Tackling college life (Wrestling)

Wade Askew

Greedy. Motivated. Inspiring.

Three simple words, used to describe redshirt freshman Keith Sulzer by a teammate and a coach, sum up the 141-pounder’s college experience quite nicely. Sulzer hasn’t led the typical college life full of binging on sleep, work or, well, you know. Instead, his routine has been one of consistency and accomplishment.

You see, Sulzer cannot binge on sleep because there’s no time. As an industrial engineer and the 17th-best 141-pound wrestler in the country, Sulzer sometimes would sleep for just an hour the night before an exam during Fall Quarter.

That might not sound all that atypical to many engineering students like him, but the unique part of Sulzer’s day came after the test, when he would have to go through a brutal session of conditioning and practice.

As for work, the term “binging” implies periods of lulls and highs. For Sulzer, there are no lulls.

“I’m always either studying or wrestling, it feels like,” Sulzer said. “It’s not a problem for me because I know I’m getting something out of it when I’m getting good grades, and I’m doing well on the wrestling mat – that’s what makes me happy. I don’t mind studying, I don’t mind doing homework. Other guys on the team, they joke around with me a lot about how much I love doing homework.”

While most athletes cite academics as a reason for competing at Northwestern, Sulzer clearly meant it when he said academics were always a top priority of his.

A student who prided himself on earning all A’s in high school and claimed a spot in the National Honor Society, Sulzer limited his college choices to the top academic institutions of America, choosing NU over Harvard and Cornell.

“He’s a greedy kid, a greedy kid like everybody on our team, that wants to do it all – wants to do well in school, and at the same time wants to succeed in our sport, and is not afraid to work hard,” coach Tim Cysewski said.

In such a context, suddenly the term “greed” doesn’t seem so nasty anymore. Instead, it represents Sulzer’s desire to excel in everything he does.

As for the third – how shall we put it – indulgence, that some students tend to binge on, Sulzer may not have the time to take of advantage of NU’s bustling (just kidding) nightlife very often, but he nonetheless has enjoyed the school for the last year and a half.

The fact he’s suddenly wrestling like an All-American probably doesn’t hurt that level of enjoyment.

Ever since high school, Sulzer struggled with his confidence and opening up in matches. He sensed a disconnect from practice to bouts, saying he would “freeze” in competition. Though he was a state champion and All-American as a senior at St. Edward High School in Ohio, Sulzer never felt as if he capitalized on his abilities as a wrestler.

But less than two weeks ago, something changed. Sulzer relaxed. He attacked. He won.

He did so against two top-10 opponents in the span of a week, first knocking off Iowa’s Dan LeClere on Jan. 27, followed by Penn State’s Jake Strayer five days later. During that time, Sulzer went from unknown to top-20 in his weight class.

“I don’t know if it was that I stopped thinking so much, I came to the realization … mentality is one of the most important things in the sport,” Sulzer said. “The biggest thing for me was to stop worrying about giving up points, just to go out and try to score points and win matches.”

Still, the special thing about the first-year starter is not his recent string of victories, but the example he’s set, even for the upperclassmen on his team.

Teammate and longtime friend Ryan Lang, the nation’s fifth-ranked 149-pounder, has witnessed Sulzer’s growth for about a decade. Lang competed at St. Edward with Sulzer, and the two have known each other since middle school.

But it was when Lang, now a senior, hosted Sulzer on his recruiting trip that the two made a promise to push each other in school and wrestling. That’s why they train against each other and remain on the mat even after practice to put in extra work together. It’s also part of the reason both have high hopes for the Big Ten and NCAA championships.

“Keith’s one of the most inspiring kids I know,” Lang said. “He’s really disciplined and dedicated to the things he believes in … He’s got full character. I have the utmost respect for him. His parents really raised him to be a great kid.”

Greedy. Motivated. Inspiring.

Three words that typify the life of a young wrestler, one who took the “college experience” and turned it into one for a lifetime.

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