Until this point in the season, each competition that Ohio has prepared for has been surrounded by excitement. Through all of the excitement, however, one question has been brought up again and again:
Are we going to get to see Cody Walters?
Walters, a redshirt sophomore coming off of an All-American freshman season in the 174-pound weight class, is the Bobcats’ highest-ranked wrestler at No. 7 in the country. And despite his many protests, the answer to that question remained consistent.
Although Walters has seen action in the past three competitions, he’s wrestled in just four matches this season after suffering a head injury at the beginning of the year. He was ruled out for the season-opening Michigan State Open, before competing in just one of the three duals at Eastern Michigan the next week.
Between that November match and last week’s Northern Illinois dual nearly two months later, Walters was back to the bench, finding out each week that he was still stuck at a seemingly endless red light, waiting for it to turn green.
“It’s rough mentally, because you have all of these ideas and goals in your head,” Walters said. “That’s when you’ve got to be around your team and your family and your support system, and just know that you’ll be back when you’re ready.”
The Bobcats boasted a lot of depth at the beginning of the season, and it has been that depth that has helped them remain successful despite missing one of their best wrestlers.
“I think the way that you have to look at it is that nine other guys have to step up,” coach Joel Greenlee said. “That’s exactly the way we’ve tried to convey it to our guys, and whoever’s stepping in for him. I think Marshall Willet’s done an unbelievable job filling his spot this year.”
Though Willet has filled Walters’ spot as the go-to guy in the 174-pound division, No. 13 redshirt sophomore Phil Wellington seems to be the wrestler that has assumed his injured teammate’s place as a leader.
Last season, Wellington finished with the third-most wins on the team and made it to the round of 16 in the NCAA Championships.
Walters, however, remained successful enough to slightly overshadow him.
This year, Wellington has continued his fast-moving rise through the NCAA wrestling world, with a 20-2 record and three tournament titles so far this season.
“I’ve definitely had to step up as a leader,” Wellington said. “I got kind of overshadowed by Cody last year with us being the same age and him advancing farther in the NCAA Tournament than me. It’s fun to feel that spotlight and be one of those guys.”
Despite the missed time on the mat, Walters doesn’t view the time he’s been sidelined as a total loss.
“I got to be a coach in a way,” Walters said. “It made me see a different aspect of the sport, which is nice. You pick up on different things that you can use when you get back on the mat.”
Ohio faced one of its toughest duals of the season last Friday against Central Michigan and lost, but rebounded on Sunday against Eastern Michigan. Walters lost his dual bout on Friday, but returned with a victory against the Eagles.
The entire team sees yet another opportunity to prove itself to both a conference and national audience. Walters sees all of that too, along with something else: a green light.