Innis takes over as head of Prep wrestling team

Brian Innis had an inkling that the inevitable was going to happen, that long-time St. Peter’s Prep head wrestling coach Anthony Verdi was going to step aside because of family commitments.
“I knew that his kids were getting older and it had become more of a hassle for him,” said Innis, who spent the last nine years as an assistant to Verdi with the Marauders. “I think for the kids’ sake, with Verdi stepping down, it made the most sense for me to take over.”
Especially since Innis was already a history teacher at the school. (He also happens to be the older brother of former Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year Kevin Innis, who finished second in the state as a senior at Prep and went on to wrestle at Boston University.)
“Everything was in place,” Innis said. “The rest of the staff stayed on. It was going to be challenging for them to be in the school during the day. I’m already here. I’ve become like an adopted Prep alumni since I coach and teach here. Everything just sort of worked out. We still have the same sense of continuity. I like the kids and the kids seem to like me. They certainly know me.”
Added Innis, “The culture of the program hasn’t changed. There hasn’t been a dramatic change that you might have with a new head coach. That’s been a big help for the kids.”
What has also helped is that Innis’ brother, with his college days at Boston University over, has returned to Grand and Warren to serve as a volunteer assistant. And since Kevin Innis was a competitive wrestler just last year, he can get on the mat and work hands on with the wrestlers, especially the upper weights.
“It helps when you have coaches who get on the mat,” Innis said. “To have a coach who is fresh out of college who can push them. It really does help. I think everyone on our coaching staff does an excellent job.”
Brian Innis was asked if he’s getting used to having the responsibilities of being a head coach. At age 27, it can be a daunting task, especially at a private school like St. Peter’s.
“I’m still transitioning into the role of being the head coach,” Brian Innis said. “For the most part, I’m dealing with things when the situation arises. It’s an entirely different position for me to be in.”
Innis has inherited a team with some veteran talent and some promising youth.
At 106 pounds, sophomore Michael Kelly returns. Kelly was the mainstay at that weight last season right up until the District 16 tournament, when he lost to his teammate in a wrestle-off and lost his spot in the lineup.
“He’s a full 106 pounds this season,” Innis said. “He worked a tremendous amount in the offseason. He wrestles all year round.”
It paid off, because Kelly finished third at the prestigious Beast of the East tournament in Delaware a few weeks ago.
“It’s a testament to the kid’s work ethic and mindset,” Innis said of Kelly.
The team’s 113-pounder is senior Mike Simonetti, one of the team’s captains.
“He’s a good team leader,” Innis said of Simonetti. “He’s a scrambler.”
The 120-pounder is freshman Tom Kellner, whose older brothers James and Stephen were fine wrestlers at the Prep.
“Every time he steps on to the mat, he keeps getting better and better,” Innis said of the young Kellner. “He works his tail off.”
The 126-pound duties are being shared by freshman Nat Forget (pronounced FOUR-JAY) and junior Ian Hartnett.
The Marauders’ 132-pounder is the team’s best chance to earn a state championship, much like Christian Colucci did last year.
Senior Alec Kelly, the older brother of Michael, is the team’s 132-pounder. The elder Kelly already has more than 100 victories and is on track to become the school’s all-time leader in victories later this season. Kelly placed third in the state in each of the last two seasons.
“He has his sights set for standing on the top of the podium [at the state championships in Atlantic City],” Innis said. “He’s had that goal since he was a freshman. By the intensity with which he wrestles, I think he’s going to find himself high on the podium.”
Junior Nick Santos is the team’s 138-pounder. Santos is another team captain.
“He’s such an intense kid that others follow him,” Innis said. “He tears it up on the mat.”
Santos made it to the finals of the Beast of the East.
Matt Russo is the team’s 145-pounder. The junior started this season at 132 pounds, but moved up to 145 pounds in order to stay healthy and strong.
“Pound for pound, he may be our strongest kid,” Innis said of Russo.
The 152-pound duties are shared by Rich Aldarondo and Justin Montanez. Aldarondo is a senior, Montanez a junior. Kevin Millad is a senior at 160 pounds.
Niccolo Colucci, the younger brother of state champion Christian, is the team’s 171-pounder. He’s the third brother to wrestle at Prep.
“He’s going to be very good,” Innis said.
Senior Quinn Canderlaria is the 189-pounder and sophomore Zach Lewis is the 195-pounder. The Marauders don’t have a 220-pounder, although freshman Max Contreras may slide into that slot later in the season after he gets down to that weight.
The heavyweight duties are being shared by Andrew Chivrazzi, a sophomore, and Andrew Marrero, a freshman.
As you can see, the Marauders are solid in the lower and middle weights and need some experience in the upper weights. It will keep the younger Innis brother on his toes, working hard with the heavier Marauders.
Innis received his first two wins in thrilling fashion. The Marauders defeated Bound Brook by a single point for Innis’ first win. The team’s second win came against state-ranked Brick Memorial. The result? By a single point.
“They gave me a heart attack with the second one, but they did what they were supposed to do,” Innis said.
The Marauders have some challenges upcoming, facing Clifton and West Orange, then Queen of Peace next week.
“We have a good team,” Innis said. “It’s going to take some time for some of them to get better.”
But count on the Marauders being a major factor in the county duals, in the District 16 championships and then the regions and state championships.

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