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OSU Wrestling: Q&A with Top-Ranked Recruit and OSU Commit AJ Ferrari

Talking with No. 1 recruit and OSU commit AJ Ferrari

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With sports postponed for a while, I reached out to the top-ranked recruit in OSU’s No. 1 recruiting class for 2020, AJ Ferrari. We talked about his training, his injuries, his recovery, his recruiting and much more. Let’s dive in.

SD: With the world pretty much locked down, do you have a workout plan or regimen? How are you handling all of that?

AJ: It’s hard man, but honestly for me it’s been kind of a blessing in disguise. My season got cut short because I had an ankle injury and now I’m coming back. Now that the season is over, I was going to focus on freestyle and now that the Olympic trials and all the qualifiers are postponed, it gives me more time to get back into shape and bulk up to go 97 KG.

What we’ve been doing, and my dad is pretty strict by this, we wake up every day at 9 a.m. and choose what we’ll do for the day. On Monday’s we’ll do a wrestling practice at 9 a.m. and then we’ll eat. Wrestling practice consists of me and D’Angelo working and doing some drills, working on footwork and technique. Then we’ll eat and we’ll do schoolwork, and later in the day we’ll have Bible study and do whatever.

On Tuesdays we usually do a heavy upper body lift in the morning, and then we’ll do a little light jump rope or run later in the day. On Wednesday we’ll do a heavy lower body lift, then we’ll do wrestling practice too … we’re training like four hours a day. On top of that it’s not about how long we train, especially with lifting because you gotta recover.

SD: You mentioned your ankle injury, you had a shoulder injury too right? Could you go over what happened there, where you’re at now, and what your recovery has been?

AJ: My shoulder’s going great, it’s phenomenal!

The shoulder injury happened during the Cadet World Team trials. In my semifinals match I kinda messed it up a little bit, but it had been tweaked for a while. In the finals it was really bugging me a lot, but I just sucked it up and kept wrestling with it. Then I saw a doctor a few weeks after I got home and he was looking at it and feeling it out and said he didn’t think it looked too good.

He didn’t think it wasn’t a good idea to get an MRI because it would be all bad news and thought since I had already made the World Team he said I should just go ahead and wrestle in the World Championships. He didn’t think [it] was going to get any worse because it was fully torn already.

So I went to the Olympic Training Center camp … as I was wrestling live it would get super tight and they would have to put it back in place so I could go back out there and wrestle again. I kept training hard and I sucked it up, and it was really painful. We really didn’t take it that seriously, I don’t know why, I just took two ibuprofen before my matches … my first match was a forfeit, so my next match was actually with the World Champ. I lost 2-0, it was tough, I should’ve taken my shoulder a lot more seriously because I was in a lot of pain. If you watch the match, I was in on a single and in a position to where I’d normally dive and lock it up, but I was in a lot of pain and gave up a push out.

I came back from that and before the next matches I took ibuprofen and got a cortisone shot and came back and took third in the world with a fully torn rotator cuff and about 75 percent of my labrum torn.

SD: What happened with your ankle injury? You recovered from the shoulder and the ankle injury happened? What’s the status on that?

AJ: I was just training and I hurt it. It did not feel good. We were going live and he got in on a single. I tried to turn and kick out and it messed up my ankle and my knee. The knee wasn’t as bad, but it really messed up my ankle. That was in a lot of pain. But it’s going great now. Recovery really wasn’t that long on that.

The crazy thing about the whole situation that most people don’t know is I got hurt, then my coach, he pulled me in my office and was like ‘I know you got hurt, but you don’t want to end your high school career on a bad note and not finishing out and winning your state championship. You should wait to finish the season, then get it fixed.’ 

At the time they were saying with this whole recovery would take 4-6 months after the MRI. Me and my dad, we were thinking about it and it was like, ‘There’s no way’ because if you think about, if I pushed it off, my recovery time would be starting right now (present day, after the high school wrestling season) and would run into my freshman season. I might have to injury redshirt my freshman year (of college).

So that was it, I didn’t do it, I didn’t wrestle. Then my coach goes out and said because I wasn’t wrestling my brother wasn’t going to wrestle. I was like, ‘Is this a joke?!’ So he kicked my brother off the team … It’s just so messed up. The thing that’s messed up is you wouldn’t think that someone I’ve been with for eight years would be like that.

I’ve been with him since I was a kid. This high school stuff … honestly none of that stuff really means that much, it’s cool to talk about and stuff, but I’m trying to be an Olympic gold medalist at the senior level, I’m trying to win World Championships, I’m trying to possibly go into the UFC. I can’t have these injuries holding back my career.

SD: So on that topic of looking forward to the future, what weight are you thinking for a weight in college? 197 or HWT?

AJ: Right now I would say I’m leaning towards 197. My weight fluctuates a lot, it really depends on how much I eat, I’m naturally very lean and long, whenever I work out a lot I can put on a lot of muscle. I got up to around 220, I think the most I hit was around 225 … The only thing is the weight because I’m definitely strong enough and big enough frame-wise (to go heavyweight).

