Zach Beard and Finn Higgins felt right at home in Wyoming.
It's for that reason the two Oklahoma wrestling state champions will continue their wrestling careers as freshman for the Cowboys this season.
Higgins made a special connection with the coaching staff early into his senior year at Heritage Hall, months before winning the Class 3A state title at 182 pounds.
“I took my visit pretty early on last year and I really, really liked the coaches,” Higgins said. “I could just tell they're really good people and they're kind of like me. I got the sense that they're similar to me in some ways, as far our personality goes. I felt really wanted there.”
For Beard, it was the similarities to his hometown that made Wyoming his choice. The four-time state champion ended his high school career as the top-ranked wrestler in the nation at 170 pounds.
“I feel like it's the same atmosphere as Tuttle,” said Beard after winning his fourth Class 4A state title in February. “They bond, and they're really close. I like the coaches and everything. I feel like I'm going to accomplish a lot there.”
Wyoming coach Mark Branch is a Newkirk native, and was a two-time national champion at Oklahoma State. Like Branch, assistant coaches Chris Pendleton, Ethan Kyle, and Clayton Foster all wrestled under John Smith at Oklahoma State.
While Higgins might not have realized it at the time, he admits the Oklahoma connection probably played a role in his comfort level with the program.
“I think subconsciously it helped make it feel a little more like home, especially the fact that Mark Branch was a 3A wrestler as well,” Higgins said.
Higgins moves into his dorm room — over 1,000 miles away — on Aug. 23.
“I'm really excited,” Higgins said. “I was a little bit nervous, but going up there that first time really helped. I realized I made the right decision, and I love it there.”
Wyoming already has one Oklahoma native on its roster. Like Beard, junior Shane Woods is a Tuttle graduate and multiple-time state champion. Woods qualified for the NCAA Championship at 184 pounds last season.