By JEREMY HINES
The key to good leadership is making everyone around you better. Center Grove seniors Hayden Watson and Drake Buchanan do just that.
Both Watson and Buchanan seniors. Both are ranked No. 1 in their weight classes. Both finished runner-up last year in the state finals. They also both have worked extremely hard to not only make themselves better, but to make their team one of the elite ones in the state.
Center Grove has a ranked wrestler in all 14 weight classes.
“They have been captains since their sophomore year,” Center Grove coach Maurice Swain said. “They lead by example. They lead by poise. They do everything right on and off the mat. The younger guys really look up to them.”
They are also great listeners.
Buchanan was upset that he didn’t make it to state as a freshman, wrestling 138 pounds. So, he went to his coaches and asked what he needed to do. He was given a bit of unusual advice.
“I think a lot of people expected me to go to state as a freshman, and I did too,” Buchanan said. “I knew I could get down in the dumps and pout that I didn’t make it, or I could figure out how to get better and improve. I asked coach how I could get better. He suggested I make the jump to 182 pounds.”
So, Buchanan started working out. He also ate “a lot”. He wasn’t sure how moving up five weight classes was going to help him, but he trusted his coaches.
“It was kind of fun, actually,” Buchanan said. “I was eating burgers while others were cutting weight. It was a cool thing, and, I had a lot more energy and I was a lot more motivated.”
Swain also wasn’t sure what to think of his advice on the weight gain. Just a couple of matches into Buchanan’s sophomore season, he knew he made the right call.
“We could tell that Drake had a long frame and with his body type he had the potential to be big,” Swain said. “In just a few months after the season he was at 160. He went to Fargo and placed at Cadet 160. Then, after football he was in his mid-170s. We thought, why cut weight when he can lift and get bigger and stronger. We felt that 182 was a weight he could be at for a few years. We were looking at the future and we didn’t think we needed to add extra stress of weight cutting on him.
“I’d say when we saw him in the first few meets at 182 his sophomore year it was a surprise. We didn’t know before that how he would look. When we saw him compete, we were like, yeah, this is going to work.”
Buchanan placed sixth in state as a sophomore and last year was a state runner-up.
“I feel like I’ve really improved my cardio and my hand-fighting,” Buchanan said. “I’ve been able to already wrestle the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked guys in my weight class this year and was able to win. My goal is absolutely to win a state title and I want our team to win a title as well.”
Buchanan defeated No. 2-ranked Orlando Cruz 13-5 and pinned No. 3-ranked De’Alcapon Veazy.
Watson wanted to use the heartache of losing a close match in the state championship to drive him to improve in the offseason. However, a knee injury took away his summer training opportunities. He returned to wrestling one week before the Indiana Hoosier Preseason Open. He still managed to place third in that tournament.
His goal is also to win a state title and he knows to do that he has to become more of an offensive wrestler.
“There is a picture that someone has of me after losing in the spotlight where I’m down on my knees,” Watson said. “That picture means a lot to me. Knowing how I felt in that moment, and how devastated I was after having the lead and losing. I never want to feel that way again.”
Buchanan said Watson is a very technical wrestler.
“Hayden is such a great leader,” Buchanan said. “He’s so technical. If you have any questions about anything technique-wise, he’s got it. Even if he can’t explain it in words, he can show you. He’s been at a high level for longer than I have. We wrestle together a lot in practice and it really helps both of us.”
Watson also takes his leadership role very personal.
“With the team so young, the big thing is the seniors have to be role models,” Watson said. “I feel like I’m responsible for the whole team. I make sure they aren’t doing anything stupid at meets and at practice. I make sure they show up, and if they don’t, I’m calling them to find out where they are. Our younger guys are really good and once Drake and I leave, I can already tell who will be the next leaders. The team is in good hands.”
In addition to Watson and Buchanan, seniors Michael Thorpe and Bryce Crump are also ranked for the Trojans. There are two ranked juniors on the team in Royce Deckard III and Andre Merritt. Center Grove has six ranked sophomores in Charlie Larocca, Noah Clouser, Reese Courtney, Wyatt Kresja, Drew Mills and Nate Johnson. Freshmen Eddie Goss and Julian Weens are also ranked.
“We have a big sophomore, freshman and junior class,” Swain said. “Our future can be bright if we continue to do the things we've been doing. But we also want to enjoy this season and this group. We don’t want to work ahead of ourselves. We want to enjoy the time we have with these seniors. They are a special group.”
Buchanan will wrestle with the Air Force Academy next season and Watson will wrestle for Citadel.