Penn State Wrestling

Penn State wrestling commit Robbie Howard chats about winning Olympic gold, Saquon Barkley and more

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Robbie Howard’s wrestling career is full of accolades already.

Howard, who committed to Penn State’s Cael Sanderson in December, is a Bergen Catholic (N.J.) junior who has been in the state finals all three years of his high school career. He has won just one title so far but, in October, he won a Youth Olympic gold medal in Argentina.

Although he lost in the New Jersey state finals this past season, he is 100-6 in his Crusaders career with one more season left. And, when he committed in December, FloWrestling ranked him as the nation’s top recruit in his weight class.

The two-time world Cadet team member, who would likely wrestle at 133 pounds in college, recently took time to discuss life on and off the mat with the Centre Daily Times. Here’s what he had to say:

What is one thing you are looking forward to the most when you get to Penn State?

Robbie Howard: Rec Hall and Bryce Jordan (Center), because there are just so many people. I’ve never wrestled in front of that many people in my life. When Cenzo (Vincenzo Joseph) takes down (Michigan’s Logan) Massa with two seconds left in overtime, the 16,000 people in the Bryce Jordan Center go crazy; that’s going to be a crazy feeling.

There are going to be some battles on that mat, in that arena, and I can’t wait to come out on top, because that’s going to be a cool feeling. Rec Hall, I walked into that arena where the wrestlers come out. I looked up toward the ceiling and rafters, the hair on my neck and arms stood up. I was like, “Oh my God, this is cool.”

Being a New Jersey kid, I’m sure Rutgers has a soft spot in your heart, so was it difficult to make a decision to go to Penn State over Rutgers at all?

RH: No. A lot of people, because you live in New Jersey, they think Rutgers is not the be-all end-all, but they want to see the best kids go to Rutgers. People get upset. People are crazy about the sport and, in New Jersey, they love Rutgers. Obviously, people have been pushing me to go there, but it’s just not the place where I felt I could accomplish my goals. My goal is to be a four-time national champion, and the only person that has ever done that is Cael Sanderson. So, if anyone that is going to know how to do it again, it’s Coach Cael.

What would be the most memorable match you’ve had in your career so far?

RH: Last year, state tournament, semifinals against Antonio Mininno, because he beat me in a controversial ride-out match in my freshman year in the state final. It was kind of a boring match, but whatever. My whole sophomore year I wanted to wrestle him so bad because he said he was going to beat the No. 1 kid in the country.

It turned out to be a very exciting and good match. It was a dog fight. We ended up getting into some insane scramble in overtime, and I came out on top. That was probably the part of my wrestling career where I got over the hump of being in the backseat to people. It was definitely one of my favorite wrestling matches.

How was it wrestling in Argentina for the Youth Olympics, and what was that experience like?

RH: It was nothing short of the best experience in my life, not just because I won. I was there two weeks, a week prior and a week after I wrestled. I got to meet so many people from so many different countries. To see all the cultures in one place, it was crazy. I got to see what people from Nicaragua eat, what people from Bolivia eat and what they do for fun and how they act and greet people. It was an awesome place to be. I was just so thankful.

Me winning it, it was just icing on the cake. I tried not to overthink the bracket. I had six people in my bracket and I was like, “Let’s try not to screw this up.” I drew, undoubtedly, the two best kids because I had a kid from Ukraine, who beat me already and placed third at worlds. I had a Japanese kid first, who was second in my worlds’ bracket in Croatia. The Ukrainian kid beat the Japanese kid (in Croatia). On the other side was like Argentina, Algeria and Guam, so I was like I clearly have the better two kids here. I just tried to keep a level head and stay positive. It’s what I did. I ended up tech falling the world’s silver medalist and beating the world’s bronze medalist.

What was it like when you were standing there on the podium and you hear the national anthem being played?

RH: At first, I was really proud of myself, like, finally, we did it. Then, the emotions kicked in, and my eyes stared tearing up. I knew people were going to be taking pictures, so I didn’t want to be crying in the picture. It was really hard to hold back those tears. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I got to see my country’s flag above two other countries, while my national anthem was playing in Argentina. It was like my two disappointments from worlds were over and I’m an Olympic champ. I was so happy.

Now that wrestling season is over, is there any food you’ve indulged in?

RH: My mom makes a lot of pasta. Pasta is probably my favorite thing. It’s probably the most thing I’ve been eating for the last week and a half.

What is your go-to pasta?

RH: Raviolis. The ones with the cheese in the middle and the red sauce.

When you are not competing or practicing, what are you doing for fun?

RH: I’m trying to catch a win on Fortnite, usually. If not, I’m just hanging out. Whenever I get this question, people are thinking I parachute in my free time, but I just kick back and relax.

If you didn’t have the wrestling career that you have, is there another sport you can see yourself competing in?

RH: My height has always been a real problem for anything. Wrestling is one sport that it didn’t really matter. I was playing football for a while and I had to quit because I was getting too small. I never really played another sport. I kind of gave up all my other sports pretty early, like sixth grade, when I decided to just become a wrestler.

Do you have any sports that you follow outside of wrestling?

RH: Yeah, my favorite football team just gave up the best wide receiver and the heart of their defense. I’m a Giants fan. It is a sad day to be a Giants fan. I follow NFL, and I followed college football for a while. I used to follow Notre Dame, but I’ll be switching my colors over to Penn State.

How excited were you when you saw your team draft Saquon Barkley?

RH: Oh, I was so excited! It was one of the best moments of last year. Then, he had the year that he was supposed to have, which was even better. He turned out to be just as good as advertised.

Do you have a go-to song when you are warming up or a set playlist that you warm up to?

RH: It kind of depends on my mood. If I’m feeling a little ramped up or nervous, I’ll put on some rap music, like hard rap, maybe Meek Mill or Drake. If I’m kind of light and I’m just going to have fun in a match, maybe I’ll put on some dance music. It really depends on the situation for me.

Do you have any relationships with any of the guys currently on the roster that pushed you toward that commitment, or is it just Cael being there?

RH: I knew Roman (Bravo-Young). I knew Mark (Hall) a little bit. Once I got there, I got to meet Bo Nickal and the team. It’s really a great thing they got going on over there. The team is really close together. The coaches are really close with their wrestlers. Also, I just know a lot of people that go to Penn State for school. Having that aspect of knowing who is going to be around and I like these people, that also pushed me toward Penn State.

I asked Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks this question, so I have to ask you too: What do you think the feelings will be like when you put that Penn State singlet on for the first time?

RH: I already have dreams about it. I have this scene in my head that before my first match it is hung up in my locker. I look at it for a second, kind of like a superhero outfit. I look at it and then, OK, it’s about to happen. I just feel like when I put it on, it’s going to be a whole new level of confidence. I feel like it’s going to be awesome.

When I walked into Rec Hall, I got goosebumps. To walk out in front of that crowd, have them know who I am and have them behind me, it is going to be crazy. I can’t wait. It’s going to be one of the coolest days that I’m looking forward to in the future.