By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Lakeside wrestler Kyle Conel knows what it means to be inspired by a coach. He knows what it means to have a coach sacrifice in order to help him be the best he can be.
He wants to spend his future doing the same things for kids that Lakeside coach Jerry Brady has done for him.
“He spent a lot of time and effort he didn’t necessarily have to,” Conel said. “He took us to camps. Last year, every Sunday, he took us to Cleveland State so we were wrestling three days a week. He helped me stay in shape. He helped motivate me. He takes me to open tournaments.
“He’s able to get my mind straight and point me in the right direction if I do something wrong. He teaches me the moves that are best for my physical ability.”
Conel will use his scholarship as a wrestler to Kent State University next fall to prepare to do just that.
“I know, for a lot of kids, sometimes sports is the only way to escape their situations,” Conel, the son of Luetta Miller and Otis Conel III, said. “I want to help them get out. God gave me a coach who was there for me, who helped me. I want to help kids like that. He helped me get a scholarship. He inspired me to do more and I want to do that in their lives.”
Conel also looked at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia before choosing Kent State just as his senior season at Lakeside is getting started.
“I went over all my other choices, not that any of them were bad, but I felt like Kent State was the best fit,” Conel said. “It’s a little closer to home and it fit academically. I’ll have more time to train and I can be more balanced than if I went to the other schools.
“I just want to thank God for this opportunity and I want to thank my mom, dad and my coach for being there for me.”
Having made his decision, Conel will be able to breathe a little easier and focus on his pursuit of a state championship.
“It makes me feel great, like a lot of the pressure is off for my future,” Conel said. “I won’t have any substantial debt after college. That helps a lot. I feel blessed. It’s an amazing opportunity.
“I contemplated it. The first decision I had to make was whether to make my choice before or after the season. I realized if I made it before the season, I wouldn’t have the pressure of which college is watching me (at tournaments). It feels better now that I’ve made my decision. It’s less stress I’ll have on my shoulders.”
Having made the decision so early, though, could cause Conel to worry not only about getting back to Columbus, but to also stay healthy.
“I kind of worry about staying healthy,” Conel said. “I try not to let it control my thoughts. Of course, I’ll get dinged up, but there’s a difference between being injured and being hurt.”
In wanting to be like his mentor, Conel made his choice on a major, but also is leaving open the possibility of doing something different.
“When I applied, I had to pick a major,” Conel said. “I picked sports administration. I’m not sure if I’ll be sticking with it. I might switch to business. I’m not sure yet. I kind of want (a business degree) to be my fallback degree. If I ever want to start a business, I’ll have that background. I really want to be a coach when I’m done.”
Conel carries a 3.87 grade-point average at Lakeside and is proud to know his work in the classroom is being rewarded as much as his work on the mats.
“It feels really good,” Conel said. “That academic stuff wasn’t necessarily really hard, but it’s something I worked for, too. My mom showed me the value of always working hard. She wanted me to go to a top-notch college. Just that there was a possibility of one of those schools, she’s extremely proud.”
Having visited the school before, Conel sought advice on how to be both a strong student and a strong athlete at the same time.
“I talked to some of the guys about academics,” he said. “One of them said I have to balance my time and not get behind or I will lose myself.”
With the distant future planned out to a certain point, Conel can focus on his immediate goal of standing on top of the podium in Columbus.
“I want to win a state championship,” he said. “I don’t exactly want tunnel vision. I know how to take it one match at a time and having experience at state, it will be a little less nerve-wracking.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.