When Manny Rivera stepped on the Cal State Bakersfield campus for the first time as the school’s head wrestling coach in July 2016, he stumbled upon a pleasant surprise.
He knew of CSUB’s Matt Williams and Coleman Hammond — two of the most notable wrestlers he was inheriting — and how dangerous they were on the mat. But he didn’t know about them as people.
It didn’t take long for Rivera to realize he had two fierce competitors and great examples on his team.
“Their training, the way they live their lives, exceeded what I could have expected,” Rivera said. “They’re just good kids and do all the right things.”
Williams and Hammond are CSUB's two top-ranked wrestlers, according to most ranking services. Williams, a 197-pound redshirt senior, was slotted 11th and 13th in the nation in the latest Flowrestling and Trackwrestling reports. Hammond, a 157-pound redshirt senior, was placed 13th in both.
The two set both the tone and the goals for the rest of the team to follow. They’re hoping that turns into a good showing when CSUB heads to San Luis Obispo to take on Northwestern at 5 p.m. on Friday and when it matters most at the end of the year.
“It’s almost hard to measure or quantify,” Rivera said of their importance to the program. “Just when you got two good leaders … they try to do all the right things.
“They're two of our most successful guys and most experienced guys so when our young guys come in and can see those guys doing all the right things, it’s even harder to measure how important that is to our program. We’re very fortunate to have them.”
While Williams exudes a childish exuberance about the sport of wrestling, Hammond complements it with an experienced determination. Together they show by example what they expect from the rest of the team.
Williams approaches nearly every activity he undertakes with the same thought: How is this going to help me become a better wrestler? It’s his championship mentality that translates to a healthier diet and an extra workout instead of a round of video games.
He started out the year 14-0.
“You have to separate yourself in everything you do,” Williams said. “... I know I’m living a better lifestyle than everyone. I’m living like a champ.”
He tries to pull a teammate aside each day to encourage them in a certain aspect of that person’s life, Williams said.
Hammond thinks his teammates view him as the old guy. He’s been married for more than a year and he’s the oldest member of the team, turning 24 in January. He also feels like the old guy, too, he said.
On the second day of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Hammond could barely get out of bed, he said, but managed to win two of his four matches and placed sixth. Williams was the only other Roadrunner to place that day.
He still does everything to the fullest of his ability, trying to win even every practice drill from sprints to the 2.5-mile course the team runs.
“I want these guys to say, ‘Hey, this is someone I want to model my life after,’” Hammond said.
Williams and Hammond share most of the same goals for themselves and the team. They both want individual and team Pac-12 championships. Both have made it to the NCAA Championships before but want to return to Bakersfield as All-Americans and national champions in their final seasons.
It’s a long road that officially started with the team's first meet in November and won’t end until the NCAA Championships in mid-March.
The team has had its ups and downs this season and should have won a few more meets, Rivera said. It needs to be at its best to get to the third day of the national tournament, he added
It helps that the Roadrunners have two top-ranked redshirt seniors leading the way.