Jacob Ruettiger may be Moline’s third wrestling coach in four years, but many still believe the Maroons should claim their fifth straight Western Big Six title. The Maroons are even ranked No. 23 in Class 3A by Illinois Best Weekly.
That’s the situation Ruettiger stepped into when he was named head coach at Moline last April after Nathan Cross stepped down to return to helping run a family business in Colorado.
So far, so good for Ruettiger, who was an assistant at Alleman last year and at Moline the two years before that.
“The kids have been very receptive,” said Ruettiger, who teaches special education at Moline High School. “We started to build a little bit of a bond, a family atmosphere.”
That began with Ruettiger being involved with the Maroons in the off-season.
“He came in during the off-season and introduced himself,” said Ellex Williams, a senior returning starter expected to wrestle at 120 this season. “As the season began, it wasn’t like he was a new coach. We already knew him.”
Williams and junior returning starter Jayden Terronez, who likely will wrestle at 152 pounds, do like how practice has gone the first few weeks.
“Great, he’s doing a real good job of working us hard," Terronez said. "If we fall behind, we own up for it. We have to pay for it.”
“I am loving it,” Williams said. "He’s pushing it. He’s taking the program to a whole other level and making sure we work as a team and not as individuals.”
Both wrestlers are plenty optimistic entering the season.
“We shoot for the top," Terronez said. "We want to win a state title. You have to set your goals high.
"I think we are going to do well this year.”
Ruettiger sees plenty of parity in the conference even with Moline returning eight full-time starters and another who started several meets.
The Maroons have five sectional qualifiers back — Williams (30-19 at 113 last year), Isaac Martinez (28-17 at 120), Grant Ohlsen (30-12 at 138), Jayden Terronez (33-14 at 145) and Hunter Henning (27-17 at 195). Most are wrestling up one weight class this year.
Other returnees are Isaiah Tapia (27-10 at 106 last year), who's ranked No. 6 in 3A by Illinois Best Weekly, Zach Wallace (15-22 at 220) and Cobie Underwood (10-8 at 285).
Ruettiger clearly likes the make-up of his squad.
“They have a lot of drive, a lot of passion,” Ruettiger said. “They weren’t satisfied with taking third at the regionals last year. They want to do better.”
Ruettiger knows some of the kids from his earlier tenure.
“Having the background with the kids definitely does help,” he said.
As for pressure he might experience as a first-year head coach at such a vaunted program, Ruettiger said he doesn’t feel it.
“I just want the kids to go out and compete every time,” he said. “Don’t settle for an off-day. Always make sure you are better than the day before.”
Ruettiger knows Alleman is improved because of talented senior leadership and an influx of freshmen talent. He also believes Rock Island is tough and sees Galesburg as more formidable and UT as getting better and better.
“I think it will be a lot closer than it has been the last couple of years,” he said. “We’ve got everybody who is going to try and take us off the Big Six."
Ruettiger sees stepping into Moline's powerful tradition as more motivation. That tradition features one state team wrestling title, plus a second, third and a fourth as well as 13 Western Big Six titles in 15 years under Todd Rosenthal.
“Just using that as motivation and continuing the successes and continuing to build on the tradition that was already in place,” Ruettiger said.
It’s clear, though, that the new coach wants to add to it.
“My goal is to get multiple people down to state,” Ruettiger said, “and come home with some hardware.”