By STEVE KRAH
Connor Barket is tenacious in the way he pursues wrestling — and for that matter — football.
The West Lafayette High School senior considers persistence and devotion to routine as his best athletic qualities.
“I find myself almost able to enjoy the grind,” says Barket, a 195-pounder who placed seventh at that weight at the 2021 IHSAA State Finals. He went 43-3 for his Red Devils junior season.
Also constant in the classroom, Barket sports a grade-point average near 4.0 (on a 4.0 scale) and is considering pursuing degrees in computer science, physics or engineering. He is considering studying and wrestling at Purdue University, Princeton University or Wabash College.
Dennis Barket, Connor’s father, is a former regional qualifier at Tell City High School who earned a chemistry degree at Purdue and is now a corporate executive.
Mother Donna Barket has worked as a biologist and is now a substitute teacher in West Lafayette and Frankfort as well as being in her eighth straight year as Red Devils wrestling team mom.
“She gets all the parents on the same page,” says Connor Barket. “She sorts team gear and is cheering at every match as loudly as possible.
“I’m extremely appreciative and I think most of the team is as well.”
Brother Aaron Barket (West Lafayette Class of 2018) was a semistate qualifer for West Lafayette and is now studying civil engineering at Purdue.
Rick Roseman has been coaching wrestling at West Lafayette since 1999 (2005-06 was his first as head coach) is full of praise for three-time team captain Connor.
“He is an amazing kid that does everything right,” says Roseman. “I can’t say enough good things about Connor Barket.
“He’s the highest-character kid I’ve ever coached. I never question what he’s doing off the mat.”
Barket likes to think of himself as the team leader, who will help out in the room and even give younger teammates a ride home.
“We’ve got a lot of young dudes,” says Barket. “I’m exposing them to the real work — on and off the mat.
“I lead the team through conditioning and the mental side. If I make the room better than will make me better.”
Roseman — or “Rosey” as his wrestlers know him — sees in Barket an ability to turn a weakness into a strength.
“You hope your kids learn from their mistakes,” says Roseman, who has observed just that in Barket.
After his freshman year at West Lafayette, Barket began going to Avon to train at Chad Red’s Red Cobra Wrestling Academy.
An East Chicago Semistate qualifier as a 170-pound freshman in 2019, Barket qualified for the 2020 State Finals as a 182-pound sophomore. He lost 6-5 with one second on the clock in the first round.
“That was an absolute brutal loss,” says Barket of his bout against Columbus East’s Noah White. I got a reversal with 10 or 15 seconds to go then he got a reversal on me to win by one.
Barket had his sight’s on a state title in 2021 after placing second at semistate and winning his first-round State Finals match. Then he lost in the second round and in his first consolation bracket bout before coming back for seventh.
“Connor’s such a steady kid,” says Roserman. “He had tough time rebounding.”
But he’s also learned from the experience.
“It’s those moments of failure that have helped me improve as a person and as a wrestler,” says Barket. “I look at myself objectively and work at what needs to get done.
“Each of my years have ended up a little bit short.”
Since last February, Barket has become even more serious about wrestling. He keeps a notebook of things he needs to work on. He’s dialed in his nutrition, exerted himself in the weight room and added yoga to his routine.
He also competed at the Folkstyle Nationals in Coralville, Iowa, Virginia Beach (Va.) Team Duals and Fargo (N.D.) Nationals.
As a junior, he made the transition from football and wrestling at 206 pounds and was around 193 for his matches.
“I was not quite as much as I wanted to be,” says Barket.
This past fall, Barket started on the defensive line (42 total tackles with 10 for loss and seven quarterback sacks) and rotated with Mariere Omonode at offensive left tackle for a team ranked No. 1 in Class 3A (the 9-1 Red Devils lost to eventual state runner-up Brebeuf Jesuit in the first round of sectional).
The 6-foot-1 Barket was about 215 when he began preseason wrestling workouts.
“I managed my weight and feel a lot bigger and stronger,” says Barket.
Omonode is West Lafayette’s heavyweight until he graduates mid-term and enters Purdue for football in January.
He is one of Barket’s workout partners.
“He’s definitely the toughest,” says Barket. “He’s got about 70 pounds on me. He’s an absolute monster.”
Swapping mat workout sessions with Barket are 2019 West Lafayette graduate Joey Kidwell (a two-time state qualifier at 220) and former Castle High School grappler and Purdue student Will Rolley.
“They’re older and stronger than me,” says Barket, who has also been known to drill with Roseman during his career.
“Rosey might be the most deceptively quick human being around,” says Barket of the Bob Freje-trained 1997 Brownsburg High School graduate and current West Lafayette elementary school physical education teacher. “His low single gets on you fast.”
Roseman says Barket has become good at attacking low and riding on top.
“For a big guy he’s as good at attacking at the knee,” says Roseman. “He has a low shot like an ankle pick or low single.”