CEDAR RAPIDS — Wartburg’s Kyle Briggs attributes much of his progress in wrestling to a surprising event.
During his first year on campus, the junior All-American broke his ankle while riding a skateboard the week before the Knights’ first competition. The injury caused him to miss a full season.
Instead of squandering time off the mat, Briggs trained hard and beefed up, growing from a projected 157- or 165-pounder to almost 200 pounds by the holidays.
“By the time I went into college, I was pretty technically sound as a wrestler, but I wasn’t the most athletic guy,” Briggs said. “I was always in pretty good shape but I wasn’t the strongest. Fast forward two or three years, I jumped up two or three weight classes and I was significantly stronger. I attribute a lot of that to the focus I had in new lifting and diet. I became an overall much better athlete.”
Briggs has ascended the national rankings, finishing No. 2 at 174 pounds with a 25-2 record this season. He continued the success of his sophomore campaign that concluded with a third-place NCAA finish and 28-3 record in his inaugural season as a full-time starter.
“Kyle Briggs is a great story,” Wartburg Coach Eric Keller said. “There’s a guy who was a good high school wrestler and he just continued to get better and better and better every year.”
Briggs described the past incident as poorly timed. Keller said he was upset when he learned of the accident.
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“I was like ‘what the heck are you doing skateboarding?’” Keller said. “The dude is an adrenaline junkie.”
Keller hasn’t let one of his leading wrestlers forget about it.
“I hear about it every year from coach,” Briggs said with a laugh. “He says, ‘Don’t do anything stupid’ or ‘Don’t be like Briggs.’”
Injuries forced Briggs to evaluate his style and grow stronger in different positions. He evolved as a complete wrestler, tallying 12 pins, four technical falls and five major decisions this season.
“Looking back, I became a more well-rounded wrestler through those injuries,” Briggs said. “At this point, I’m strong in different positions I wouldn’t have anticipated. Combine that with overall athleticism and I just feel much better on the mat.”
When he finally put in a full season, he battled for a spot with national finalist Tyler Lutes. Keller said Briggs never stopped building that year. It paid dividends when he did step in at 174 last season, reaching the national semifinals.
He was seconds away from the championship bout, leading by one and giving up the decisive takedown with seven seconds left.
“That’s drove him every day since then,” Keller said. “He trained all spring and summer. He trained this entire year with that chip on his shoulder. I know he was motivated.”
Briggs wrestled both 174 and 184 for the Knights this season. He opened the season at the lower weight, bumping up to help the Knights field a more formidable dual team. Briggs was ranked second at the lower weight early and then split time between first and second at 184.
As regionals approached, he was given the choice and felt better in the lighter class.
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“I was feeling a little undersized at 184,” Briggs said. “I really felt like the same athlete than I was at 174. I was just cutting a little bit more to get down. It was like I’m pretty much at 174, wrestling up anyway, so I might as well wrestle down and I’ll have more strength and size advantage on the guys. I felt a little more athletic and stronger against the guys at 174, which I liked.”
Briggs qualified for the NCAA Division III Championships again, but won’t get a chance to compete this weekend in his hometown of Cedar Rapids after the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keller said Briggs can be seen dancing and having fun before practice, but changes personalities when it is time to work. Both impact the team, keeping them loose and focused at the appropriate times, demonstrating his ability as a leader.
“This dude is a character,” Keller said. “Once we get ready to go, like when it is focus time and time to start wrestling, he shifts a gear. It’s like total Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He flips that switch. He’s completely focused on what he wants to accomplish. I love it.
“Consistency is the name of the game for him. You know, every single day, regardless of how he feels, what’s going on in his life, you know he’s coming in every day and he is going to give it everything he’s got the entire practice. That type of consistency raises guys’ levels and that’s why he is where he is. He’s not afraid to put in the work.”
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