I was talking to the strength and conditioning coach (Gary Calcagno) a couple weeks ago. He was telling me, I’m one of the strongest athletes he’s ever worked with. Right now my max … I’m squatting about 580, benching about 350, and deadlifting about 640 and that’s conventional.

On top of that I can move. My box jump is almost 60 inches, I can jump a 58-inch box. That’s what’s nice. I feel like I can be a NCAA champ at either weight. For me personally, I love working out so much, and I feel like if I go 285 that I’m more than quick enough and strong enough to go at that weight. There’s a lot of guys that have the weight and bulk, but having the reach, and long frame and long arms I can even the playing field with guys who are taller than me.

SD: You are clearly really into fitness. Is that your plan for your major and your career after sports?

AJ: Yeah, that’s what I’ll be doing. My major is going to be exercise science, principals of strength and conditioning. So basically I’ll go into something in the strength and conditioning field. I’ll probably open up my own place involved around Ferrari or ‘Mr. Fast Twitch,’ I’ll probably open up my own training center revolving around the whole lifestyle.

People think you just wake up one day and you’re big and you’re shredded, but it’s a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff that people don’t see. The nutrition, the workouts, then on top of that there’s the psychological stuff, what are you thinking mentally before you compete at a high level? That’s the biggest part, and people don’t understand that. If you’re not there mentally, that’s the biggest part. The biggest thing that separates an athlete from being good and great, is their mental preparation and focusing on the little details. That’s what I’ve found.

From all the coaches I’ve had, a lot of them have taught me a lot about technique and different things, but the biggest one I’ve been taught is it’s simple, it’s not easy but it’s simple and whenever you have that philosophy that I can do this no matter what I go through and that I have the mentality that I’m going to keep attacking it until it happens. You almost feel like you can do anything.

SD: You were the top recruit in the country and had a lot of schools after you. What would you say set OSU apart from the other programs that were recruiting you?

AJ: The whole recruiting process was awesome! Especially for me, I really had a great time. They all had a lot to offer. For me, I personally loved the Big 10 because it’s so big. Going and seeing Ohio State and Penn State, these huge schools that have these huge football programs, it was cool to be in that environment.

The biggest thing with Oklahoma State that set them apart from the other schools though? The thing I feel like is different at Oklahoma State, and many people will tell you this too, is the culture there is like a family. John Smith pulled me to the side and said ‘I know these other schools like Penn State and Ohio State, they’re great and they have a lot to offer you as well… For us it’s a culture here that we love our athletes and we’ll take care of them.’

And we talked about some of their athletes that have gotten injured and how they’ve taken care of them and that showed a lot to me about how John Smith takes care of people. He cares about winning which is obviously important, but he cares about the athletes, he cares about the lifestyle.

For me I’ve always looked up to John Smith out of all the wrestlers, regardless of his accomplishments, obviously he’s a six-time world champ, so I look up to him that way, but it’s what he does off the mat. He’s a strong Christian, he’s in the Italian-American Hall of Fame. I’m an Italian-American too, so I’ve always looked up to him in that way.

And the fact that all the coaches have been there and they’re staying there. For instance, at Nebraska Kendrick Maple was a coach who was probably going to be working with me a lot and he ended up leaving, so it’s good to know that the school you’re joining isn’t having people leave or anything like that.

SD: Everyone knows you’re really close with your family and with going to OSU they’ll only be a few hour drive away. How important is that to you?

AJ: That was huge! It obviously wasn’t the main part, but it’s nice for me to be able to come down here. My mom is a great mom and great cook, she makes phenomenal Italian food, my grandmother too. It’s nice to know I can always travel 3-4 hours and my parents are right here for mental support, for family support, for whatever I’m going through. I realize that college is hard, especially with the goals that I want to accomplish. I want to be a four-time NCAA champion, and I don’t say that lightly, I take that seriously. For me it’s more than just doing the work, it’s making sure I’m on the right path spiritually, and making sure that I’m strong with the people that are on the same goals as me and on that same path with me.

That’s why Oklahoma State was so great. Now whenever I go to all my duals at Oklahoma State all my cousins, my brothers, they’re only going to be 3-4 hours away and can come watch me, which is great.

SD: You have two brothers that are pretty tough. Was it a family decision for you to come here that they were a part of and do they plan to come here too or will they still look at other schools?

AJ: Obviously for them, they’re still uncommitted and I don’t want to disrupt their journey or recruiting process. They haven’t decided yet, so I can only speak for me. I know that Anthony is a big fan of Oklahoma State as well, but I also know he has his eyes on a lot of other schools.

All I know is, yes, that was a lot of it. Not only looking at this as an opportunity for me, but also potentially for my brothers to go there in the future. But yeah, Oklahoma State is going to have to recruit them just as hard as they recruited me.

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