Injuries cost Greg Byrd at the Division I district wrestling tournaments the past two seasons. A scheduling mishap cost him the bulk of his senior season. But the North Ridgeville heavyweight doesn’t plan on letting anything cost him his final shot at a trip to the state tournament.
Byrd will compete in the Marion Harding district tournament tonight and Saturday as the No. 1 seed from the Southview sectional, and is a favorite to place in the top four and earn a trip to Columbus.
“Getting out of districts is what I need to get to the next level,” Byrd said. “That’s been my main goal — to get out … to get out of districts and do well at states.”
The reasons that should happen for Byrd are many, and the wrestler is considered a “total package” by everyone who has seen him wrestle. He is powerful — he benches between 350-400 pounds. He’s big — he actually had to cut weight to get under the required 285-pound limit this season. And he’s lightning quick — he’s the defensive end on the Rangers’ football team.
“He’s got all the tools,” Rangers coach Ed Haller said. “He’s gotten better and better as he’s picked things up. He started doing different moves and going to the upper body. He’s gotten stronger, and he’s gotten bigger.
“That’s helped him a lot.”
The rate of Byrd’s improvement since starting his wrestling career as a sophomore is scary. He began his high school career by going 9-0 on the junior varsity team, was promoted to the varsity squad and went 27-9 and finished as a sectional runner-up.
“I didn’t think I’d be a legitimate wrestler during my sophomore year,” Byrd said. “I just wanted to see what would happen and here I ended up taking second at sectionals.”
Byrd won his opening match that season at the Toledo Waite district tournament before suffering a sprained ankle, dropping two matches and seeing his season come to an end.
His junior season consisted of one dominating performance after another. Byrd racked up a 39-9 record with a school-record 32 pinfall victories. But, once again, a freak accident at the Mentor district tournament cost him his state berth.
“It was extremely disappointing,” Byrd said. “In the match that would have got me in the third-place match, I was up 8-2 and (Woodward’s Darnell Williams) hit a head-and-arm on me, and I landed on my neck.
“I blacked out and got pinned.”
“Everyone expected him to go to state last year, but it wasn’t a letdown because it was only his second year wrestling,” Rangers assistant coach Joel Melvin said.
Melvin is one of many former North Ridgeville wrestlers who constantly drill with Byrd at practices. The list includes Jeff Wolf, who wrestled at Heidelberg, Matt Hyer, who wrestled at Muskingum, and Joe Myers, who was a state runner-up in 1992 for North Ridgeville.
“He’s picked up a lot from us in a short amount of time,” Wolf said. “When he first started, he would try and trip a guy — try to get a double underhook and just trip the guy. We’ve incorporated the shucks, the underhooks, the pop-and-drops, the snatch singles … those types of things.
“I think a lightbulb kind of went on for him, and he started using some new things in his matches.”
Byrd was unable to use his budding skills for the first eight weeks of this season due to being ruled academically ineligible. The news was a bit of a blow as the senior is nearly a B student — he’s about a 2.7 gpa — and had no history of academic problems.
Somehow a scheduling glitch landed Byrd in an honors math class and he quickly started falling behind.
“I thought I was top dog because I was in a tough class,” Byrd said. “I thought I’d be OK because I’m a pretty good audio learner, and I figured the teacher would be able to explain everything during the class. But she pretty much went by the book, and I started to get lost.”
Byrd was finally able to get switched over to the right class and immediately pulled his grades up to become eligible. He finally got back on the mats the week before the conference tournament and has gone 8-0 since with eight pins.
“You can see it on the mat,” Wolf said. “Now he’s out there and ready to go. He can’t wait to get out there because he had to sit out the first three-quarters of the season.”
And he can’t wait to realize his dream of wrestling at Value City Arena next weekend. The Rangers coaching staff took him to Columbus last year to show him the warm-up rooms, the tunnel the wrestlers go down and the mats where the battles are fought — all in anticipation of this season.
“I think he’s going to do real well this weekend,” Melvin said. “He’s fresh, he’s got the right mindset and he’s hungry. That could give him the extra amount of oomph to possibly take it all.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.