Learning to lead
Wrestling team captains lead despite their own youth
Oklahoma State freshman wrestler Neil Erisman helped everyone. The De Soto wrestling program he came back to was far different from the one he left last March, and when he returned for a short winter break, he gladly handed out advice and tips and detailed stances and moves.
And everyone watched and learned -- even De Soto coach Matt Jones said he gleaned a lot from the former Wildcat standout. But no Cats paid more attention than team captains Eric Buffkin and Tom Beaver.
The juniors gathered all the help they could and they noted every lesson about positions and strategies, and more importantly, they watched last year's leader give one more lesson on how to lead.
"It helped out a lot, having Neil here," Beaver said. "Having him show us everything he's learned at OSU has really helped. We talked to Neil and he's shown us how to lead people."
"We've tried to take the way he does things as an example," Buffkin added.
Neither Buffkin nor Beaver said they considered being named a team captain when they woke up at 6 a.m. every morning over the summer, and neither considered it as the season approached. But Jones said he saw the leadership he was looking for in two of his most experienced returning wrestlers and he turned to them to help lead a young Wildcat program.
There are a lot of key phrases in there, but few more important than "young" and "experienced." The Wildcat wrestling program found itself with only one senior when the season began, and experience is a relative term. Erisman had spent most of his life wrestling by the time he was selected as a team captain for his senior season, and he had already committed to wrestle at one of the nation's best universities.
Neither Beaver nor Buffkin considered wrestling anything but a winter activity until recently, however.
Buffkin didn't go out his freshman year and both spent most of last year simply trying to get the basics down.
"I was a little intimidated at first, with all the responsibility and things," Buffkin said.
To this point, the pair has had to mix learning with teaching. The squad has struggled on the mats from top to bottom in the season's first several tournaments, but that's all part of the process, the pair said.
"We're in the same boat as a lot of them," Buffkin said. "But we're all improving. You can see that they've all improved a lot since the beginning of the season. The building blocks are there."
Beaver and Buffkin have taken on all the responsibility that comes with being a team leader, no matter where they are in their own wrestling development. They show up early to set up mats and stay late to clean them up, offer an ear to a younger teammate and give him a ride home if necessary.
"They're doing everything I need them to," Jones said. "I had my mind on them since school started. The kids look up to them and respect them and that's the key right there.
"They make up for their lack of experience on the mat with their maturity."