year."

As their final season donning a Liberty singlet rolls on, Kelly and Porter have the desire to get to the NCAA Championships again, while Pelletier aims to get his first shot at the NCAAs, after being runner-up in his first attempt at the NCAA East Region last year.

During Pelletier's first three years at Liberty, he played understudy to Patrick Walker, who made two trips to the NCAAs. He attributes those years of experience to helping him create more success later in his career, saying, "Walker was a really good wrestler. He beat the tar out of me every day and that's what made me a better wrestler. Watching to see how he wrestled with big guys and seeing what works and what doesn't work definitely gave me an idea about how to approach things."

On Pelletier, Castro commented, "Josh was a walk on for us, and he has been a great addition."

While these three will move on after the 2010-11 season, there is no doubt they'll continue to think of Liberty wrestling in the future, especially as they can see where the program is headed.

"I see the program continuing to rise," Porter stated, "As these guys start training during the summer and start putting everything into it, you're going to see people place at nationals and the team breaking into the top 20."

Pelletier expressed similar remarks about the program. "Every single year, we've made huge leaps. I think in the future, this program is going to be an awesome wrestling program. I think people will want to come here because it's a Christian school, because it's growing and we're beating teams like Maryland, so we're getting recognition. I think it will be a top 20 team in the next five years."

Today's wrestling feature story also begins LibertyFlames.com's lead-in coverage of the 2011 NCAA East Regional Championships.

Throughout the rest of the week, the web site will run a wrestling-related feature piece each day, helping prepare readers for Sunday's national qualifying event. Be sure to check back each day for the latest wrestling story at LibertyFlames.com.