Tyler McCoy has a different definition of adversity than most college wrestlers.
Yet even for the McCutcheon graduate who came back from drug addiction and prison to compete again, the 2015-16 season was almost enough to break him.
First came a bout of the staph infection MRSA at the start of the season. Next came a right shoulder injury in practice, then the first of two concussions, then a left shoulder injury. Recovery time prevented McCoy from cutting weight down to 184, which still would have been a jump from last season's 174. So he wrestled at 197, holding his own on strength but giving up size and height to opponents.
McCoy wrestled only eight matches during the regular season. He'd entered his senior season with high hopes, expecting to take a final shot at an elusive national tournament berth.
By the time of the NAIA Midwest Regional in Batesville, Arkansas, on Feb. 20 — where he drew the No. 1 seed in the first round — McCoy was ready to move on.
"I've been in so much pain here the last couple of months, the whole season, that I went down there and for the first time ever I didn't want to compete," McCoy said. "I was looking forward to closing this chapter of my life and being done with it.
"But halfway down to Arkansas, I got a feeling in my head I'd been looking for all season — of making something personal."
Missouri Baptist's Andrew Mahone, ranked 10th nationally, pinned McCoy in the first match. Due to his meager 4-4 record coming in, McCoy couldn't count on an at-large bid to nationals. So he won all three of his matches in the wrestlebacks, including a 7-3 victory over Davenport University's Aaron Martin in the third-place match, to clinch his trip to nationals.
McCoy and teammate Scott Pitrowski begin competition at the 59th annual NAIA National Championships in Topeka, Kansas, on Friday.
"It's definitely right in line with his personality," CCSJ wrestling coach Ryan Rivera said. "There's always been some kind of adversity he's faced, whether it's his past or some of the trouble he's gotten in.
"This year, the main adversity facing him was just time catching up with him. He's in his mid-20s now. If you've been wrestling since you were a kid that's kind of old. Your body breaks down. It's a rough sport to be doing it for that long."
McCoy was a state qualifier at McCutcheon before continuing his career at Wabash College. There, he began a slide into drug addiction and crime that culminated in a pair of residential burglaries in rural Tippecanoe County in 2011. He was arrested and spent 13 months in prison at the Westville Correctional Facility.
After his release, McCoy embraced CCSJ's new wrestling program as a way to return to the sport and turn his life around. He was eventually elected student government president. At this week's national tournament he'll be recognized as an Academic All-American for the second time.
Tyler McCoy, second from right, couldn't compete during his first year at CCSJ while he repaired his academic record. Wrestling coach Ryan Rivera brought him into the program on a trial basis. McCoy had to establish himself as a student, teammate and citizen for one year before he could wear a Crimson Wave uniform. (Photo: Journal & Courier file photo)
He'll need those smarts on the mat, because he's not 100 percent healthy. One shoulder may require surgery after the season. McCoy's strategy is to get early takedowns and stay on top because it's difficult for him to escape from the bottom position.
"I'm just wrestling on spirit, more or less," McCoy said.
McCoy hasn't decided what he'll do when he graduates this spring. He said he has an intriguing employment offer that could bring him back home to Lafayette. He has considered the one-year master's program in management at CCSJ, where he could also serve as an assistant wrestling coach.
On Friday, he'll be wrestling to make it through to Saturday and earn All-American status. He said the pressure he feels these days is only positive, because he has nothing to lose.
"If I'm on Friday and on Saturday, I can reclaim a lot of the failures I've had up to this date," McCoy said. "I can get that plaque and walk away from the sport comfortable."