From finishing his high school career as a four-time state champion in his hometown of Loveland, Colo., to being a top placer in the Olympic Trials, senior Wisconsin wrestler Tyler Graff has had experiences not many other collegiate athletes can match.
Graff was a starter for the Badgers both his freshman and sophomore years. Starting his first year of college required a lot of hard work and determination, traits he applied to a new pursuit this summer.
He decided to take a year off this past season, as a redshirt junior, to try out for the 2012 London Olympics. The U.S. Wrestling Olympic Trials were held in Iowa City, Iowa, back in April. After breezing by the competition and going 4-1 the first day, Graff had no reason not to be proud, as he was also named “Outstanding Wrestler” during the first day of the trials.
Unfortunately for Graff, only the top finisher — and no one else — qualifies at the U.S. Trials. Graff placed third and thus did not make the cut, but simply having the opportunity to try forever changed the talented wrestler’s life.
“The experience was really great,” Graff said. “Obviously it wasn’t what I wanted, but I’ve learned from it and I’ve gotten better every day since, and I’ll continue to get better every day.”
The Big Ten conference is packed with talented wrestlers and is easily one of the most competitive conferences in the country. In 2010, Graff placed fourth in the Big Ten and fifth in the NCAA tournament.
When you compare these statistics with his statistics from 2011, it is clear he has improved drastically over his career. In 2011, Graff was the runner-up in the Big Ten and again placed fifth in the NCAA tournament. Always level-headed, the redshirt junior said he has the same mindset going into any match, whether it’s the Big Ten championship or the Olympic Trials.
“Obviously, I prepare for the bigger ones more specifically in different ways,” Graff said. “But a match is a match, and I prepare for it, and when I’m out there on the mat, I look at it no differently.”
With Graff finally ready to get back on that cardinal Wisconsin mat, there are many recruits who will likely be redshirted so they can adjust to both the style and the competition that accompanies college wrestling. UW head coach Barry Davis hopes he is building a team that will be highly competitive in the future.
“We think it’s better right now that [the recruits] redshirt to develop,” Davis said. “But as far as the kids themselves, they get in the room and are always ready to work.”
Graff is sure to have a significant impact on each teammate, acting as a role model for the younger recruits who are new to the team and even to his teammates.
In both the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Graff was named an All-American at 133 pounds. Davis is excited for the start of the season and is ready to see what his athletes, including Graff, bring to the mat.
“Tyler’s got a great work ethic and great leadership in the room,” Davis said. “He’s a veteran, and the guys know that he went to the Olympic Trials, made a run there and did very well. He brings that positive work ethic and mindset for the younger kids to see.”
The wrestlers at Wisconsin will try to continue to build on the impressive success of their teammates in hopes of establishing themselves as a perennial conference leader.
In 2011, he finished the season with a 31-5 record. Before the start of the 2012-13 season, Graff is ranked third nationally in the 141-pound weight class. Another ranked Wisconsin wrestler is redshirt freshman Connor Medbery, who graduated from the same high school as Graff.
UW is not ranked heading into the season, but Davis has many goals for this year’s team as it strives to establish itself as a contender in the Big Ten.
“I think right now our goals as a team is to do better week in and week out and to develop,” Davis said. “We just need to get better and to build this team. We will just keep getting better and then go from there.”