Q&A with MAC Wrestler of the Week Tyler Buckwalter

Fifth+year+senior+Tyler+Buckwalter+wrestles+Jordan+Atienza+of+CMU+in+the+MACC+on+Sunday+Feb.+14%2C+2016.+Buckwalter+won+11-9.+Kent+beat+CMU+18-17.

Fifth year senior Tyler Buckwalter wrestles Jordan Atienza of CMU in the MACC on Sunday Feb. 14, 2016. Buckwalter won 11-9. Kent beat CMU 18-17.

Dan Armelli

Kent State wrestling’s 165-pound, fifth-year senior Tyler Buckwalter is looking to bring a national bid to his team.

With his last two wins against ranked opponents in a tri-meet against Central Michigan University and Edinboro University, he helped his case. The wins in duals that were decided by one and three points, respectively, earned him MAC Wrestler of the Week last week.

Buckwalter became the fourth different Kent State wrestler to win the award this season, along with fifth-year senior Mike DePalma, fifth-year senior Ian Miller, and redshirt-freshman Kyle Conel.

Buckwalter finished the season 14-4 in dual meets and at 165 pounds, is the No. 29 wrestler in the country.

While the team prepares for the MAC Tournament, which runs March 5-6, the Stater spoke with Buckwalter about his success, past Kent State teams and becoming a teacher.

You’re from the middle of Pennsylvania. How did you end up choosing Kent State?

I guess the connection when (coach Josh Moore) was still here. His twin brother was coaching at Lock Haven, which is the town I’m from. I don’t know if they got to talking.

Coach Moore recruited a lot of PA guys when he was here. He called me and started talking to me, and then I came on a visit here. I just loved it, and I decided to come here.

It was between here and Lock Haven.

Your first year here was with guys like Dustin Kilgore, Nic Bedelyon, Tyler Small and Brendan Barlow. What was it like to be in the wrestling room that first year with guys like them?

It was awesome. I think it was definitely eye opening. I came from a high school where we won a state championship my junior year. We had some Division-1 wrestlers in there.

But when I came here it was like everyone was good. It’s funny, sometimes you’re tired at the end of practice and look around for that guy you can beat up on and you look around and it’s like, “I don’t know who to go to, all these guys are amazing.” That just makes you better because it pushes you. I remember wrestling a lot with Ross Tice. He was a fifth-year senior when I was a freshman. I would practice with him a lot, and he made me a lot better that year.

That team sent seven wrestlers to nationals and finished ranked 13th. Do you see any parallels between that team and this year’s team?

I think there are. There were a lot of fifth-year seniors on that team too, a lot of older guys that have been around. They had a really good year. Our recruiting class was a bigger recruiting class and we learned from them. I think we’re doing the same things they were doing in their fifth year. Then there are a bunch of younger guys who are doing really well, like (redshirt freshman 157-pounder Casey Sparkman), who are stepping up.

They’re ready to fill in whenever we leave. I think that cycle is kind of how it works, and it’s a good cycle to keep going.

You spent your first couple years wrestling in opens before wrestling in MAC duals in your third year. What were some of the growing pains you had to overcome during those first few years?

I think the first two years are hard, especially your redshirt year. You have to travel on your own. You have to pay for everything yourself. At times it feels like you’re not as a part of the team. But it’s good because you get a lot of matches. I wrestled 40-some matches my redshirt year. That just makes you better. It’s tough at first. But I think the other thing you have to adjust to is that longer season from high school to college. Those first couple years that season just felt really long, but you just get used to it.

You’ve won many MAC academic awards and are on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee. Where does that pride in being a good scholar as well as athlete come from?

I think that just comes mostly from how I was raised. My parents are both teachers. They put a lot of emphasis on my grades when I was in high school. Then I sort of took it over for myself. When I came here I wanted to keep my grades really high. I’m in a health and physical education major where there aren’t a ton of jobs out there. I knew in order to make myself more marketable, I had to do everything that I can while I was here to get the best opportunity to get a job after I leave. It was just thinking ahead. I got involved in a lot of things so I can get a lot of different experiences that make me a better teacher some day.

You mentioned you want to go into teaching. Did that come from your parents and did they ever kind of try to talk you out of that just because it’s so competitive and the pay might not be as great?

(My dad is) a health and (physical education) teacher. I’ve always wanted to do this since I was young. They sort of tried at first to lead me away from it just because of that. There aren’t a lot of jobs, and you don’t make a ton of money or anything. But it’s never been about that for me. They enjoy what they do. I always liked the lifestyle that we were able to have as a family. They were always around during the summer when we wouldn’t have school. When we had a day off from school, they had a day off from school. We were a really close family. I think that just comes from the fact that we were on similar schedules. I think the lifestyle of the teacher is something that I want to do. They were really involved in my life and that’s what I want to be in my kids’ lives too.

What was your reaction when you found out you were MAC wrestler of the week?

I didn’t really know about it until somebody told me. I’m not a big social media guy so I don’t really see that stuff a lot. I was surprised. I was obviously grateful that they named me the MAC Wrestler of the Week. It was an honor. But ultimately, I still have things I want to accomplish this year.

Going into that week against Central Michigan and Edinboro, did you put extra pressure on yourself since you knew you guys would have to be on your game with Ian Miller and Mack McGuire out?

Without those two in the lineup, that’s a huge difference. A lot of us seniors knew that we had to step up and win matches. (Coach Jim Andrassy) told me before the match, “These matches could come down to you. If you win, we might win. If you lose, we might lose.” It’s not that he wanted to put more pressure on me. He was trying to motivate me. I was really motivated not only for myself but for my team. It was my last time wrestling in the M.A.C. Center so it was good to get some team wins.

You beat two ranked guys that week. But you yourself are ranked. Is that something that you pay attention to at all or put any stock in?

I think the biggest thing that I wanted to accomplish was to bring a national bid to our MAC Tournament in a couple weeks. I knew if I beat those two guys who were ranked, I would have a decent shot of doing that. I didn’t want to lose to one of them because then maybe I lose my spot. I wanted to bring that national bid. That’s the only thing that I would put into (the rankings). I just go out and wrestle each match the same, whether it’s the No. 5 guy in the country or somebody that hasn’t won a match.

You’ve had a steady growth throughout your career and have been able to break out this year. From the beginning of this season to now, have your goals or expectations changed at all?

No, I don’t think so. I came into this year believing that I could be a national qualifier and ultimately have a chance at getting on the podium once I get there. I had some hiccups throughout the year where I didn’t wrestle great. But my expectations never really changed. I’ve just got to think highly of myself. You don’t want to show that, but you want to think it.

Dan Armelli is a sports reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]