The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


December 30, 2013

Rizzo transfers to Pitt, joins wrestling squad

JOHNSTOWN — The last time John Rizzo wrestled a competitive match it was at Pitt’s Fitzgerald Field House.

The next time he does, it could very well be in the same venue.

Rizzo, a three-time PIAA champion from Richland who spent last semester on the Temple football team, has transferred to Pitt, where he will wrestle for coach Jason Peters.

At this point, Rizzo isn’t sure if he’ll be able to break into the lineup for the No. 12 Panthers. Pitt’s P.J. Tasser, although undersized for the 285-pound weight class, is 7-2 this season. The redshirt senior was a national qualifier in 2012 after bumping all the way up from 184 pounds.

Four days into his return to the wrestling mat, Rizzo isn’t worried about his competition for a spot in the lineup

“The thing I really stress right now is competing against myself,” he said  in a telephone interview from Pittsburgh. “I just want to work as hard as I can.”

As a member of the Temple football team, Rizzo stayed in shape, but the training needed for the two sports is much different.

“My goal is to wrestle, but that’s in the future,” he said. “Right now, I have to get my legs underneath me and get ready to go. Right now, I couldn’t survive a whole match or survive a tournament.”

Coming out of high school in 2012, Rizzo was one of the top-ranked 220-pound wrestlers in the country, but he opted for a full scholarship to play football at Temple instead. He didn’t enroll at Temple until January 2013 and spent his redshirt season as a fullback/linebacker for the Owls.

“I was there for a whole year and felt like I had a good taste for it,” he said. “I didn’t mind it, but I missed wrestling.”

Rizzo said that Temple coach Matt Rhule was supportive of his decision to seek a transfer and that he started looking at other schools in the fall. He checked out Pitt and Penn State, which is the three-time defending national champion, as well as the Naval Academy, which his older brother attended.

He said that Penn State was attractive, but coach Cael Sanderson was limited in what he could offer Rizzo in terms of a scholarship. Peters, who is in his first season as head coach of the Panthers, faced no such problems and was looking for a heavyweight.

If Rizzo had waited until after this season to join a team, he might have had more options, but in the end, he said he loved Pitt’s urban setting and is impressed with the program that Peters is building there.

“Why would I leave Pa. when Pa. is the biggest wrestling state in the country and the best wrestling state in the country?” Rizzo said.

If Rizzo can break into the lineup this season, he would be eligible to compete in Pitt’s first Atlantic Coast Conference appearance and, should he qualify, the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma in March. Even if he doesn’t get any mat time with the Panthers this season, he’ll likely only have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

But he isn’t looking back on his decision to try his hand at football.

“I don’t regret my decision,” Rizzo said. “I played football for a year. I’m happy I did. I’m not going to waste time thinking about what might have been.”

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