Austin Culton isn’t shy about saying football is his favorite sport.
Culton has had plenty of success on the wrestling mat, as well, including a Class 2A individual state title at 152 pounds as a junior and a runner-up finish this past season. He’ll wrestle for Northern Illinois University in the fall.
However, football always has been his first love. This past fall, Culton ran for 1,412 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for a Spartans team that nearly upset eventual state champion Montini in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
His success in both sports is why Culton has been named the 2012-13 Daily Chronicle Male Athlete of the Year.
When it came to football, Culton was the guy the Spartans looked to when they needed a big play.
“Our entire running game was centered around him – 237 carries, that’s quite a bit,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “I don’t know how to quantify how important he was, but he was.”
For Culton, giving up football will be a bit of a culture change, but he plans to work out with the NIU wrestling team this summer and get his collegiate career started.
“I’m only 5-7. Being at my height, that’s kind of hard to progress in football because everyone’s so big,” Culton said. “Obviously, people have done it, it was just one of those things where wrestling was a better fit, given my size and what not.”
Now, Culton will focus on wrestling year-round, an advantage he didn’t have in high school. He still was able to win a state title in 2012, finishing 34-4, and started this season with 43 consecutive wins before losing the 152-pound state title match to Richmond-Burton’s Garrett Sutton.
Sycamore wrestling coach Alex Nelson wrestled at NIU from 2001 to 2006, and said concentrating on wrestling will be effective for Culton, who will be facing Division I competition, where Nelson said the intensity level “jumps up a couple notches.”
“It can be very grueling, it’s a grind,” Nelson said. “Having a very decorated career as he has, you get there and you’ve got to realize everybody is just like you, if not better. Especially if you’re going to a Division I college, there’s not too many easy matches, where in high school you were maybe pinning them in the first period.”
Culton expects to redshirt his freshman year, but still is looking to find a way on to the mat.
Although Culton considers football his top sport, wrestling at the D-I level isn’t a bad consolation prize.
“I’ve always wondered what it was going to be like in a college wrestling room, wrestling with kids that are top-notch. Just to see how good you can get,” Culton said. “Being in a room like that, I think it’s going to help with my conditioning a lot, my skill. All of the above, just make me a better athlete.”