Don’t be fooled by the smiley face-printed pajama bottoms he wears during practice.
On the mat, Free State High sophomore Spencer Wilson isn’t one to goof around.
Wilson, the soft-spoken, second-ranked 160-pound wrestler in the state, will lead the Firebirds into their annual dual against Lawrence High — 6:30 tonight at FSHS — with an air of quiet confidence.
“I thought it was going to be a lot harder,” said Wilson, who is currently in his first year at FSHS after transferring from LHS.
The transition from JV to varsity has been smooth for Wilson, who holds a 14-2 record. It’s no overnight success either; Wilson spent all summer putting in the work.
He competed in dozens of Greco-Roman and freestyle matches, and placed eighth at a national Greco-Roman tournament in Fargo, N.D.
Wilson said another area of his development was learning the nuances of cutting weight and, as he put it, “still live.”
Cutting weight isn’t always the most appetite-friendly experience, but it hasn’t been a problem for the sophomore, who dropped down from the 171-pound slot earlier this year.
“It’s pretty much just don’t eat bread or drink sugary drinks,” Wilson said. “Beyond that, it’s pretty easy.”
Especially considering the Firebirds’ training digs — the balmy upper gym at FSHS — and Wilson’s choice of long-sleeved shirts and sweatpants during practice.
“I only have to lose four more (pounds),” Wilson said.
FSHS coach Mike Gillman said he feels Wilson is a bit quicker and stronger at 160 than at 171.
“We feel like (160) is a pretty good spot for him to compete for a state championship,” Gillman said.
“He’s great at throwing people around,” LHS coach Pat Naughton said. “He definitely is exciting to watch.”
That’s high praise, because Naughton knows talent when he sees it.
Among the many skilled wrestlers at LHS, Naughton has the top-ranked 171-pounder, and last year’s Class 6A state champion at 160 pounds — Reece Wright-Conklin — as the centerpiece of his squad.
“(Wright-Conklin) kind of reminds me of Nolan Kellerman (who won back-to-back state titles for Lawrence in ’05-’06) a bit, except he’s a better wrestler,” Naughton said.
“I don’t know if Nolan would admit it, but deep down he probably knows.”
Naughton added that Wright-Conklin, a junior, still has plenty of room to grow, but his undefeated start to this season at 171 pounds and his all-around skill set drew similarly lofty praise from Gillman.
“There’s some kids that come around (who) are once-in-a-lifetime,” Gillman said. “And Reece is one of those kids.”
The respect for Wright-Conklin and the Lions, currently ranked No. 6 in Class 6A by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association, was evident, but Gillman said his team has a “bring it on” attitude for anyone standing on the opposite side of the mat.
A clash at 171 pounds between former teammates would have been one of the evening’s highlights had Wilson not moved down a weight class earlier this year.
Still, there is a slight chance two of the city’s premier wrestling talents could square off tonight.
“What the word is, over at Lawrence High is they’re dropping Reece to 160,” Gillman said. “That’s kind of been the word going around.
“We’ve got Spencer there, so if he wants to wrestle at 160, that’s fine with us.”
Wilson, too, couldn’t hide the excitement when asked of a potential matchup with Wright-Conklin.
“That’d be fun,” he said, grinning widely.