Ever since growing up with Castleton University Wrestling Coach Scott Legacy, Castleton Assistant Wrestling Coach Jeff Whitesell knew he was bound for greatness.
Legacy and Whitesell went to the same grade schools and wrestled together all the way through high school. Upon graduation, Legacy and Whitesell left for separate colleges, but that wasn’t the end of their story.
Whitesell eventually moved back to Bennington and his 4-year-old son was interested in learning how to wrestle. Whitesell decided he wanted his son to be coached by the best, so he reconnected with Legacy and helped him coach.
Legacy moved back to Bennington after college and started as the head coach for the wrestling program at Mount Anthony Union High School, basically starting a dying program.
After four years, Mount Anthony won their first of 28 consecutive state championships. Due to this achievement, MaxPreps recently awarded Legacy the title “Greatest High School Coach of All Time from Vermont.”
Despite winning such a giant award, Legacy had an uncommon reaction.
“Very humbled was the first thing I felt, uh a little bit embarrassed because there’s throughout Vermont and the general world there’s a lot of great coaches so that’s basically how I feel. I think there’s a lot of coaches out there worthy of this big title in our state,” he said.
Legacy went on to talk about his experience coaching at Mount Anthony.
“When I started the program, we were in a rebuilding phase right away,” he said. “There was only like 7 or 8 guys on the team and through a lot of perseverance and hard work and surrounding myself with a lot of great coaches, athletes, and with the support of my family we were able to build a very strong tradition there.”
With the success of 28 state championships, Legacy also holds an extremely powerful resume.
While coaching for his 31 years at Mount Anthony, he accumulated an impressive 654 wins, 35 loses, and 2 ties as well as 175 individual Vermont State Champions (a national record for all high school coaches) and 84 All-American wrestlers.
Among these wins, Legacy led Mount Anthony to eight New England Champion teams and eight more that were runners-up.
According to the biography on the Castleton Sports website, Legacy has coached “seven national champions, 28 New England Champions and has had three high school USA Team Members.” Legacy has also coached a wrestler who has gone on to make the USA World Team as well as led over 180 wrestlers to compete at all collegiate levels of wrestling.
From being named the 2014 USA Today National Coach of the Year to an inductee in the New England Wrestling Hall of Fame, Legacy admits that it was never about winning all the awards but merely taking it one step at a time.
“The goal was to eventually win one, and then after you win one you try to win two and then tradition started to take over, kids buying in, community buying in,” Legacy said. “Every group wanted to work as hard as the group before.”
Whitesell was Legacy’s assistant coach at Mount Anthony for 12 years and continued with him at Castleton for the last four years. But after hearing about Legacy’s national award, he knew that Legacy deserved it.
“Having been around the sport as long as I have, to me not even a close call who the best wrestling coach in Vermont’s history has been, with it being Scott,” Whitesell said.
In 2016, Legacy was offered the position at Castleton to do what he did at Mount Anthony; build a program from nothing and create a powerhouse team.
Mitchell LaFlam was one of the wrestlers who started the program with Legacy. During his college career, LaFlam was a four-year varsity starter, three-year team captain, and two-time Academic All-American. He finished his senior year with a total 126 career wins.
LaFlam heard the news at the same time Legacy did. He was sitting in his office talking with him about recruits when Legacy found out.
“It was pretty awesome. I had no doubt that he deserves it and he’s one of the best coaches to ever really coach the sport,” LaFlam said.
LaFlam recognizes that with such a long career as a coach, his accomplishments are truly worth noting.
“He had so much success in Vermont and, you know, to have success is one thing but to have it for so long just shows that you can turn any wrestler into something,” LaFlam said.
LaFlam has returned to Castleton for his MBA and is one of the assistant coaches this year.
Some of his other wrestlers agree.
“I think if I had to choose a word that describes coach Legacy it would be dedication. He’s super dedicated to coaching and everything that comes with it. He really, really works hard at it and puts in everything he has and sacrifices so much for his athletes and he’ll literally do whatever it takes to be successful and for his athletes to be successful,” said Castleton Alumni Max Tempel.
Tempel graduated last May but has returned for a fourth year of eligibility and will be wrestling this spring.
During the last three years wrestling under Legacy, he has achieved over 100 career wins, been a \three-time All Region Wrestler and three-time Academic All-American, and qualified for the NCAA tournament once.
“For one, I wasn’t surprised at all,” said Tempel, when asked how he reacted to the news. “I knew Coach Legacy’s background and his history at Mount Anthony and just of all the things he’s done in our sport, so I really understood the impact and the success he’s had. And then the next thought I had was no one deserves this more than he did for all the hard work he’s put into his athletes.”
But even with this national award, Legacy and his staff know they will not be resting on this.
“He really has brought a program initially in high school that was almost dead into one of the regional national powerhouses and now we’re working on doing that with Castleton now,” Whitesell said.
Associate Dean for Athletics & Recreation Deanna Tyson remembers that when they were looking for a person to hire, they wanted someone who could build Castleton into a great team.
“He did a great job as a high school coach in the state of Vermont and that’s one of the reasons we had asked him to be our head coach here and I just feel he’s continuing his success at the college level. He was very successful very quick here at Castleton,” Tyson said.
From the past four years, Castleton has been ranked in the top 20 college wrestling programs in the nation multiple times and been one of the top programs in their division.
Whitesell added that the only way to achieve what they want for the future is to keep recruiting better athletes for Castleton and he hopes that this award will add to that.
“Hopefully it will really open the eyes of high school talent throughout the country and to realize, ‘hey, Castleton’s fortunate enough to have one of the best wrestling coaches in the nation,’” Whitesell said. “And if you decide to wrestle at Castleton, you’re gonna be wrestling under the tutelage of one of the best there’s ever been.”