Senior wrestler aims to win national championship


Senior wrestler Dustin Kilgore is the first Kent State wrestler to reach 100 career victories during his junior season. He is now in 3rd place among Kent State’s career winners. Photo by Sam Verbulecz

A.J. Atkinson

Dustin Kilgore is a bundle of energy. He likes to make people laugh in practice. You might even say he goofs off.

His coach calls him bull-headed. He calls himself selfish.

And he may be the best wrestler Kent State has ever had. This weekend, he has a legitimate chance at winning Kent State’s first national championship in any sport as he wrestles in the a NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia.

Other Kent State Wrestlers

Senior Nic Bedelyon (125), freshman Tyler Small (133), senior Matt Cathell (157), senior Ross Tice (165) and senior Brendan Barlow (285) join Dustin Kilgore (197) in the NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia, March 17-19.

Bedelyon makes his third NCAA Tournament appearance this weekend. Bedelyon is ranked sixth after posting a 20-3 record this season and will face Princeton University’s Garrett Frey on Thursday.

Small recorded a 16-13 record his freshman season and faces Oklahoma State University’s Jordan Oliver, ranked first in the nation at 133.

Tice makes his second appearance in the tournament to face West Virginia University’s Donald Jones. Tice posted a 24-11 record this season.

Cathell (14-5) makes his first appearance in the national tournament representing Kent State, and third appearance overall. He matches up against No. 5 Jesse Dong of Virginia Tech in the opening round.

Kilgore (31-2) enters the tournament ranked fourth in the nation. In his third NCAA tournament, Kilgore begins against the University of Missouri’s Brent Haynes. On the same bracket as Kilgore is the No. 1 seed Cam Simaz of Cornell University. Kilgore defeated Simaz 10-9 in the finals of the Body Bar Invitational in November.

Barlow makes his second NCAA appearance and opens against the University of Pittsburgh’s Ryan Tomei. Tomei defeated Barlow in December in the two’s only match against one another, 6-5.

The Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, hosts the NCAA Tournament, beginning at 11 a.m. Thursday with the finals scheduled to begin Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday’s action will be broadcasted on ESPNU, while ESPN will cover Saturday’s finals.

“Sometimes he’s just yelling and screaming and trying to be the center of attention,” Kent State coach Jim Andrassy said. “He wants other guys around him to have fun. His personality is very outgoing. He’s very fun-hearted. He’s like a sixth grader in a 25-year-old’s body.

“Sometimes as a coach, you want him to be more serious,” Andrassy said. “I don’t want to change those things about him because all of a sudden you make him more serious, it could put more pressure on him and make things more nerve-racking for him. You start taking this too seriously, it can wear on you, and it can affect how you perform.”

Changing Kilgore’s performance is something Andrassy has obvious reasons to avoid. In his junior season, the 197-pounder has a 31-2 record and is one win away from Danny Mitcheff’s record for the most career wins in school history.

“It’s a good feeling being able to almost have the most wins at the school, especially because the program has existed for so long,” Kilgore said. “But until I get a national title, I’m always going to feel that emptiness inside. You keep working harder and harder until you achieve it.”

Kilgore said his high energy and goofiness helps him deal with the stress of wrestling.

“A lot of people deal with stress in their own way,” Kilgore said. “For me, I’m happy all the time, and I don’t pile all this stress on myself all the time. If something is going wrong with school, it’s only going to hurt your wrestling. The best way to go about that is to be an energetic person.”

And energetic he is. One day last week as the wrestlers ran laps around the room, dripping in sweat and trying to catch their breath, Kilgore bounded along, smiling and yelling as he teased teammates about them still having to cut weight. Kilgore is enjoying the extra energy he has from bumping up to 197 this year, a natural weight for him.

“He’s always teasing me about cutting weight because he doesn’t have to,” senior Nic Bedelyon in the 125-weight class said. “He picks on the little guys, so we gang up on him.”

Andrassy said he has never seen anyone like Kilgore before, and Andrassy has coached seven of the top 10 wrestlers in Kent State history.

“His talent level is way above anyone I’ve ever coached,” Andrassy said. “His will to win is one I have never seen. His work ethic is far beyond.”

But unlike other top athletes who lead the rest of the team, Kilgore does not feel responsible for anyone but himself.

“He’s very selfish,” Andrassy said. “In the sport of wrestling, you have to be selfish to win. He knows what he wants to accomplish. He’s just really, really focused on accomplishing what his goals are: to become a national champ.”

Dustin’s dad talks about his wrestling dreams

At the age of five, Dustin Kilgore planned to try, among other sports, wrestling and baseball. Wrestling came first. It was the first and last sport he ever tried.

“I knew right then that that was it,” Kilgore said. “It’s been a passion to this day.”

Kilgore’s life centered around wrestling from that point on. Kevin Kilgore, Dustin’s dad, said they spent countless hours wrestling each other and driving to tournaments all over the country together.

“I ran him to tournaments in Oklahoma, Michigan, Tennessee, Eastern Seaboard and all around,” Kevin said. “We would practice five to six, sometimes seven days a week between wrestling clubs. We were that intense. Dustin and I both had the same passion.”

Kevin takes pride in his son’s success.

“He’s in your face, gets the job done and keeps scoring,” Kevin said. “That’s how I brought him up. He never quits wrestling, he always keep pushing the match to total exhaustion. He’s such a fighter within.

“He just excels with his passions and dreams. He has trophies that line a whole wall from top to bottom. All the ribbons and medallions and certificates he’s gotten — it’s pretty neat to watch.”

The two stay connected, calling each other every other day just to talk.

“I’d like to see you atop the podium,” Kevin says to his son. “I wish you the best of luck. You have a solid bunch of people behind you who are watching and wish the best for you.”

Kilgore said being a leader has never concerned him.

“I’ve always looked at wrestling as being an individual sport,” Kilgore said. “It may sound selfish at times, but it’s you putting in the time and doing everything. No one else is doing it for you. I’m too much of a funny guy to be a leader. I like to mess around. That’s just how I am. I’ve always had a lot of energy my whole life.”

But Andrassy says Kilgore shows a different kind of leadership.

“His work ethic alone is leadership because the guys will look over and see how hard he is working and relate one to the other,” Andrassy said. “Hard work is enough to being a leader, and that’s what we get out of him as far as what Kilgore brings to this team… even to the point where he’s at college more to be a national champ than to earn a degree.”

Kilgore said he strongly believes wrestling is a lifestyle. He remembers this by an illustration assistant coach Matt Hill gives to the wrestlers.

“Everything you do you’re putting money in the bank,” Kilgore remembers Hill saying. “Every time you’re doing something wrong, say eating something bad, you’re taking money out of the bank. In the end, it’s how much money you’ve saved up that’s going to determine how well you do at the national tournament.”

Thus, Kilgore stays in wrestling form year round.

“I don’t drink,” Kilgore said. “I can honestly say all the wrestlers in the offseason drink. I’m not going to change though. It’s working.”

Instead, Kilgore trains. He does not take a break from wrestling form or wrestling itself.

“As soon as nationals are over, he’ll go to the U.S. Open,” Andrassy said. “After the U.S. Open he’ll go to the University Nationals. After the University Nationals he’ll go to the World Team Trials.

“After that’s over he’ll go to Alaska and train for the summer.

“He’s very dedicated, where the majority of college students after the season is over go on ‘spring break mode.’ He’s never touched a drink in his life. How many college kids can say they’ve never touched an alcoholic beverage their entire life? Who can say that?”

Contact A.J. Atkinson at [email protected]