Tyler Caldwell fully expects his name to be underlined on the scouting report. For more than one reason, he'll be a wrestler of interest on Friday, as the Big 12 Duals kick off at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater.
Caldwell, a 165-pound Oklahoma State wrestler, is 26-3 this season, touting a No. 3 national ranking in his weight class. That makes him a target for other competitors hoping to take down the potential All-American. And the formerly undefeated Cowboys lost their first dual of the season in the national dual finals in February to Minnesota. Other Big 12 schools might see that as opportunity — strike while the No. 2 Cowboys show a hint of weakness.
However, the main reason Caldwell will be on notice is his past. He's the former Sooner wrestler who switched Bedlam allegiances after taking an Olympic redshirt last season. He's already faced his old team once this season, defeating OU's Bubby Graham 5-3 in Norman last December.
This time around, he'll face Graham and the rest of the Big 12 field in matches with much higher stakes. A fight for the Big 12 crown.
“I've got some guys that are coming for me, they want to knock me off,” Caldwell said. “They probably have my name highlighted and they're coming at me. I accept the challenge and I'm ready to go.”
Caldwell still keeps in touch with Sooner wrestlers he once called teammates, including OU's Kendric Maple, the No. 1 141-pound wrestler in the nation.
“I used to room with Kendric and there were a few other guys I was really close with,” Caldwell said. “We stay in touch here and there, but not as much as I'd like to. I understand we're both busy. Hopefully after this season is over, we can get together and catch up. It's been a while.”
Since his change of scenery, Caldwell has come to appreciate the prestige that comes with being an OSU wrestler — for better or worse.
“You feel a lot more pressure, even from the fans,” Caldwell said. “The community holds you to a higher standard. It's Oklahoma State wrestling. They look at all the national championships on the wall, all the individual champions, they expect a lot more out of you … It's a good pressure to have. They demand more. That's a good way to describe it.”
With friendships and history aside, Caldwell and the Cowboys are poised for their third Big 12 title in four years. They remain the only ranked Big 12 team, sporting a starting lineup with eight ranked wrestlers. OSU has won three of the last four conference titles.
The loss against Minnesota? Caldwell deemed it a wake-up call.
“We were all devastated really,” Caldwell said. “We took our first loss of the season and none of us were where we wanted to be for our individual matches. I feel like I left some points out there on the mat. Overall, it's a good experience for us. We all came back hungry from it.”
Ever confident, OSU coach John Smith said Caldwell's chances of winning an individual title come down to a simple concept.
“He's got a tough weight class, but if he wrestles well, he'll win,” Smith said. “Bottom line is, this is the time of year where you put together your best matches, and you don't hope for them, you go earn them.”
Caldwell has won his last 13 matches, eight coming over ranked opponents. He admits that he wants to be wrestling his very best when the NCAA Tournament rolls around. He'll take his current stretch of success in stride.
Caldwell looks forward to the opportunity to face the Sooners at 7 p.m. Friday. You can imagine the emotions he felt back in December in Lloyd Noble Center.
“The feelings are going to be a lot different in Gallagher,” Smith said.