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NCAA runner-up Tyler Caldwell looks to make big impact for Oklahoma State
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling

Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell works for a takedown during his team’s dual with Penn.

Nobody is ever going to accuse Oklahoma State junior Tyler Caldwell of backing away from a challenge.

The last time Caldwell wrestled a full college season, during the 2010-11 school year, he was competing for Oklahoma in a loaded 165-pound weight class that included NCAA champions Jordan Burroughs of Nebraska and Andrew Howe of Wisconsin.

Caldwell beat Howe in the semifinals of the 2011 NCAA tournament in Philadelphia before falling to Burroughs in the finals.

Burroughs then of course went on to win World and Olympic titles for the U.S. in freestyle wrestling.

Caldwell faces another daunting challenge this season. Now at Oklahoma State after taking an Olympic redshirt, Caldwell is in another loaded 165 division this season.

Three-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake of Cornell and reigning Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor of Penn State are in Caldwell’s weight class this season.

“I thrive off something like that,” Caldwell said. “It’s a very tough weight class, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. Those are the guys I want to beat and there is no other way I would rather have it. I love the challenge. I am considered a pretty big underdog, and that drives me and motivates me. I want to compete against the best guys. My goal is to be the best. It’s not going to be easy and it’s definitely going to be a big task, but I want to push myself and challenge myself to get to the top.”

Caldwell and Dake are scheduled to meet at the Grapple at the Garden competition this weekend at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Dake beat Caldwell at the 2011 U.S. World Team Trials in freestyle wrestling in three periods.

“My goal is to be a national champion, and I have an opportunity to wrestle the No. 1 guy in the country,” Caldwell said. “I need to wrestle a complete match and wrestle my style. I’m looking forward to it.”

Caldwell made big gains while training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs from August 2011 to April 2012.

U.S. Assistant National Coach Brandon Slay, a 2000 Olympic gold medalist, worked closely with Caldwell during his time in Colorado.

“In his transition from OU to OSU, I believe Tyler Caldwell's Olympic redshirt at the Olympic Training Center was an ideal place for him,” Slay said. “It gave him a year of full-time freestyle focus, and a year to mature physically, mentally and spiritually. Tyler desires to train for the Olympics after college, so spending a year focusing solely on freestyle was great for his post-collegiate future. Plus, he was a fabulous addition to our training environment at the OTC. Tyler had the opportunity to compete in the Sunkist, New York AC and Schultz tournaments, along with our Cuba tour and the Olympic Trials. This vital freestyle experience will benefit him during his junior and senior seasons at Oklahoma State, and will for sure be an advantage when he trains for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.”

Caldwell, a Kansas native, spent time training and competing with Burroughs during his Olympic redshirt season. Burroughs beat Caldwell 1-0, 1-0 in the semifinals of February’s Dave Schultz Memorial International. Caldwell finished third in that event.

“I got to wrestle with Jordan quite a bit, and that definitely helped me,” Caldwell said. “I also wrestled with (past World Team members) Trent and Travis Paulson, and with Nick Marable. I got a lot of good looks and different feels from wrestling all those guys. Wrestling freestyle helped me sharpen my skills on my feet. My attacks are a lot better now.

“My freestyle skills improved tremendously when I was at the Olympic Training Center. I trained twice a day with great workout partners and great coaches. I took a year off from college, and it was really nice. It was a good break. I feel really refreshed.”

Caldwell also placed third in the Cerro Pelado International in Cuba and fourth in the Sunkist Kids International Open during his Olympic redshirt season.

Caldwell said his 2011 NCAA finals loss to Burroughs still gnaws at him. Burroughs won the match, 11-3.

“It was one of the worst feelings I’ve had in my career, losing on the big stage the way I did in the finals,” Caldwell said. “He got a lot of momentum going in that match and I couldn’t stop it. I was able to frustrate and slow him down at Big 12s. I was up 2-1 late in the match before he won 3-2 on a reversal. Two weeks later at NCAAs, I didn’t execute or capitalize on my opportunity. I didn’t wrestle one of my best matches. I don’t want to have that taste in my mouth again.”

Caldwell is undefeated and ranked No. 3 nationally this season at 165. The Cowboys are ranked No. 2 nationally.

“The biggest adjustment for me has been getting used to the grind of the college season again,” he said. “The aspect of making weight every week and competing every week is something you have to adjust to. It’s a long season, but I’m excited to be back wrestling in college again.

“I’ve had a lot to work on. I had to work hard on getting out from the bottom. I hadn’t hit a stand-up in a year since I was wrestling freestyle. In folkstyle, guys scramble and roll around more, so that’s been an adjustment. And you need to finish your takedowns – you can’t get a pushout in college wrestling like you can in freestyle. There have been some adjustments, but the transition has been pretty smooth going back to college.”

Caldwell returned to Norman, where he was a two-time All-American for Oklahoma, for the Bedlam Dual between OU and Oklahoma State this past weekend. Caldwell pulled out a 5-3 overtime win over Oklahoma’s Patrick Graham.

“I made some mental mistakes in that match, and it wasn’t a match I was proud of,” he said. “I gave up an escape with three seconds left that sent the match into overtime. I can’t let up like that. I was able to get to his legs in overtime, and I ended up finishing for a takedown. It’s still early in the season and I just need to keep working.”

Caldwell said it was “a different feeling” going back to Oklahoma to wrestle as a member of rival Oklahoma State.

“I tried not to let my emotions get involved,” he said. “I tried to keep a clear head and stay calm. I enjoyed my experience at Oklahoma and had great memories there. I saw a lot of familiar faces there who I spent time with. My mindset had to be that it was another match and I had to just stay focused on my opponent.”

Caldwell is wrestling for the legendary John Smith at Oklahoma State. Smith won two Olympic and four World titles. He’s coached the Cowboys to five NCAA team titles.

“John’s a great coach,” Caldwell said. “He has so much knowledge and you learn a lot by spending time with him. He really understands the sport. He has a great grasp of what’s going on and he obviously knows what it takes to be the best.”

Caldwell, who just turned 23, is part of a strong Oklahoma State program that is seeking its first national title since 2006. The Cowboys have won a record 34 NCAA team titles in wrestling.

“I love it here – everything is going really well,” Caldwell said. “The coaching staff here is phenomenal, and my teammates and training partners are awesome. I’m really excited about our team. We have a lot of talent in our lineup. We have to keep building every day and stay hungry. If everyone wrestles to their potential, I feel like we can win a national title this year.”

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