By Rob Kiser
There will be something — or more specifically someone — missing for Piqua Friday when the Division I district wrestling tournament gets underway at Trent Arena.
Not that the Indians two-time state qualifier Hunter Bryant won’t be there — he just won’t be donning is wrestling singlet.
Bryant, who finished his wrestling career at Piqua with 118 wins, injured his back at the Top Gun tournament in early January and was never able to return to the mat.
“It is frustrating,” Bryant said. “Especially, watching the guys out there wrestling, it is really tough.”
But, make no mistake, Bryant is finishing like a champion — which should no surprise no one who knows him.
The four-year captain is still an integral part of the team, pushing the other wrestlers in the wrestling room during the week and at matches — becoming an additional assistant coach for the Indians.
“I feel like the other guys are counting on me,” Bryant said. “I feel like it is something I need to do.”
Which is exactly what Piqua coach Scott Kaye has come to expect from Bryant.
“That is why he is a four-year captain,” Kaye said. “He is a leader for these guys. The intensity he brings to the practice room. All the regimen’s he goes through. The easy way would have been to just walk away from everything, but he didn’t do that.”
Bryant first injured his back in the pre-season.
“I injured it when I was wrestling with a college guy,” Bryant said. “I hurt it, but it didn’t feel bad and I was able to wrestle with it.”
While Bryant was undefeated going into the Top Gun tournament, he wasn’t completely healthy either.
“He had some issues with it before that,” Kaye said.
Then came the match that would end his high school career.
“The Top Gun is a national tournament,” Bryant said. “If you don’t go into that 100 percent, you are going to get hurt. The first night, I was going to major decision a guy. I started down in the third period and this guy just started trying to pile drive me — slamming me into the mat over and over again.
“I finally reversed him and when I did, it didn’t feel very good. I shouldn’t have come back and wrestled the next day, but my pride got in the way. I ended up having to injury default out of the tournament.”
Still, no one knew at that time it was going to be the end of an outstanding high school wrestling career.
“Honestly, my thought was to ice it over the weekend and come back to practice on Monday and I would be good to go,” Bryant said. “My brother told me, ‘You don’t need to be wrestling until you are ready’.”
That day still hasn’t come.
“I went to the chiropractor and kept pushing back the day I was going to wrestle,” Bryant said. “It finally got to be three days before sectional, but I just couldn’t wrestle.”
His career was an impressive one
“He was a four-time all-area wrestler, three time first-team all-area wrestler,” Kaye said. “He first team All-GWOC three years, he was GWOC champion twice and he made it to the state tournament twice.”
The time off has given Bryant a new perspective.
“When I look back now at my Facebook page and all the things have done in wrestling, it is pretty amazing,” he said. “I made the jump from district alternate as a freshman to being state ranked and a state qualifier as a sophomore. I just wish I could have finished it off with a state championship.”
He hasn’t made a decision on next year yet.
“I still have colleges contacting me all the time,” he said. “I don’t know if I want to do that (wrestle in college), or just wrestle against guys like Andrew (Bolin) in the off-season.”
He finished his career with 128 wins — his bother Kyle (Bryant) has the school record at 146.
“He knows I would have gotten it — with all the duals and GWOC,” Bryant said with a smile. “He knows I would have knocked him off the top. I just miss it so much — it is killing me to not be wrestling. My dad (Scott Bryant) and I had a ritual handshake we did every time before I took the mat. And he would sit in the corner with coach (Scott) Kaye and they coached me during the match.”
And his contribution to the wrestling program remaims immeasurable.
“Of course,” Kaye said about making the other wrestlers better. “Hunter (Bryant) did it pretty much year round. He put the time in and paid the price. The other kids see how hard he works, both on and off the mat.”
And while it may not be the way he envisioned it, Bryant leaves the mat as a champion.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Piqua Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.