Derrick Booth has returned home to lead the program where he started his collegiate wrestling career: North Idaho College. Booth, a native of Port Falls, Idaho, was named interim head wrestling coach this fall. He was an All-American for North Idaho in 2014 before finishing his competitive wrestling career at Coker College.
Booth spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach at Ellsworth Community College, where he helped the program improve from 26th place in the nation in 2021 to 10th in the nation last season.
MatBoss caught up with Booth and talked to him about how the opportunity at North Idaho College came about, challenges of taking over a program so close to the start of the season, expectations for this season and more.
You were hired as the interim head wrestling coach at North Idaho very close to the start of the season. How did it the opportunity come about for you?
Booth: It's kind of funny the way that it started. I'm an alumnus of North Idaho College. So I've kind of known where the program has stood in the last year with all the changes that have been going on. I coached the last two years at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa. We competed against North Idaho. I was in talks with coaches there about what was going on going on around the program. Then I moved back to the Idaho/Spokane area. Last April, after the national tournament was over, I left my last job and moved back here. When things opened up I kind of just jumped at the opportunity to take over this program. There's no opportunity or coaching job like this in the junior college ranks. The opportunity came and I had to jump at it.
You grew up in Post Falls, Idaho, and then wrestled at North Idaho College. Now you're back as the interim head wrestling coach. What makes North Idaho College a special place?
Booth: There's a lot that goes into that. For me, this is home. It's always been home. Coming back was a really easy choice for me. But North Idaho as a whole, the wrestling program, there's so much tradition here. It's just a great place to live, to go to school, the beauty up here in North Idaho is kind of unmatched, especially in the junior college ranks. I put our campus and our community up there with the best of them.
Obviously, a lot of talent comes through the junior college ranks. Many wrestlers move on to four-year programs and achieve success. Some have even been Division I national champions. In 2014 you were able to become an All-American at the NJCAA Championships at 174 pounds by placing sixth in Spokane, not far from where you grew up. How gratifying was that?
Booth: It feels good to get your name on the wall with the people that came before you. But that was never the goal. Here at North Idaho, my coaching staff and I now call it the Cardinal standard. That standard is national championships. So everything we do, we do to a standard that is going to achieve a national championship. So day in and day out we preach the Cardinal standard. Everything we do is built around achieving that national championship. So falling short of that, obviously, when I was here kind of feeds the fire a little bit. I want to help these guys win national championships. I think it's attainable for many individuals here and us as a team.
You were a member of North Idaho's wrestling team in 2013 when the program won its last national championship team. What do you remember about that season?
Booth: It was a brotherhood. Our team was super close. We brought in guys from all over the country as you normally do in the junior college ranks, but it was just a brotherhood and guys were there to fight for each other. We worked super hard. We were just guys that were willing to go lay it out on the line.
When you were a wrestler on the North Idaho, you competed at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. Obviously, the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational is one of the premier tournaments for Division I wrestlers. What was that experience like competing against top Division I wrestlers?
Booth: That was great. I think it's an eye-opening experience as a junior college wrestler going into the Cliff Keen. You get to see those Division I guys. Those highly recruited, highly ranked guys and kind of see where they are at in comparison to where you are. That's the goal for many junior college athletes, to get to that point of where those guys are. So to kind of test yourself in those waters and see how you stack up, it's a good starting point to teach you where you're at and where you need to get better.
You competed at Coker College. How much of a transition was it going from junior college wrestling to Division II wrestling?
Booth: Division II is pretty tough. A lot of people don't give Division II a whole lot of love. But it's one of those things where you're fighting. You're wrestling a tough match every time you go out. I think sometimes in the junior college ranks every once in a while you get an easy match. Division II was just that next step up. You really have to be ready every time you step on the mat. You have to bring your A game every time because there are no easy matches.
You came on board as the interim head wrestling coach in early October. What kind of challenges has that presented taking over so close to the start of the season?
Booth: There's been a few challenges. I think the big thing is making relationships with these guys. Usually a lot of that is done through the recruiting process. So coming on late and getting to know these guys in such a short time has been kind of a challenge. But on the other hand there's a group of kids in here that have been through some things. I think they wanted some stability here. They are guys that are really willing to work, so they've made my job as the head coach pretty easy. I think the toughest challenge is just creating those personal relationships, getting to know guys. Every guy ticks a little bit different. Everybody responds in different ways.
At 141 pounds, you have a returning All-American in Brant Porter. How is he looking? And what is he capable of accomplishing?
Booth: Man, he looks good. He's coming up in weight from 133 to 141. He looks good. His size is good. His motor is nonstop. He can push it for seven minutes. He's never going to lay off the motor. I'm expecting big things from him. He's a third-year guy. He's one of the leaders on our team. I'm expecting a high podium finish. I think he is too. He's a guy that has national title hopes and aspirations. He's putting in the work that he needs to do to get himself there.
Ryan Graves, Ethan Miller and Lane Reardon transferred from Ellsworth, where you were coaching, to NIC after last season. What's it like being able to coach them again at a different school?
Booth: It's awesome. I knew they were transferring here before I took the job. So coming on board with some familiar faces and guys that I've known, they've really helped me. They know when I'm preaching something. They already know what to do. We're doing new drills. Everything's new to all these other guys. They're kind of those familiar faces that can set the pace and show guys what to do. So it's been a blessing having those guys over here.
Who are some freshmen that you think could make some noise?
Booth: At 125 we have Kobi Johnson out of Colorado. He's a guy that is stepping into the lineup right away. Tough kid. State champ out of Colorado. He's one to watch. At 133 we have two guys kind of fighting for the spot right now. We have a state champ from Iowa named Brandon O'Brien. Then we also have a two-time state champ out of Washington named Zach Lopez. I can envision both those guys standing on the podium at the end of the year. So that's one of those battles in the room. We're going have to find out as the year goes on who earns the spot. Another guy stepping into the lineup is Kana'i Tapia out of Hawaii. He'll be wrestling 149 for us. He was part of the team last year but wrestled two matches and fractured his ankle, so he didn't get to compete most of last year. I'm looking for big things out of him also.
What did you take from your experience as an assistant coach at Ellsworth?
Booth: I learned a lot. I took the job during COVID. When COVID first started everything was shut down. A couple of the big things that I took from there was how to start and create relationships with guys. I think getting to know the guys on a personal level, especially as an assistant coach, was kind of my job. Our head coach was kind of the guy in charge, laying down the law. I was able to build more personal relationships with the guys and work with them on a daily basis. So that was one of the big things I took on. Obviously, learning recruiting coming from high school up to the college ranks, that's kind of how you build your program. Getting out there in the community, making phone calls, talking to kids, talking to coaches and getting your face out there. So recruiting was a big thing I took and learned from my time at Ellsworth.
You only have one home dual meet on the schedule. How much of a challenge is it having to travel so much?
Booth: It's kind of a tough situation. It's kind of the cards we were dealt. Things weren't all finalized and in place, but we see it as an opportunity. Our guys are going to be battle tested. We are road warriors this year. The national tournament is not on our home turf, so we just look at it as a bunch of opportunities to get out on the road and prepare for that national tournament.
What are your expectations for this year's team?
Booth: We can be a top-five team. I think if we peak at the right time and have everything go right, we're definitely going to be up there at the end of the season. There are holes in our lineup right now, but I think come second semester we bring some guys back, some guys from injury some guys from being ineligible. We're looking at a top-five finish at the end of the year.