Dustin Kilgore takes aim at becoming Kent State s first NCAA championKent State junior Dustin Kilgore is ranked No. 1 in nation at 197 pounds. Photo by Bob Tuneberg, buckeyewrestling.com
Dustin Kilgore spent two of the best months of his life this past summer on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.
He fished. He relaxed. And he enjoyed the beautiful scenery in the southeastern part of the state.
"It's amazing up there" he said. "I love the outdoors - hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. I love it up there."
Kilgore spent so much time in Alaska that his coaches had a few anxious moments over the summer. Kilgore said he was sitting on a lake fishing one day when a text message flashed across the screen of his cell phone.
"When are you coming home?" the message read.
The text was from Kent State coach Jim Andrassy, who wanted to make sure his star wrestler was staying in shape. Andrassy's answer came on the Sunday before school started.
"The team did an eight-mile run and Dustin ran his best time ever" Andrassy said. "He came back in tremendous shape - better than anybody on our team."
Kilgore not only was in shape, he was bigger and stronger. He's bumped up from 184 to 197 pounds this season, and he is ranked No. 1 nationally with a 13-0 record for Kent State.
Kilgore was invited by a family friend to spend the summer at his home in Alaska.
"I wasn't able to wrestle when I was up there" he said. "But I joined a gym, and I did a lot of lifting and running. I made sure I stayed in good shape."
Seventh in the nation at 184 as a sophomore in 2010, Kilgore returned to Ohio late in the summer weighing 213 pounds.
"Dustin looked pretty solid when he came back, and didn't have a whole lot of fat on him" Andrassy said. "He certified at 184 this year, but we wanted to see how it would work with him at 197."
The move up has worked out well so far. Kilgore already owns a 10-9 win over then-No. 1 Cam Simaz of Cornell this season.
"That match gave me a good boost" Kilgore said. "He's tall and lanky, and it was a tough match. We both went all-out and gave it all we had for seven minutes. That match shows me I'm a contender for the 197 title. I learned a lot and I know have a few things I need to work on."
The move up to 197 has done wonders for Kilgore, on and off the mat.
"It's been a real good transition for me" he said. "I'm feeling so much better going into my matches. I have a lot more energy. I'm bigger and stronger. I'm loving it. It's tough balancing school and wrestling when you are cutting a lot of weight. I was pretty sluggish a lot last year when I was making 184. I come into practice with so much more energy now. I can focus on practice and focus on getting better."
Kilgore entered the 2009 NCAA Championships as the No. 5 seed as a freshman at 184, but fell short of placing.
"I was upset about not placing" he said. "It was tough, not being on the podium. It motivated me to come back strong."
He was the No. 3 seed at the 2010 NCAAs in Omaha, but fell to No. 6 seed and eventual champion Max Askren of Missouri 8-5 in the 184 quarterfinals.
He won his next match before dropping an 11-9 decision to No. 2 seed John Dergo of Illinois. He then won his next match over Iowa's Phil Keddy to place seventh.
"I learned a lot from that tournament" he said. "Every day, I'm thinking about winning an NCAA title. I go into the wrestling room and try to get better every day. I'm very motivated to win it this year."
Kilgore grew up in Berea, Ohio, just outside Cleveland, and initially wanted to wrestle for Ohio State.
He won an Ohio high school state title as a junior and followed by winning Junior Nationals in freestyle. Kent State was the first school to show interest in him. He committed to the Golden Flashes after winning state his junior year.
"I really liked the coaching staff" he said. "I knew they were working hard to build a great team."
Kilgore is hoping to become Kent State's first NCAA Division I champion.
"I would love to be the first one" he said. "This is a whole new era for Kent State wrestling. We have great coaches who are recruiting awesome wrestlers. It's going to happen with all the great guys we have in our room."
Kilgore is a part of a strong Kent State team that has excelled the past few seasons.
Kent State is ranked 15th nationally by Wrestler Insider Newsmagazine. The Golden Flashes also feature ranked wrestlers in No. 6 Nic Bedelyon at 125, No. 17 Ross Tice at 165 and No. 13 Brendan Barlow at heavyweight.
Bedelyon was an All-American in 2009, placing eighth. He redshirted last season.
Kent State has had four All-Americans over the past two seasons. The Golden Flashes placed 18th in the 2009 NCAA tournament, their best finish since 1985. Kent State went 23 years without an All-American before 2009.
"The guys in our room are training really hard" Kilgore said. "We battle it out every day. We have a pretty small room, and guys are running into each other and crashing into walls. It's pretty intense in there. It's a great atmosphere to train in. We push each other and make each other better."
The 5-foot-10 Kilgore is known for putting points on the board.
"Dustin goes extremely hard all the time" Andrassy said. "What makes him so good is his mentality that nobody is going to outwork him in a match. He's in great shape."
Kilgore also is a top prospect in freestyle wrestling. He competed in the U.S. Senior Open last year in Cleveland and placed fourth overall in the 2010 University World Team Trials at 84 kg/185 lbs.
"Wrestling freestyle has been a good experience for me" he said. "It's something I want to keep doing after college. I still have a lot to learn. I need to keep working at it and keep improving."
For now, Kilgore's focused on the current college season.
"Dustin's mentality is that anything other than winning a national championship is not achieving his goal" Andrassy said. "We believe he is good enough to be a two-time national champion. He definitely has all the physical tools and the mentality to do it."