BY BRADEN HOLECEK
PHOTOS BY ALLIE SCHWEIZER AND LEXI GROSS
Being humble and hardworking has finally paid off for Fort Hays State junior wrestler A.J. Cooper.
His journey to this season’s impressive win-loss total has not been as typical as other wrestlers he has competed against. In fact, Cooper did not originally come to the university to be a part of the wrestling team.
“I came to Fort Hays State originally to play football,” Cooper said. “I walked on to the wrestling team, and clearly that’s worked out pretty well.”
Indeed it has, but he is even more thankful that Fort Hays State gave him the opportunity in the first place.
“I’m from western Kansas. This was the closest four year, obviously it’s affordable, but Fort Hays State football and wrestling gave me the chance that other schools didn’t,” Cooper said. “I didn’t want to go to a JUCO, so I ended up here. And I’m thankful that I did.”
Cooper currently has one of the nation’s top pinfall records with 13 total falls as of February 26. Interestingly enough, he may not have been as excited about this originally.
“Honestly, I’m not a big fan of getting pins. But they happen, it’s more team points. So, I guess it’s important to get pins,” Cooper said. “But I didn’t even realize it until one of my teammates said something to me.”
Once it was brought to his attention, Cooper decided that it might as well continue.
“I guess I better start getting more pins to see if I can get a little closer to the top.”
Obviously, Cooper and his teammates’ objective is to win. But, there is some added motivation heading into the team’s regional this Sunday.
“Fort Hays State hasn’t had a Division II National Champion yet. So, that’s ultimately the goal,” he said.
The wrestler added that his pin record could be an added boost to achieve that.
“If I can pin everybody on the way there it will be easier,” Cooper said. “But if not, I still want to wrestle hard and see what we can do.”
The Fort Hays State wrestling team may not receive the attention that other sports do. This squad is all about working hard, while having some fun along the way.`
“If you don’t know anything about wrestling, it’s probably one of the hardest sports that you do,” Cooper said. “You gotta work hard every day. We work hard, but at the same time, we have fun. We like to poke fun at each other.”
Overall, he does not feel like their team unit is any different than the other ones on campus.
“We’re just a lot shorter, usually,” he said.
This shortage in numbers does not limit the goals that the team or Cooper may have individually.
As for his own goals, Cooper had both atheltic and academic goals in mind.
“I wanted to get a 4.0 GPA. I wanted to finish at the top of the MIAA individually and as a team. I also set out a goal to be top three at Nationals,” he said. “So, as long as I make it through Regionals, I can attain that goal at Nationals.”
Cooper wrestles in the 285-pound weight class. His road will not be easy. However, he is ready for any challenge.
“Depending on who I wrestle, it’s a little tough sometimes,” Cooper said. “You know, I give up 50 pounds. But, there should be some fireworks out there at the heavyweight bracket. It’s something that people should come out and watch.”
The Fort Hays State wrestling team will host the Super Region 4 Championships this Sunday, March 1st. The event will kick off at 10 am in Gross Memorial Coliseum.