Paying it forward
Fehlman’s wrestling journey continues at Appalachian State
By JON SITLER
Level after level after level.
All along the way, coaches have helped D.J. Fehlman ascend to the next level in the sport he loves.
From Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling (PJW) state champion to District 10 champion and state medalist en route to Warren Area High School’s all-time wins leader to Division I Lock Haven University where he won over 100 matches…
“Each coach at every stage gave me enough skill to get to the next level so I couldn’t say one over the other but Glenn Baldensperger, Scott Moore, and my dad had large impacts for sure,” said Fehlman.
D.J.’s father, David Fehlman, was a state champion wrestler at Youngsville High School, and had a taste of DI himself at Clarion University.
But D.J.’s journey continues… from wrestler to coach.
“And so begins the journey with the black and yellow. So excited to be a part of App State Wrestling,” Fehlman announced on his Facebook page this week.
This month, App State, a DI program in Boone, N.C., named Fehlman a volunteer assistant coach for the Mountaineers, according to appstatesports.com.
Fehlman wrapped up his Lock Haven career earlier this year as a three-time NCAA qualifier who was named an NWCA Division I Scholar All-American. He went 113-44 at Lock Haven, made the round of 16 at the NCAAs in 2019, and had several high-level matchups at 133 pounds with App State national qualifier Codi Russell.
Fehlman qualified for the NCAAs as a redshirt senior, redshirt junior and redshirt freshman. He also won the Lock Haven’s “Sportsmanship Award” in 2020.
He already loves his new gig.
“Zero coaching experience, but I am learning quickly and taking in everything I can with this first experience,” said Fehlman. “And, yes, having done this dance mentally, physically, and emotionally for five years, I think that it allows me to guide these guys through the college wrestling roller coaster. And I love everything about it so far and we aren’t even competing yet. I think once some of my guys start to have success, I’ll be hooked.”
Like he was on the sport itself.
“As far as past coaches go, I definitely wouldn’t be the wrestler I am today without the wisdom and compassion of the late Dean Johnson, my junior high coach,” said Fehlman. “He kept wrestling fun and his humor got me through a lot of the early road bumps in my wrestling. My earliest wrestling memory is playing ‘steal the bacon’ in the old Warren (Area High School) wrestling room basement, where the coach would call a number and if that was yours, you and another guy on the other wall would run at a towel wrapped in tape and try to get it back to your side. It would always turn into a tug-of-war wrestling match. I think why I had so much success was that I never got burnt out and was always excited to wrestle and never felt like I had to do it. It’s kind of like trying to read all the books in the library. If you are truly a student of the sport, you can never be done learning.”
He already sounds like a coach.
“Coaching or continuing to wrestle were my only ways to continue to stay in this amazing sport that has shaped me to who I am today,” said Fehlman. “I think my personality and ability to relate to these athletes has helped me pick the coaching route and to stay with athletes at the Division I level. My wife and I also enjoy the college town setting and so I reached out to my coach at the time, Scott Moore, and he was able to reach out to some coaches and one of them that got back to him was App State. I stopped by on my way through North Carolina after a vacation and we met and made an instant connection. After talking with some other colleges, this was the best opportunity for me, so I jumped on it and am extremely happy with my decision. Boone, North Carolina, is a special place and I am already enjoying my role down here and think I add a lot of value.
“My duties are going to be wrestling with the lightweights, running events, running the youth club, and different aspects of recruiting,” said Fehlman. “The goal is to climb the college coaching ranks and someday run my own program. For now, my home and family are the wrestlers and coaches at Appalachian State.”
He’s got a lot to share, and says he still has a lot to learn.
“Each of my life stages of wrestling had their own ups and downs,” said Fehlman. “At the PJW level, I won states as a 12-year-old, but after that I never got back to the top of the podium and that kept me hungry into high school. Each high school season I was able to improve a little every year, always finishing higher than the year before, but never reached the peak of being a state champ and finished fourth, which kept the hunger rolling into college where I was finally able to train all year-round and really saw my ability of wrestling go to the next level. Again, in college, I had success and was still getting better every year and never was able to get all the way to the top, which has propelled me into another cycle of learning and growing in the sport and now just giving back a little of the knowledge that I’ve gained. I’m still not burnt out and have so much more to learn.”