Recently, Manhattan High wrestling assistant coach Danny Grater approached head coach Robert Gonzales.
“Hey Coach, this looks on paper like it’s really tough,” Grater said, referring to the upcoming 30-team Newton Invite.
Gonzales admitted he never thinks things are difficult. He brushed off Grater’s comment. Then Grater handed him a sheet.
It lists the number of ranked teams (14) and wrestlers (113) in the field.
“Oh,” Gonzales responded.
The Indians will take part in this two-day event on Friday and Saturday. They are fresh off taking first place in last week’s Dodge City Invitational tournament, which Gonzales said had a more difficult field than he initially anticipated.
MHS, which is now 10-4 in dual meet competition, will look to improve on that.
“Usually, I don’t get too fired up, but all the sudden this week, we’ve had some good and intense practices,” Gonzales said.
TOO MANY TACOS
Senior Quincy Saddler used to work at Taco Bell. He loved it.
But he realized the gig left him drained, and he eventually had less energy to devote to wrestling. Then management fired the lady who hired him.
“Then I was like, ‘All right, there’s no point in staying,’ so I just left,” said Saddler, who quit about a year ago.
“I miss the tacos, though.”
Saddler, who wrestles at the 170-pound weight class, is 21-3 this season.
Healthier eating isn’t the only reason he’s in this position.
Without a job, he’s had more time and energy to focus on wrestling. He’s worked harder at practice and in the classroom.
Recently, a few college coaches observed an MHS practice and told Gonzales that Saddler appeared to be wrestling at a “great level” for his team.
“Great level?” Gonzales said as he told the story. “Oh my gosh, he’s put himself on the college recruiting trail.”
That’s something Gonzales said he couldn’t have seen even a year ago.
Saddler wrestles with Nebraska-bound Bubba Wilson, which he said has helped him improve a lot. Last season, Saddler broke his hand, cut the cast off three weeks later to participate in the state tournament and still went home with a fifth-place finish — and that’s with hand pain that required prescription painkillers.
He hopes to do even better at this year’s tournament.
“I think he’s taken the strides, more than anything, on his takedowns, on his feet,” Gonzales said. “He’s really improved. And then he’s gotten more mat awareness. And before, he would win just to win. But now he’s trying to get the ultimate six-point pinfall.”
He doesn’t get free tacos anymore, though.
“He would say, ‘Coach, I get paid every two weeks,’” Gonzales said. “I said, ‘You’re going to get paid every two weeks the rest of your life.’”
WILSON READY TO BE A HUSKER
Wilson has attended three Nebraska dual meets this season. He enjoys watching his future teammates battle it out against Big Ten opponents.
“It feels really great to see my future teammates out there competing, doing what they love,” Wilson said. “They’ve got a great atmosphere up there as well. They bring a bunch of fans out, have a great complex for it.”
Wilson said Nebraska strikes a good balance between being light and serious.
“Wrestling is wrestling. There is more to life than wrestling, sadly,” he said. “But they have fun with it. It’s business of course, but it’s an atmosphere where you can have fun and wrestle at the same time.”
Meanwhile, he’s 19-1 at the 160-pound weight class. His only loss is to Cade Devos of Southeast Polk (Iowa), who is ranked the No. 10 wrestler in the nation in the 160-pound class by InterMat.
“I got tested, and I got beat,” Wilson said. “Personally, I don’t think he’s that much better than me, but I’ll see him at world team trials, I’m sure.”
Wilson has taken a leadership position on the team, coaching many of his teammates.
“It’s good just to set an example for the other kids,” Wilson said. “I mean, I still get beat up by all the coaches. I still have someone to beat me up, thankfully. It’s good just to be able to help these kids out with their technique, and if we’re going live and I hit them with something, I can show them a defense or a counter. I can directly see it when we’re going out on the weekends and they’re hitting the moves I or the coaches just taught them, so it feels really good to help these kids grow.”
When he was younger, Easton Taylor wrestled for Team Grind House, which Gonzales said is a well-known club.
His parents drove him to and from wrestling practice in Kansas City, Missouri, three times a week. They’d leave right after school, arrive around 6 p.m., then get home around 11:30 p.m.
“It was hard because I was taking time away from school,” Taylor said. “I was getting behind.”
Now, he has a better sleep schedule. He doesn’t spend nearly as much time in the car.
He’s ready to make his mark on MHS, and he he’s started strong, going 20-3 in the 113-pound weight class thus far.
When describing Taylor, Gonzales likened him to other college wrestlers who went to MHS.
“He’s a talent,” Gonzales said.
Taylor practiced with the high school kids during the summer. He realized those practices were much tougher than the ones he had in middle school, or as a young kid.
He’s also adjusting to the increased competition level in high school. Wrestlers are bigger, faster and stronger, Taylor said.
But he’s ready to set his sights high over the next four years.
“My first goal is to make it past regionals, make the placement rounds at state,” Taylor said. “Hopefully be on the top of the podium at state every year is my goal.”
SAUDER GRINDS THROUGH 120
Gonzales sent the message loud and clear to junior Tate Sauder.
“‘You ain’t going to surprise anybody this year,’” Gonzales said. “‘You’re a junior. You’re a marked man.’”
Sauder wrestled well as a freshman. He made the state finals last season.
But Gonzales had a talk with him.
“‘Everybody is video-taping you and everybody has Hudl video tape on you,’” Gonzales said he told Sauder.
Then the coach gave a scouting report on Sauder.
“Puts a cradle in, turns a kid over,” he said. “He’s got to stop hitting the cradle … What our coaches are teaching, he’s not listening to and he’s doing the things he learned in first, second and third grade.”
One final message:
“Hey Tate, do you want to win? Change your offense.”
Gonzales urged Sauder to wrestle at 126 this season, but Sauder chose 120. He said he feels good at that weight.
The downside: Gonzales estimated that Sauder already had faced six opponents who are either ranked or are former state champions.
He’s 16-8, though, so he’s handled it relatively well.
“It’s been tough, but it’s helped me work on what I need to work on,” Sauder said.