Wyatt Sheets couldn’t contain his emotions. Neither could Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith.
The two truly know – more than any fans – just what the Stilwell native has been through this season.
So when he beat Central Michigan’s Johnny Lovett to reach the blood round of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, they couldn’t hold it in any longer.
While under normal circumstances, Sheets would have still needed one more win to become an All-American – like his father did as a two-time national champion for Oklahoma State – he knew in that moment, he already was.
The opponent he would have to face to reach the top eight to earn All-American status suffered an injury forfeit in middle of the championship quarterfinals, and was unable to face Sheets.
But like his week following the Big 12 tournament, he was on a rollercoaster of emotion to get to that point.
“Afterwards, they were like, ‘Well, we’re not really sure,’” Sheets said. “So (the excitement) was short-lived. It’s been a heck of a ride.”
But the junior 157-pounder knows how difficult it is to have an injury sidetrack a season.
He’s been dealing with it all year.
Sheets missed the first half of the season due to a left knee injury that has him wearing a brace that is covered by a thick sleeve for support.
“When he hurt his knee in early January, it didn’t look good,” Smith said. “But I told him to ‘have hope, let’s see where it goes, let’s see what you can do on it.’ And as we saw, he could compete at some level, we just knew that he needed to be the guy for us if he could wrestle.”
During the closing weeks of the regular season, Smith was just happy to have Sheets on the mat and at one point said he just wanted to get Sheets to the postseason where he could “open it up and go.”
Sheets didn’t quite do that in the Big 12 Conference tournament, going 1-2 and having to hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Smith said. “Had some tough losses that he hasn’t taken.”
A few days after the league tournament, that bid didn’t come.
In fact, Sheets acknowledged that he was originally scheduled to undergo surgery to fix his knee – due to go under the knife on the same day he ended up becoming an All-American.
But then the call came that a wrestler withdrew from the tournament and Sheets was next in line.
In essence, Sheets was the 34th seed (out of 33 in the field).
But in a one-on-one interview with the News Press, Sheets said he believed his best was better than 33. And he ultimately proved just that.
First, it was by beating the No. 32 seed in the pigtail for a shot at wrestling the No. 1 seed.
He then beat a pair of wrestlers seeded in the top 20 to put him in position to face the No. 26 seed with what effectively ended up being a match for All-American status.
“This was a good alternative,” Sheets said.
Sheets beat the odds, becoming the first No. 33 seed in NCAA history to become an All-American, with his dad, Mike Sheets – who was a two-time national champion for Oklahoma State – in attendance. And after he reached All-American status, his dad kept his son a little humble.
“He just really congratulated me, and then said, ‘You still got another match,’” Sheet said.
Sheets’ heritage also was something he took pride in Friday.
A member of the Cherokee Nation, the Oklahoma State junior wasn’t lost on the history he was part of by becoming an NCAA All-American.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Sheets said. “I don’t think there’s many people from the Cherokee nation that have had the opportunity to do what I did. It’s pretty awesome."