By JEREMY HINES
Perry Meridian wrestling coach Matt Schoettle stands in front of his team of grapplers with a goal in mind. He wants to teach them a technique that will help the young men become better wrestlers and gain an advantage over their opponents. But, as he teaches, a voice resonates from within the team. It’s senior Toby Billerman and he’s smirking as he tells the coach that the moves he’s teaching simply won’t work.
It's not that the technique actually won’t work – it’s just that Billerman has a knack for getting under Schoettle’s skin a little.
“He’s kind of a smart ass,” Schoettle said.
“He calls me that in practice too,” Billerman said. “I always give him a hard time. I mess with him some when he’s showing moves.”
Although Billerman likes to keep the room loose and have fun, he’s a very serious wrestler. Almost to a fault.
Over the summer Billerman put in so much work on the mat that Schoettle went to him and told him he needed to try and take some breaks.
“His dedication and commitment are unique,” Schoettle said. “Over the summer I thought he wrestled too much. He’s been doing that for years. He just loves to practice and compete.”
Billerman defends his workload by saying it’s something he loves to do.
“Coach tells me all the time that I do too much,” Billerman said. “I tell him it’s OK. It’s a sport I love to do. I realized toward the end of the summer that I was doing way too much, and I tried to take a few breaks to relax and hang out with my friends. But even then, I was thinking about wrestling. It’s what I love to do.”
That work ethic has led to an enormous amount of success on the mat for the 120-pound senior. Billerman is currently ranked No. 3 in his weight class. Last year he finished second in the same weight and as a sophomore he finished third at 106 pounds. This year he’s hoping to walk away with a state championship.
Winning state is never easy, but the 120-pound class is loaded. There are 13 former state qualifiers in the top 20. LaPorte senior Ashton Jackson is currently sitting on top of the hill. Jackson is a two-time state champion, winning 106 in 2021 and 113 last season.
Right behind Jackson in the rankings is returning 106-pound state champ Jake Hockaday, a sophomore from Brownsburg. There are other proven winners in the weight class as well, like Sullivan senior Lane Gilbert (ranked No. 8). Gilbert has placed the past three seasons, with his best finish coming in 2021 when he placed third at 120 pounds. Other 120 pounders, such as Kokomo junior Jalen May, Evansville Mater Dei sophomore Isaiah Schaefer, Delta junior Neal Mosier, Western junior Tanner Tishner, Columbus East senior Liam Krueger and Center Grove sophomore Eddie Goss have all placed in state before as well.
“Ashton Jackson has to be the favorite right now,” Schoettle said. “He beat Toby a few years ago in the semis. But I would never count Toby out. He can beat anyone.”
Billerman’s practice partner in the Perry Meridian room is senior Kenton Morton. Morton is ranked No. 16 at 132 pounds and is a two-time state qualifier.
“They have been wrestling together for the last 13 years,” Schoettle said.
Although winning an individual title is a major goal for Billerman, he would also love to win the Team State title. The Falcons have a very solid squad with five ranked wrestlers in the lineup. In addition to Billerman and Morton, Hruai Liam, Zach Huckaby and Andy Warren are all ranked in their respective weight classes.
After team state, Billerman and company will shift their focus to the individual tournament.
“I just want to go into the tournament and have fun,” Billerman said. “I want to wrestle hard. I want to compete. And, from there, whatever happens, happens.”
After high school Billerman will wrestle at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He is currently considering studying nursing but admits that might change.
“Toby is a slick wrestler on the mat,” Schoettle said. “He’s got great technique and he is pretty physical. No doubt he’s a team leader and has been for a while. But he’s also a great kid. A great student and he never gets in trouble. He’s a very good role model for the younger guys.”