Sanderson loving Penn State while laying low in Ames

AMES – Cael Sanderson is not done in Iowa just yet.

The former Iowa State wrestling coach has been in and out of Ames since shocking the wrestling world back in April with his decision to go to Penn State.

Sanderson faced a great deal of criticism from Cyclone fans and, to some, will long be an unpopular figure in the state because of his career choice. Vulgar and even threatening emails and letters were written.

One fan, Sanderson said, went as far as to come to his house, ring the doorbell and throw ISU clothing into the house and his wife, Kelly, and 2-year-old son Tate. They now don’t come to the front door when it is someone the family doesn’t know.

To avoid any kind of confrontation, the Sandersons keep a pretty low profile. Cael has shied away from making many public appearances and will continue to do so until ISU summer wrestling camps are over in late July.

“The only problem is that I like to eat (out) a lot,” he said. “I’m not in Ames a great deal. I just do what I have to do. I don’t go out.”

The backlash has died down considerably since Sanderson accepted the new job.

Time has healed those wounds, even more so after Kevin Jackson was hired to take over ISU’s program. Still, the negative reaction has been bothersome to Sanderson and his family, though not a surprise.

“That’s expected. Kelly knew that when we were making the decision,” he said. “I expected people to be upset. I understand. It was emotional for me at first. People care about wrestling and that’s why Iowa State has been so good since the beginning.

“The problem initially was things that were said and rumors about why I was leaving. They just weren’t true.”

Attending last weekend’s World Team Trials in Council Bluffs, Sanderson donned a blue Penn State cap.

Despite living in a hotel room when he’s in State College, Sanderson has enjoyed this busy time organizing the program, securing recruits and getting his current group of wrestlers to buy into what he’s selling.

“Change is exciting,” he said. “It’s been overwhelming a little bit with some of those things. I like the area a lot… It’s going well. People know what’s going on there. They love wrestling.”

It’s hard to say how good a team he’ll field this first year.

The Nittany Lions have a handful of All-Americans returning and will add Cyler Sanderson, who was released from his scholarship at ISU and is planning a transfer to Penn State.                                 

No team members have asked to transfer, Sanderson said. PSU finished 17th at March’s NCAA Championships.

“There’s a lot of potential there,” Sanderson said. “But just like anything, you have to get in there and work hard. They’ve got to feel comfortable with me. I don’t want anyone there who doesn’t want to be there, but those kids all love Penn State.”

Former ISU teammate Joe Heskett will be competing against Sanderson for Big Ten Conference supremacy.

Heskett, who was one of the leading candidates to succeed Sanderson, is an assistant coach at Ohio State. Heskett said he was surprised, but not shocked with his good friend’s decision to leave Ames.

“I think it is good for the sport of wrestling,” Heskett said. “I love the competition. The more the merrier. Having him in the Big Ten is great.” 

How about getting Iowa State on the schedule for a dual meet? In Ames?

“I’m not opposed to it,” Sanderson said. “I don’t have anything to prove or wouldn’t be trying to come in there and do anything.”

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