By STEVE KRAH
Tested regularly by the best from the Calumet Region and the state, Colton Cummings has become Lowell High School wrestlingâ€™s latest â€œface of the program.â€
Cummings has gotten plenty of attention as a two-time IHSAA state champion (at 106 pounds as a sophomore in 2015 and 113 as a junior in 2016) and three-time State Finals performer (he was a qualifier at 106 as a freshman in 2014).
â€œIâ€™m a fighter,â€ Cummings said. â€œIâ€™ll just keep coming at you no matter what. Iâ€™ve been taught that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.â€
He knows that he came into the 2016-17 season with the proverbial target on his back and he does not back down from that.
â€œIf youâ€™re on top, youâ€™ve always got to have a target,â€ Cummings said. â€œIf you donâ€™t have a target, youâ€™re not doing your job correctly.â€
His off-season training included sessions with CIA and Region wrestling academies.
â€œYouâ€™ve got to put in the work,â€ Cummings said. â€œThe Regionâ€™s pretty solid.â€
Now a 126-pounder and a verbal commit to West Point, Cummings spent the early portions of this season ranked No. 1 in Indiana. Among his wins are a pin of Prairie Heights senior Riley Rasler and a decision against Bellmont senior Jon Becker.
Cummings dropped to No. 3 after losing 4-2 to Columbus East junior Graham Rooks in the finals of Mishawakaâ€™s Al Smith Classic. Cummings was trying to become the fourth four-time Al Smith champion in 40 years after 2016 Lowell graduate Drew Hughes became the third four-time winner a year ago.
Hughes, now a Michigan State University, was a four-time state placer for the Lowell Red Devils (second at 120 in 2013, fifth at 138 in 2014, first at 160 in 2015 and first at 170 in 2016).
â€œWe have been very, very fortunate in our program for the last five years now to have Hughes come through and have Colton come through,â€ Lowell head coach Bobby Howard said. â€œI talk to the kids all the time about how much they need to take advantage of that. They get to be around him everyday and watch how he practices, watch how he goes about his business at tournaments. Thatâ€™s huge.â€
Wanting to get the most out of his wrestlers, Howard aims for them to peak at the right time. As the postseason approaches, Lowell workouts are intense but short. The focus is placed on rest, recovery and nutrition.
â€œIâ€™ve been fortunate enough the last couple years to hit the peak at a good time,â€ Howard said. â€œI donâ€™t know if thereâ€™s some luck involved, but weâ€™re going to continue doing what we have been doing.â€
Howard, who enjoyed plenty of mat success himself (winning three national titles by age 8, two Al Smith Classic crowns, placing fifth at senior nationals and finishing fifth at 112 and first at 119 in the IHSAA State Finals for Lowell in 1999 and 2000), said with hard work and following the instruction of the coaching staff, his up-and-coming Red Devils could be the next Hughes or Cummings.
â€œThatâ€™s the carrot we dangle,â€ Howard, a coach for 11 years, said. â€œThatâ€™s what we tell them, â€˜whoâ€™s going to be next?â€™ â€˜Whoâ€™s going to be the next face of this program?
â€œRight now itâ€™s Colton.â€
Cummings is sure someone is up for the challenge. Perhaps sophomore Andres Moreno or freshman Shawn Hollis or a non-ranked Red Devil?
â€œWe have a great team this year,â€ Cummings said. â€œWe have plenty of people who could come up and take Drew and my spot easily.â€
Like many wrestlers, Cummings came to the sport as a young kid.
It didnâ€™t go that smoothly for him.
â€œI was so small I wrestled up like five weight classes and I was getting creamed,â€ Cummings said. â€œI said, â€˜Iâ€™m done.â€™ I got talked back into it in sixth grade. Iâ€™ve been going from there.â€
What makes Cummings so good?
â€œHeâ€™s just an all-around tough kid,â€ Howard said. â€œWhen he was younger he wrestled with older kids. They didnâ€™t take it easy on him.
â€œHeâ€™s got a motor that very few people can keep up with.â€
Cummings regularly works out with assistant coach Cameryn Brady, a two-time Division II All-American at the University of Indianapolis. Brady is about 40 pounds heavier than Cummings.
Growing up in the woods around Lowell, Cummings said he would like to study biology and environmental science in college. It looks like he will be doing that on the â€œBanks of the Hudsonâ€ in New York at the United States Military Academy (West Point).
â€œItâ€™s one of the more prestigious schools in the country,â€ Cummings said. â€œItâ€™s kind of an honor to go there.â€