John Smith kept calling Wyatt Sheets Thursday morning to no response.
The Oklahoma State wrestling coach had an urgent deadline to get an answer from his junior 157-pound wrestler.
But being in class, Sheets was unable to answer the multiple calls and ultimately text his coach. And the reply he got wasn’t anything he was expecting.
A wrestler had to withdrawal from the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at 157 pounds, and Sheets was the next in line – and the answer had to be given by noon.
“I just figured he wanted to talk to me about how I was feeling after the Big 12,” Sheets said in a phone interview with the News Press.
The feeling at the beginning of the week was of uncertainty.
Sheets, who was the No. 5 seed in the Big 12 Conference Wrestling Championships, went 1-2 and didn’t finish in the top seven. So he would have to wait until Tuesday’s announcement of at-large bids to figure out if he was going to get his first trip to the national tournament.
But after he discovered he wasn’t getting one of the six at-large spots at 157 pounds, he was ready to move on – mentally and physically.
“It’s been a hard year, but I was just proud of myself,” Sheets said. “I kind of put it where, if I get in, I’m supposed to be there. And if I don’t, I’m not.”
Then came word to Smith that a wrestler had backed out of the tournament and Sheets was to receive the spot created by the withdrawal.
“I was honestly a little surprised he didn’t get in anyway, but I knew he was going to be right there,” the Cowboy wrestling coach said.
Ultimately, due to Sheets being in class, Smith passed along the word via text.
“We corresponded by text while he was in class, and I’ll just read what he said,” Smith said. “I said, ‘Are you OK with going to the Nationals?’ ‘Yes, I’m OK. I’m excited about getting this opportunity.’ I’m just glad he was in class – he’s a good student.”
Being in class, the Stilwell native couldn’t really celebrate such a momentous occasion.
But if anybody were in class with him – or saw him at any point after the news broke – they would have known something was up.
“I’ve been smiling all day, actually,” Sheets said. “I couldn’t really keep it in.”
He also couldn’t spread the news quickly enough.
According to Sheets, whose father Mike Sheets was a two-time NCAA champion for Oklahoma State, he usually talks to his dad after OSU’s late-night practice. But he couldn’t wait 10 hours to get the word out.
“I sent a text to the family group chat that I’d made it to Nationals because a kid dropped out,” Sheets said prior to OSU’s afternoon practice. “And they’re all just ecstatic. So I can’t wait to hear what he has to say, and I’m sure he’ll give me some good advice.”
With Sheets originally not making the field for the national tournament, Smith said they had already lined up a doctor’s appointment Tuesday for Sheets to get an evaluation on his left knee – which he wrestles with a brace and padded sleeve around.
However, that timeline will change with the news of his addition to the tournament bracket.
“You want to be a little bit careful about pushing that,” Smith said. “… We were definitely in progress of taking care of the injury, definitely was going to do it as quick as possible – whatever needed to be done.”
Sheets has been dealing with the injury all season.
He didn’t enter the starting lineup for the Cowboys until midway through the year, and Smith said at times that they were trying to hold him back some just to get him to the postseason where they could let him loose.
“The hardest part was practicing every day,” Sheets said. “It just requires such a high level of focus on what I could and couldn’t do. And then once I figured that out, it was just me trying to perfect that.”
While he will now have to wait to deal with his knee injury at least another week – which Smith said they still intend to take care of quickly after the season – he now has a new lease on his season.
He will go into his first NCAA tournament as the No. 33 seed – out of 33 wrestlers – and will wrestle a pigtail for the opportunity to wrestling No. 1-seeded Ryan Deakin of Northwestern.
“It’s just an opportunity, you’ve just got to take advantage of that opportunity,” Sheets said. “I’m just going to do my best, which I’m pretty sure that’s better than 33.”