As my collegiate wrestling career came to a close due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I can’t help but smile when I reflect on my time here at Purdue.
Sure, this wasn’t the ending any of us envisioned, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t be more grateful for the experiences and memories I’ve made here as a Boilermaker. Both on and off the mat.
It’s hard to put my appreciation for the opportunities this program and school have given me into words.
They always supported and believed in me, eventually even pushing me to a point where I made it into the history books my final year.
While I didn’t get the chance to compete for a national title my senior season, nothing can take away my gratitude, accomplishments, memories, and friendships I’ve formed over these past four years.
And nothing ever will.
Long before competing on a college wrestling mat, I was getting thrown around by my brothers as a kid.
Growing up, I had a neighbor that was pretty much like an older brother to me and my older brother.
Those two were the first ones that got into wrestling, and I had no other choice but to follow in their footsteps.
It was either that or spending the rest of my life getting tossed around like a rag doll.
I needed a way to equalize things and gain some respect around the house.
So my wrestling journey started on a whim to get even before turning into a full-fledged passion for me.
By the time I was 12 years old, I was already at the point where I was doing better than my brothers.
I remember my first time going into the wrestling room. You push yourself so hard in one of the most prideful sports in existence. If you lose a match, the weight of that defeat falls solely on your shoulders. If you win, however, a large chunk of the glory goes to you. It’s such an emotional sport. One of the many reasons I absolutely love it.
I remember being so overwhelmed with emotion after my first practice. What more do you expect from a 12-year-old that didn’t have a clue of what he was doing?
All I know is things changed forever after that moment.
The sport taught me many things, and it just keeps giving back.
Not long after my introduction to wrestling, I started to think about the possibility of continuing my journey on the big stage—an NCAA Division I school in the Big Ten Conference; the premier wrestling conference in the country.
It was the tallest mountain to climb, and I was determined to one day reach high enough to see the summit of that dream.
So I started to climb.
I continued to ascend the high school ranks to the point where colleges were starting to pay attention. One of my coaches wrestled at Purdue and knew former head coach Scott Hinkel, who helped get me started in my recruiting process as a junior.
Purdue was a team I clicked with since my very first visit.
I felt incredibly comfortable around the guys on the roster and the coaches, which was a really important aspect for me that eventually sealed the deal for me.
Purdue was going to be my new home away from home.
And man, I couldn’t have made a better choice.
I’ll be the first to admit the transition from high school to college wrestling was quite challenging, particularly in my freshman year. I had a tough time wrestling at open tournaments, and I also missed some time after undergoing a knee surgery.
To top it all off, I had issues with my weight. Those problems actually stretched on throughout my first two years in college.
My efforts to shed more weight in hopes of having an advantage never worked out in my favor.
It actually wasn’t until I made the decision to move up to 174 pounds that my career really started to take off.
I felt bigger, stronger, and faster. It was the turning point in my collegiate wrestling career, and it started to show with me racking up more wins.
Success is sometimes found just outside of your comfort zone, and I was willing to do whatever it took to put myself and my team in the best possible position to succeed.
I wasn’t necessarily the most talented wrestler coming out of high school, but I bought into the philosophy that doing the little things would eventually pay off.
It also helped tremendously to have a roster full of great and talented teammates in the practice room to push me to be better.
In my final year, I really feel like the sky was the limit for us. We all clicked incredibly well and pushed each other to new heights. It was so much fun.
Personally, I closed out my last year with the third-best single-season win percentage in the history of the Purdue wrestling program, and even earned All-American honors.
Looking back at the early struggles in my collegiate career, I’m very proud of how far I’ve come.
Unfortunately, we never got the chance to see how far we could really go this final season as a team as it all came to an abrupt end.
A former teammate of mine texted me the news long before I was officially informed of the NCAA’s decision.
I was completely confused by the text.
Nothing had been released yet, and we were still waiting to hear from the team. That’s when Coach Ersland called a team meeting to tell us our season was over.
I was crushed.
A snap of a finger and my collegiate wrestling career was done.
There was an invisible weight on the shoulders of everyone in the room. You could see the shock and disappointment in everyone’s body language.
But you know what helped us all tremendously?! We knew that we were all in this together. We had formed such close bonds over the past couple of years and despite the unfortunate ending, nothing could take that away from us.
We’ve made a lifetime of memories together, and it’s a chapter that will live with me forever.
I haven’t made the decision on whether or not to retire from competition yet. The opportunity to compete with USA Wrestling sounds intriguing enough for me to hold onto the singlet and headgear for at least a little while longer.
But first on the itinerary is marrying the love of my life, a former Purdue student-athlete herself, and finishing my master’s degree in recreation and sports management.
Purdue gave me more than I could have ever imagined—an opportunity to hone my craft at the highest level, an education, and a fiancé.
And for all of that, I’ll be forever grateful.
Thank you, Purdue.