By Brian Jerzak
Before his junior year, Quad County’s Bryce Schmidt had only played football and baseball. He had never even set foot on a wrestling mat. By the end of his senior year, he was walking out on the floor of the Xcel Energy Center in the state tournament. His unlikely journey might never have happened if Schmidt wasn’t conned into trying wrestling.
“My friends who encouraged me to wrestle played football and they were going to take this picture,” Schmidt said. “They told me to come be in the picture. I didn’t know what it was about, so I just did it. They called it the Wrestling Pic. It was all the wrestlers who played football and me. They said, ‘you are in that picture, so you have to join wrestling now’; I got conned into that.”
Schmidt went along with his friends but had almost zero exposure to wrestling before the winter of his junior year.
“I didn’t know what to think about wrestling,” Schmidt admitted. “I watched one wrestling match before; I didn’t even know how it worked.”
“I had no idea,” Schmidt continued. “They tried to explain it, but at first, I didn’t even know what a reversal was. I didn’t know what a takedown was. I knew what a pin was, but that was about it.”
His first exposure to the sport would start just before the wrestling season in his junior year.
“I came to captain’s practice, and they started teaching me there. I talked to (Quad County head coach) Darrell Refsland a little bit, but I pretty much just showed up the first day of practice.”
The first few weeks Schmidt got a crash course in basic technique.
“At first, I would just wrestle with a coach, and they would just teach me stuff. We worked on the fundamentals first,” Schmidt told The Guillotine. “The very first time a football coach wrestled with me. He wrestled in high school for a couple of years, so he knew some wrestling, but I didn’t know what to think. I had no moves, and a kept getting killed. After about three weeks I started to wrestle with other kids.”
The first thing Schmidt got comfortable with was the cradle.
“The cross-face cradle is my go-to move. I am a pretty tall guy, and it was the first move I learned, and I just stuck to it. All my pins – except for one – came with that move.”
His first live match was at the BBE tournament right before Christmas.
“At the seeding meeting – I had never wrestled – so they had nothing to go on, but somehow I ended up getting the second seed in the tournament. The coaches must have based it off looking at me or something. There were only four or five kids at my weight.”
Despite his unfamiliarity with the sport, Schmidt won his first match.
“I won like 12-7. I just did a double leg takedown,” the Yellow Medicine East football and baseball player said. “I basically just tackled the kid six times. After the match, I was so tired I didn’t know what to do.”
The honeymoon would not last long.
“I lost my second match (at the BBE), and then my next five matches were against ranked kids.”
After starting 1-6, Schmidt had his doubts, but the ‘Wrestling Pic’ football players wouldn’t let their new recruit get down on himself.
“They kept encouraging me. I knew I would get better because through lifting weights I had gotten stronger.”
A few wins didn’t hurt either.
“I got some easier kids. I started to win and thought I might be pretty good at this. The wins started to improve my confidence.”
At the end of his junior year, he finished with a record of 16-21. Schmidt could see the improvements he was making, and he felt in his senior season he could make some noise.
“I knew what to expect the second time around. The first season I didn’t really have a goal. My senior season I had the goal of making State. We were switching sections (to Class A), so we weren’t AA anymore. I just kept working toward State.”
On the football field, Schmidt plays linebacker, defensive line, offensive line, and fullback. On the baseball diamond, he is an outfielder. Before his senior year, he focused on his conditioning; Schmidt would run four miles each morning.
“I started out slow my senior year, and that got me mad and got me motivated,” Schmidt said. “Then I started winning and didn’t even realize I was ranked. When I saw I was ranked in the state at the seeding meeting at the Minnewaska Tournament, I realized I had a chance to go to State.”
Not only was a trip to State becoming a possibility, but Schmidt also had an opponent to focus on. The senior worked harder.
“I kept running and kept adding laps to my morning run. I knew it would come down to (Paynesville Area’s Grant) Ludwig and me at Sections. He pinned me in the third period when I was up by one in the regular season. That got me pretty mad, and I ran even more. The coaches focused on situations Ludwig would put me into. I had already beaten everyone else in the Section and knew I could again. I knew it would be between Ludwig and me. We focused on what I needed to do to beat him.”
Although he would fall to Ludwig in the section final, Schmidt took second and went into the state tournament with a 34-8 record.
“I worked hard,” Schmidt said when asked about why he felt he was successful. “I had the mentality that I am better than the person across from me.”
Heading into State, everyone told him when you go out for your match focus on the mat; don’t look in the stands. What was the first thing he did? Look into the stands. If that wasn’t enough to ramp up his nerves . . .
“I was supposed to wrestle on one of the corner mats, but my match got moved to one of the mats in the middle. We were right at the end (of the session), and it was me and like one other match going on. Everybody was watching us. It was horrible. I was really nervous.”
Schmidt would lose the match 2-1 and would not get into the wrestle backs – ending his state tournament after one match.
Schmidt is proud of what he accomplished on the mat but also wonders what could have been.
“I look back on it now, and if I had started as a seventh grader, I could have been a pretty good wrestler. What could have I been, but I can’t hang my head over what I did. I did pretty good for only two years of wrestling.”
Pretty good for a guy who had to be conned into getting on the mat at all.