After three straight runner-up finishes at the Class 5A wrestling tournament and carrying a 33-1 record this season, it would be understandable if Arkansas City senior Colby Watters wanted nothing more than finally getting the gold Saturday.
Well, not exactly. The measure of this man goes beyond a wrestling mat.
“So many people are wrapped up on what they do in high school,” Watters said. “I want to win a state title, but more than that I want to go to a good school, have a good career, be happy, and be happy with what I do.
“School comes first and always has. Academics are stressed a lot by me and my family.”
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Watters said he understands that academics and athletics are not mutually exclusive.
“If you’re a great wrestler, but you don’t get good grades, you’re out,” he said. “You can’t wrestle until you’re 40.”
Watters has made the state final three straight years, only to lose by decision each time. Last year, it was Andover Central’s Jake Gentzler at 125. In 2010, it was Salina South’s Blaine Smith at 119. As a freshman, he was bested by Lansing’s Bo Pursel at 103.
Ranked No. 1 in the 126-pound weight class on a team that is top-ranked in Class 5A, Watters said he doesn’t mind carrying the target of a top-ranked wrestler.
“It’s actually a privilege,” he said. “I push myself in practice to be the best I can. I take wrestling one match at a time and try to improve each time I step on the mat.
“I don’t feel the pressure to win a state title as much as I feel the pressure to wrestle to the best of my potential.”
Should he win state, he will have earned it. Looming on his side of the bracket are second-ranked Michael Olsen of Lansing and No. 3 Lukas Maki of Kapaun Mount Carmel.
“I’ve got to beat them all, anyway,” he said.
No matter what, this has been a banner season for the Bulldogs, Watters said.
“The season as a whole has been a highlight,” he said. “Everybody’s clicking and they get along really well. We just wrestle to our abilities and do what we do. We can’t control anything else.”
His lone blemish this season came at the hands of a wrestler from Collins Hill, Ga., one of that state’s more storied programs, in December at the Kansas City Classic. Watters actually had to forfeit midway through the match when it was determined he had suffered a concussion.
Watters also missed about two weeks last season because of a concussion but recovered in time for state.
Buckbee said he has seen tremendous growth in Watters in the three years he has coached him.
“He’s just been an outstanding competitor, leader, and he leads by example,” Buckbee said. “He has grown into a great young man.
“Win or lose (Saturday), that is not going to define Colby and his life.”
For Watters, the feelings are mutual.
“He’s a really great guy and he has helped me out a lot,” he said of Buckbee. “He’s like an older brother. He has helped me mature a lot in the sport and become the wrestler I am today.”
Watters has given a commitment to wrestle next year at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. He said he plans to major in geology and geophysics.
But this might not be the end of the Watters legacy at Ark City. Watters, who has been involved in wrestling since attending the state tournament with his dad at age 5,has a 13-year-old brother, Colton, who also wrestles and already weighs 130 pounds. Might he be a future state champion?
“We can only hope,” Colby said.