Wrestling coach shows what it takes to survive


Photo provided by Luke Smith, CSUB head coach

David Mendoza, Staff Writer

As the wrestling season comes to an end, Coach Smith discusses what it is like being a wrestling coach and the many challenges that come with it.  

Before becoming a wrestling coach, Luke Smith, started as a wrestler at the age of 3 years old. The reason he started wrestling at such a young age was because being the youngest out of four brothers, he wanted to learn how to defend himself from his older brothers. They would come home from wrestling practice and they would be ready to grapple.  

“I don’t know where my life would be without wrestling.” Smith said. 

Smith often competed and even when he was not competing, he would travel to see his older brothers wrestle in tournaments. As his wrestling career was coming to an end, he wanted to contribute back to the sport so he took this opportunity to be a coach because he wanted to help other people accomplish their goals. When asked what interested him in coaching wrestling at CSUB, he discussed the relationship that was built between former competitor, CSUB head Coach, Manny Rivera. This was back in 2004 when Smith took on an Olympic red shirt to try to make the world team. He would travel to the University of Michigan to train with Olympic silver medalist Brandon Paulson. Taking an Olympic red shirt means that any wrestler that is qualified to compete in the Olympics is granted by the NCAA a year off during an Olympic season while not using a year of eligibility of school. As they both Smith and Rivera transitioned into coaching they would see each other at different tournaments. Later on, Rivera took the opportunity to be the head coach at CSUB.  

While Coach Smith was a part of the coaching staff at Eastern Michigan he shared how this wrestling team was having success, but unfortunately the program was dropped. This is when Coach Rivera called him to come to CSUB because he thought that he would be a good fit for the program. Smith decided to come to Bakersfield and was glad that he took the opportunity to become an assistant coach at CSUB because it reminded him why he wanted to become a coach and it rekindled his passion for wrestling.  

As a coach, Smith shared that the biggest adversary was not expecting to be the new head coach of CSUB Wrestling Team after former head coach Manny Rivera stepped down. Smith also took on this challenge when COVID hit. The pandemic had a drastic effect on sports and it caused challenges that Smith and his team had to face. Some of the challenges that Coach Smith had to deal with were figuring out whether they were going to have a season, preparing the team while following safety protocols, and not having a guarantee that he would remain as head coach. Smith shares that it was the most stressful year of his life, but he took this challenge head on as he was trying to prove that he was the right man for the job.  

Interested in joining the CSUB wrestling program? Coach Smith shared solid pieces of advice for those who are eager to join. 

This consisted of for the athletes to keep their grades up. Smith says he has seen many great wrestlers, but unfortunately many were unable to compete consistently because of academics. He also shares that there are only 30 spots on the team. So the type of guys he wants on the team are tough, have heart, and have what he calls “Bakersfield grit”. 

This means competing wrestlers need to be scrap, be tough, and leave it all out on the mat. This connects with Coach Smith’s core values. He wants his guys to have a good attitude and show maximum effort, not just in wrestling, but in all areas of their lives. He wants his team to build good habits so that no matter what they do, they put maximum effort so they can be successful after their wrestling career ends. This is the mentality that he wants to instill into each of his wrestlers because the things that they learn while being on the team will set them up for success later in life.  

When asked what his most successful moment as a coach was he shared that it was ironically two days before his lowest moment. When the Eastern Michigan Wrestling team was dropped.  

At Eastern Michigan, Sa’Derian Perry who competed at 141 pounds earned All American honors in the NCAA Championship. This was a story of an underdog as Perry had only begun wrestling at the end of his freshman year of high school. When he started his college career many schools were not recruiting him, but when he came to Eastern Michigan they believed in him and helped him achieve his goals.  

After viewing his team’s overall performance for this season, it is clear to Coach Smith that his team has become better from where they started at the beginning of the season. It was bittersweet as his team did not reach the goals that they wanted at the championships, but with the growth they are showing he is excited to see what the future holds.  

The goals he has for his team next year is to have consistency and to help each wrestler to become the best versions of themselves on and off the mat.