Trent Hidlay Q&A: Embracing the NC State culture, the ACC’s wrestling dominance, a future in freestyle
by Joe Wedra, USA Wrestling
Photo courtesy of NC State Athletics
This year, themat.com will interview one collegiate wrestling athlete each Thursday as a part of a new Q&A series for the 2021-22 college wrestling season. Stay tuned each Thursday for a new feature, spotlighting these student-athletes both on and off the mat.
This week, we talk with North Carolina State 184-pounder Trent Hidlay, who is currently ranked No. 3 by FloWrestling at the weight. As a redshirt freshman last year, Hidlay made an impressive run for head coach Pat Popolizio and the Wolfpack, making the finals at the NCAA Championships.
Below, Hidlay gives fans an inside look into the culture at NC State, including why the program stood out during his recruiting process. He also discusses his recent freestyle success, and why he feels he is able to gain valuable freestyle experience in Raleigh.
Hidlay also talks about Friday night’s home dual meet against Virginia Tech, a battle between two top-eight teams in Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.
Q: Obviously, the culture at NC State and the #PackMentality motto is key for the Wolfpack program. How does that culture really help drive the success that the team has recently seen on the mat?
A: I think that our culture is what sets us apart. It’s what has allowed a program that has gone from not having a whole lot of history to become a top-five, top-ten school yearly at this point. That’s a lot of credit to what Coach Pat [Popolizio] and the rest of the staff has done, by implementing that lifestyle, the Pack Mentality and culture that we have. It’s really important to the guys on the team and the staff. It’s something that’s preached to you when you’re being recruited, they tell it how it is. The message is that once you come here, you do all of the right things – train really hard, live a good lifestyle and compete really hard.
We want to chase down the top guys in the country, and for us that’s the only way to do that, by doing everything right… Everything they told me when I was being recruited has come to fruition. I’ve seen a lot of gains, and I’ve leveled up a lot just by trusting in the vision and the process that the coaches have laid out for us.
With that comes sacrifice. We don’t necessarily live the typical college lifestyle. We’re held to a really high standard with school and training. But, if you’re willing to buy into that, you’re going to see a lot of really good things. And the guys who have been really successful coming up through our program have bought in and embraced that leadership. I think you’re just seeing the product of a really hard work ethic that’s been instilled in a lot of guys. It’s allowed us to take the next step at the NCAA level.
Q: In terms of the recruiting process that you mentioned, what was that like for you to explore your options and ultimately decide on NC State?
A: Looking back on my recruiting process, it was a little different than others because I had a brother who was already on the team [Hayden, a four-time All-American and ACC champion who wrestles for the Wolfpack at 174 pounds]. So, that’s always in play and I think a lot of schools thought I was going to NC State, but I kept my options open. I went and visited a lot of schools. My top four coming down to the end were NC State, Iowa, Lehigh and Purdue. I liked all of those programs and really enjoyed the coaching staffs. They all had unique things to bring to the table.
But I think for me, what sold me on NC State a little bit was the culture of the program, but more importantly I think they were kind of an underdog program that was chasing the top and they wanted to go after the likes of the top-tier teams in the country. I’ve always kind of considered myself as a bit of an underdog in my wrestling career, so that was something that I resonated with. I thought it was important for me to go somewhere that was trying to do something for the first time. NC State was a place where I could come in and make an immediate impact and create history for the program.
Q: What is it like to compete in the ACC, which has truly established itself to be one of the most dominant conferences in the country? And with that, how great is it that a smaller conference has created so many great rivalries?
A: I think the ACC honestly is one of the best-kept secrets in NCAA wrestling at this point. People know we have tough teams, but every year you’re looking at NC State, Virginia Tech, UNC, Virginia, Pittsburgh and Duke… you know any time you’re wrestling one of the ACC schools in a dual, there are going to be fireworks. We take a lot of pride in that ACC dual schedule, and I know a lot of other teams do too. They’re really good matches. These Friday night duals, you need all 10 guys in the lineup or it’s not going to work out for you.
I think the ACC wrestling is really enjoyable and it’s fun to be a part of the conference. When you look at who you’re competing against, it sets you up really well for the NCAA tournament. We have top-five guys at each weight. We only have six teams, but we have a lot of depth in those teams. The ACC tournament is crazy. I just think the level of competitiveness has really grown. In the last five to ten years, the level of wrestling in the ACC has jumped tremendously.
This time of the year is really fun for us because we get to battle it out against all five teams and then do it again at the ACC tournament. You’re really familiar with everyone. The coaches know everything about everyone, which makes it competitive and fun.
Q: You personally have had a lot of recent freestyle success, winning a bronze medal at the 2019 Junior World Championships and a third-place finish at the 2021 World Team Trials. What is it like to have a home in NC State where both your folkstyle and freestyle goals can be reached?
A: I think the RTC at NC State has really helped me a lot. It did especially in my redshirt year. That was kind of when I started to jump levels because I was doing all of the college workouts, but I was also involved with the RTC. We had Nick Gwiazdowski there, Mike Macchiavello, Timmy McCall, Tommy Gantt, Quinton Godley… I had all of these really experienced veterans on the Senior circuit and I was getting beat up every day. I wasn’t winning matches, wasn’t scoring a lot of points, but I think my wrestling IQ grew a lot just being around them and seeing how they trained and what their perspective on the sport was.
I grew a lot in that year and a half when I first got to NC State, and the RTC was huge for me. We had coaches involved teaching a lot of technique and then things I could keep in my pocket for when I was wrestling folkstyle. That had a big impact on my career.
Freestyle is something I really enjoy. Coming into college, I didn’t really see myself as a big freestyle guy. I had done it, but I didn’t necessarily think I was that good at it. But I found a lot of success in the last few years at the Senior level. And even my last year as a Junior, I was able to win a World medal. So, I think I’ve proven that I definitely belong on the Senior circuit and that opens up a lot of opportunities for me after collegiate wrestling. I can chase my dreams and NC State has all of the resources for me to do that.
Q: Friday night, you host Virginia Tech in a key ACC rivalry dual meet. How exciting is it to be going into such a big event, especially at home?
A: It’s prime-time wrestling. It’s a Friday night dual against Virginia Tech to open up the ACC slate. You really can’t ask for a better scenario for two really proven programs at this point. We’re two top-eight teams who are having a big dual that puts whichever team that wins in a really good position to win the ACC dual title.
It’s really special, the vibes in our room right now. They’re really electric and guys are excited. [Virginia Tech] got us last year in the last match, and I think that really left a pit in everyone’s stomach leaving Blacksburg last year… there’s a level of respect. I know they train hard, they know we train hard. Both teams are really passionate about the sport of wrestling and ACC wrestling and NCAAs. I think when you have two really good programs like that, there are bound to be fireworks.
We know it’s going to be electric and back-and-forth. They have some really established wrestlers, but they also have young, tough and gritty guys. That’s what you expect when you wrestle Virginia Tech. It’s going to be tough and gritty. No win is going to come easily. We have to be on our game and have all 10 guys focused in. They’re going to be trying to take our head off in our own gym. So, how we respond is going to say a lot about our team.
I’m excited. I’m excited for not just myself, but for our whole team and some of the younger guys who haven’t been a part of it to experience the level of competitiveness. It’s going to be really good for them, and I’m just looking forward to a good, old-fashioned packed crowd and really good wrestling.