Athlete of the Week | Whatever the weight, Mogadore senior Tyler Shellenbarger excels
MOGADORE — Tyler Shellenbarger has never quite been a true heavyweight, even as he earned his place among Ohio's best at 285 pounds, qualifying for state as a junior.
For years, Shellenbarger was nowhere close to 285 pounds and thus was taking on wrestlers that were far heavier and taller than him.
So it wasn't exactly a surprise when the Wildcats senior told coach Duane Funk that he planned on dropping down to 215 pounds this season.
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"He told me at the beginning of the summer, he was going down," Funk said. "I'm like, 'OK.' I just smiled. That was 100 percent his call."
Long blocked from doing so by the presence of Class of 2022 standouts Tyler Knight, a four-time state qualifier who wrestled at 190 last season, and Michael Lowe, who earned state runner-up at 215, there was nothing stopping Shellenbarger from finally switching weight classes as a senior.
So Shellenbarger made the switch and is feeling better than ever.
"It's great," Shellenbarger said. "I've always been kind of quick and I feel like losing that 40, 45 pounds or whatever has only made me faster, and obviously wrestling with the heavyweights for the past three years has made me stronger, so I feel like I can just kind of go out there and control the matches a little bit more. I definitely feel a lot more dominant."
Dominant has been a good word to describe Shellenbarger this season, whether the Record-Courier Athlete of the Week has wrestled at 285, where he started the season, or 215, where he plans to spend the remainder of the year.
As a heavyweight at the Waterloo Classic, Shellenbarger, still shedding weight from football, took down United's Dallas McCracken, who topped him in last year's third-place match at the Garfield Heights district meet.
Since switching to 215, Shellenbarger has been no less impressive, including Portage County Tournament and RJ Sochia Memorial titles. While the former might matter more to local readers, the latter likely meant more to Shellenbarger as he became the first Mogadore wrestler to win the MVP award at the tournament that is held at Alexander High School.
The Wildcats have sent a parade of brilliant wrestlers down to Alexander, including the Skye brothers and Knight and Lowe, but Shellenbarger was the first to win the MVP at the RJ Sochia Memorial after he stormed through his bracket with a series of quick pins.
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Shellenbarger has lost just twice all season, with both losses coming against undefeated Teddy Gregory of Stow Munroe-Falls.
All of which provides a mere glimpse of how talented Shellenbarger truly is.
“He's actually harder to wrestle than Michael was for me,” said Funk, comparing his practice bouts with Shellenbarger to those with last year's state runner-up. “He's harder to wrestle than Michael was just because he's more of a solid, compact [wrestler] and he's got freaking tree trunks for legs and you got to really kind of figure him out.”
Tyler Shellenbarger battles steep competition from the jump
Life isn't easy for a freshman wrestler.
That's especially true for a freshman heavyweight.
"It was almost shocking," Shellenbarger said. "I walked in there and I'm walking past these kids and they're like 6-[foot-]5. They're just huge kids, just big kids, but working with the people that I had in the room, it made me prepared."
Shellenbarger certainly was prepared, as he was the only freshman heavyweight to qualify for the Garfield Heights district meet in 2020 and even snagged a 1-0 win over an Orrville senior while there.
"What I mainly took away from it was just getting comfortable with not scoring points and just being patient waiting for him to mess up a little bit," Shellenbarger said. "That's what I had to do for a couple years at heavyweight until I got kind of into my groove and got stronger and matured a little bit."
The next season, Shellenbarger nearly made it to state as a sophomore, falling one match shy in the consolation semifinals at Garfield Heights.
"Literally right after I lost that, I think it was on Saturday, Sunday I went up to the gym, went on a run," Shellenbarger said. "Then that Monday, I was in the football weight room and I was like, 'All right, wrestling is obviously my number one sport. Like, I just got to get bigger, got to get stronger if I want to be able to compete and make it to the state tournament.'"
As a junior, Shellenbarger's state hopes were in trouble after an opening-round loss at Garfield Heights, the third straight year that happened to the Wildcats' standout, but he bounced back with four straight wins in the consolation bracket to make state for the first time.
"I woke up in the morning and I kind of just looked at myself in the mirror and I was like, 'All right, I got to make it to state,'" Shellenbarger said. "Like last year with all the seniors I grew up with, all the kids that were a year older than me, I wanted to make it down to state with them so that really just motivated me to wrestle my way through."
Wrestling takes over for Tyler Shellenbarger
Like many young kids in Mogadore, Shellenbarger started out with a dream of becoming a great football player. (He accomplished that goal, earning honorable mention all-state honors on the offensive line as a senior.)
Shellenbarger had no real roots in wrestling, as his mom threw the shot put at Lake and his dad played football and baseball at Marlington.
Wrestling began on a whim, with a football teammate's father, Jeremy Hill, convincing Shellenbarger to try it.
"He stuck with it, which was good because he was little and a heavier kid," Funk said. "So he always had to wrestle the older kids, which some kids can get discouraged doing that, but he stuck with it."
It was only in high school when wrestling passed football for Shellenbarger.
"I'd say probably my freshman year, getting that close to making it out as a freshman, I was like, 'All right, I can really do something with this,'" Shellenbarger said. "Just wrestling kind of took over, and obviously, [I] still took football seriously, but wrestling was my number one at all times."
As fierce as he has become on the mat, Shellenbarger is a cheerful leader off of it, as the Wildcats' lone senior.
At Wednesday's practice, with Funk letting the seniors, or senior in this case, lead the way on the day before a meet, Shellenbarger and his teammates ended practice with a fun mix of Hacky Sack and dodgeball.
The jovial senior also serves as a unique bridge between Mogadore and Portage Trail Conference rival Rootstown, as he trained with the Rovers in the offseason. Indeed, Shellenbarger made for quite the sight at this year's Portage County Tournament — a little bit of Kelly green amidst a sea of blue — as they watched Rootstown edge Streetsboro for the team title.
"It's a rivalry, but we're all in high school," Shellenbarger said. "We're all friends, and obviously, if I'm wrestling a Rootstown kid or I'm playing football against a Rootstown kid, then it's business time, but when we're off the mat, we're all friends at the end of the day."
That Shellenbarger is that bridge is no surprise, given his loquacious personality.
"Whenever you put on the cleats, whenever you put on the wrestling shoes, it's just time to go," Shellenbarger said. "It's time to take care of business, and off the mat, just be friendly to everyone, because I mean you never know what people are going through, so just it's nice to be a nice person to everyone, but once I get on the mat, it's a business at this point."
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Athlete of the Week | Mogadore's Tyler Shellenbarger ready to battle