Tyler Pawloski was never supposed to be in this position.
The Pleasanton senior didn’t know if he’d win his first match at state, let alone the first 12.
If he adds four more to that streak at this week’s state wrestling tournament, Pawloski will join the short list of four-time state champions.
“It’s something that’s definitely exciting and I can feel it welling up inside me,” Pawloski said Wednesday. “I’m ready to enjoy it. I don’t have much wrestling left in my life so I’m going to enjoy every bit of it.”
Ranked No. 1 at 132 pounds in Class D, Pawloski is 23-0 on the season and 155-3 for his career. His senior campaign didn’t get going until January after he tore his ACL at a summer football camp. It wasn’t until just before the New Year that he knew for sure he’d be back for wrestling.
“I was practicing without a goal for the weekend,” he said. “There was no mat time, but all the work. That was really tough.”
He found the silver lining, though. The Hastings football recruit might have missed his final year on the gridiron, but is thankful for his time on the mat.
Pleasanton coach Mike Herman said he has seen the old Tyler over the past few weeks of the season.
“He’s pretty intense,” Herman said. “He did his rehab that same way.”
The talent was always there, Herman said, but it’s Pawloski’s work ethic that raised him to one of the top wrestlers in the state.
“He was a bit of a bull in a china shop when we first got him,” Herman said. “He’s been working hard on technique and has really become an all-around wrestler. He’s a tough, hard-working kid.”
Don’t believe Herman? Ask his practice partner, younger brother Chase, a freshman that qualified at 126 pounds.
“His poor little brother,” Herman laughed.
In true older brother fashion, Tyler said it’s only made Chase better.
“I will never give him a cheap point,” Tyler said. “I could never let him win.”
The two are the lone qualifiers for the Bulldogs.
What does Tyler remember about his first year in Omaha? There was the one-point win in his opener. And a quarterfinal victory with no coach in his corner — they were coaching another wrestler.
But most vivid is the moments before his 120-pound championship.
“You run out of the tunnel and I was scared I was going to trip,” Pawloski said. “The next thing I know the lights are on and it’s like, ‘Shake hands, let’s go.’ And then I can’t feel my legs. From my hips down everything went numb.
“But when the whistle blew, everything rushed back.”
He won that one in sudden victory and followed that with a 4-3 win at 126 pounds as a sophomore. Title No. 3 came a little easier, by way of a major decision.
Pawloski hasn’t given much thought to what a fourth title would feel like. He’s more of a match-by-match guy.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about it.
“I’m expecting to win,” he said. “I visualize all the time being at the state tournament and getting my hand raised on Saturday.”
Sign up for daily headlines from NEPrepZone
Get a daily roundup of game recaps, player features and more in your inbox.