With a takedown in the second round of Saturday’s semistate wrestling tournament inside of cavernous New Castle Field House, Skyler Collins earned a 5-4 win and accomplished a goal set nearly five years earlier.
The senior from Frankfort High School will compete in the IHSAA State Finals on Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Now the standout wrestler will see how far he can take it.
“I want to place in the top eight,” Collins said. “I think anything past that would be more than I thought I could accomplish.
“There is a lot of pressure off this time,” he added. “I felt like I had to go to state. Now that I am here, I set a new goal because I know I can do it. Once it comes, I know I will be a little nervous in that atmosphere, but I will give it my all.”
Collins (41-7) is spending the week preparing to take on Homestead senior Drake Rhodes (42-2) in the first round of the 132-pound weight class.
Despite taking second place in his sectional and regional tournaments, Rhodes defeated New Haven senior Owen Doster, 11-6, to take first place in the Fort Wayne semistate.
“We had a chance to watch a couple videos on the guy,” Frankfort head coach Richard Sallee said. “We worked on some things we thought would be successful with this guy. He is pretty good on his feet. He is good everywhere. But, we got to see how he sets shots up, and he does telegraph a little bit – something we will definitely be able to work to our advantage.
“We always think about one match at a time,” Sallee added. “It was the second round that was important. You have to be top eight to be an all-state wrestler, and he is one win away from that. Friday night is an important match, and we think it is a winnable one.”
No matter how focused Collins will be on preparing for Rhodes, there will be plenty of time to enjoy the attention that comes with advancing out of the semistate.
“I think he will enjoy it because he will get some notoriety, especially at school,” Sallee said. “It’s still a business week for him though. He knows what he needs to do. He will be concentrating on watching film every day so that it becomes more like muscle memory when he gets on the mat. It’s all about beating one kid right now, and, hopefully, we will worry about the rest Saturday morning.
This is the first time Collins will go to the state finals as a participant, but he has been to Bankers Life Fieldhouse before to support a teammate.
As a 113-pound freshman, Collins made the trip to the finals to support senior teammate Hugo Perez, who finished fourth in the state at the 132 weight class.
Inspired by the run his fellow Hot Dog made through the postseason, Collins committed to molding himself into an elite wrestler.
“I didn’t really know much about high school wrestling in middle school, but Hugo Perez went to state, and I remember all the work he put in,” Collins said. “It was really cool watching him. Ever since that, I have wanted to go. I knew that I wanted to be down there sometime.”
Collins began in fifth grade after watching his brother wrestle in a meet.
As an eighth-grader, he lost just three matches.
“During my eighth grade year, I went to the high school a lot and was beating juniors and seniors,” he said. “I knew that I could do it if I put in the work. I knew it was possible, so I started working hard, and I started working more with Hugo in practice.”
Sallee came to realize Collins’ potential at about the same time.
“The summer between his eighth-grade and freshman years, I got together with kids after their season was over and talked to them about things they can do to get prepared,” Sallee said. “He went to Wabash with us and showed a lot of progress. He made the varsity lineup as a freshman, and it was continuous.
“Skyler worked with Hugo to get him ready for the state finals,” Sallee added. “You could see there was great potential in the kid. He was his practice partner during this week, and Huge was like ‘This kid is going to be good.’”
Sallee believes what sets Collins apart from other wrestlers is his cerebral approach, even-keel and fearlessness.
“The biggest thing is the mental side of wresting that Skyler has,” Sallee said. “That is what gives him an advantage, and he has no fear when he steps on the mat. That gives you so many more opportunities to be successful and just have that right state of mind. That has helped him, and it will continue to help him be successful in life. Maybe it is that Marine-type mentality that makes him so successful.”
While high school wrestling in Indiana does not enjoy the same kind of attention that sports such as basketball and football receive, Collins is quick to recognize how it has shaped him as a person.
“I’m thankful that my coaches were always being tough on me and bringing the best out of me, and that my family gave support and encouraging words through all my years of wrestling,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to wrestling for who I am today. Wrestling has taught me respect for others, and that you should never overlook anybody because everyone has a drive in them that you can’t see.”
Admission to the state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is $8 for one session or $20 for both days. Doors open at 5 p.m. for Friday’s 6 p.m. first session, 8:30 a.m. for Saturday’s 9:30 a.m. second session and 4 p.m. for the 4:45 p.m. third session.