It wasn’t always Matt Lackman’s dream to wrestle at the highest collegiate level.
“When I was younger I didn’t know how far wrestling would take me,” said the Bethlehem Catholic rising senior. “But as I got into high school and put in the work, and saw lists of top-ranked nationals, I thought, ‘Why not me? Why not go to a Division I program and do something I love after high school for four or five years?’ Then I considered going Division I.”
And why not indeed, as Lackman this week committed to wrestle at Clarion University.
The Golden Eagles, a Division I wrestling program (Division II in all other sports) had a secret weapon to get Lackman on board.
“(Becahi assistant coach Steve) Harner went to Clarion, and when we’d be at tournaments we’d get to talking about things and he’d tell me about guys he went to school with and it sounded really cool,” Lackman said. “Then (former Becahi and Clarion wrestler) Adam Soldridge gave me the coaches’ numbers. I called them and they seemed very interested.”
Lackman took visits to Clarion and Army, and came down on the Golden Eagles’ side.
“West Point is a great place, but it wasn’t for me,” Lackman said. “Clarion seemed like an awesome place to be for academics and wrestling. The team seemed like a bunch of hard-working guys (that includes another area product, North Hunterdon graduate Andrew Gapas, a sophomore) that I am excited to be a part of, and bring Clarion and the Lehigh Valley some success.”
Success and Clarion wrestling hadn’t been mentioned in the same sentence for a while as the program struggled but sixth-year coach Keith Ferraro has brought back team (two .500 seasons back-to-back), individual (six NCAA qualifiers in last two years) and academic (team in the top 10 percent of the Academic Progress Rate report in 2018-19) success to the Golden Eagles.
The path will get harder for Clarion, as the storied Eastern Wrestling League has disbanded and all former members are now competing in the Mid-American Conference.
“I always want to be on a team that looks for the best competition,” said Lackman, noting the MAC includes national powerhouse Missouri. “Missouri has been really competitive with the best teams. I am looking forward to helping bring Clarion’s program back.”
What weight Lackman will take the mat for the Golden Eagles remains uncertain. He went 29-11 as a junior at 138 pounds, but nature cannot be denied.
‘I am still growing, and getting quite bigger,” Lackman said. “I don’t know what weight I will be at for my senior season, and in college, maybe 157, 165, 174, even 184.”
Lackman brings a 53-19 career record to his senior season in a career that has been hampered by injuries.
“Injuries stink but I have to move on past them,” Lackman said. “A lot of my injuries have come at the wrong time like a concussion in the (2019) regional semifinals. I am focused on showing what I can do instead of being defined by injuries.”
Lackman, whose brother, Nate, will wrestle next season at Division III Rhode Island College, has major goals ahead as a senior.
“I want to win Ironman, Beast (of the East), states, anything I can,” he said. “In the past, I think I have made a mistake in letting kids who were very good get into my head too much. I can’t let that happen. I have to focus on wrestling instead of the name of the kid I am wrestling. I take care of business and everything will work out.”