By JEREMY HINES
Liberty is a typical small Indiana town. People wave to each other as they cross paths at Woodruff’s Super Market or as they grab a top-notch burger from J’s Dairy Inn over on Union Street. As the saying goes, everyone knows everyone there.
Small town living is great for a lot of things, but for a high school wrestler with big aspirations, it can present a lot of challenges.
Tucker Coffman is a talented wrestler at Union County High School - a school of roughly 450 students located in Liberty. The team has lost 23 of its 25 matches this season. Currently the Patriots fill just seven weight classes. Coffman, a junior, knows how hard it is to succeed in wrestling at such a small school, but he also witnessed first hand that it can be done.
Coffman remembers watching Union County wrestling in its prime. In 2009 the tiny school had not one, but two state champions in Cody Phillips and Michael Duckworth. Both wrestlers had phenomenal careers. Phillips was a two-time champion and Duckworth was runner-up twice and champion once.
“I know them both,” Coffman said. “I’ve wrestled with them throughout the years. I’ve been in the room with Duckworth lately and Cody was always a real big influence on me. Cody was the top guy. He was the best wrestler we’ve had with two state titles. I remember when I was little it was my goal to be a wrestler like Cody.”
In the room Coffman is the best wrestler on the team, hands down. Finding drill partners that can push him is a challenge first-year coach Dan Kelich had to come up with a game plan for.
“During light drilling I rotate teammates with him,” Kelich said. “He’s one of the guys where we can let him wrestle anyone on our roster. He can wrestle the light guys, the middle weights and the heavier guys. We hope that gives him a good mix of working with guys that are quick, and guys that are strong.
“But when it comes time to live wrestle, me or one of my assistants have to break out our shoes and go with him.”
Coffman has seen success in high school, but has not punched his ticket to the state meet yet. As a freshman he lost to New Palestine senior Jared Timberman in the first round of the New Castle semistate, and then last year he fell to Frankton’s Cody Klettheimer at semistate.
Coffman won the Spartan Classic as a freshman, beating current No. 3-ranked Jack Eiteljorge in the final. That match gave Coffman the confidence to know he belongs with the state’s elite.
“That was one of my favorite matches of Tucker’s,” Kelich said. “He wrestled with a tenacity and won in dominating fashion. He showed what he’s capable of. That was one of the most exciting matches I’ve had the chance to sit in the corner and see.”
Kelich says that Coffman is a hard worker who has really taken on a leadership role with the team.
“I’m most proud of his leadership,” Kelich said. “We don’t win many team duals, but he’s taken ownership of this team. As a freshman we didn’t need him to do that, then last year he started to build into a leader. This year he is very good in that capacity.”
Coffman feels that he belongs at the state meet. He recognizes his weaknesses and has been working to eliminate them. He not only has his focus on getting to state, he wants to win it.
“He’s had success against some of the best guys in the state,” Kelich said. “He’s tasted what it’s like to beat them. Right now he’s hungry. He’s had that taste and now he wants the full meal, so to speak.”