SYCAMORE – Every time Sycamore senior Kyle Akins turned on his phone he saw the motivational text message.
Sent by his father Tom, it implored him to remember what is important during the long, grinding wrestling season and to block out any negative thoughts; he had to believe he could become a state champion.
It became his screen saver and kept him focused as he pursued, and eventually won, his first state title in 2013. This year, as the IHSA Class 2A state tournament gets underway today at Assembly Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois, Akins is focused on a larger goal and a career dream he hopes to one day ascertain.
Akins (42-0) faces Evergreen Park senior Will Jones (27-8) in a 120-pound preliminary match today.
“I want to win another state title,” said Akins, a Buffalo recruit. “But I want to dominate. I want there to be no question that I deserved to win. “
Which is exactly what Akins has done all season: dominate.
“Kyle has done a great job of setting his goals,” Sycamore wrestling coach Alex Nelson said. “He knows what he wants and what is on the horizon. His ultimate goal is to be an NCAA champion. He’s the type of athlete that knows what he wants. There’s no complacency in his approach. He wants to be on that podium Saturday night and knows there are a lot of guys that want to be up there, too. He’s embraced the opportunity.”
As the second Sycamore wrestler to win a state title – current NIU freshman Austin Culton was the first in 2012 – Akins wants to continue to rewrite the Spartans’ record books. He’s also the second Sycamore wrestler to be a four-time state qualifier – Tim Meister accomplished the feat in the late 1970s and early 80s – and wants to add another state title to the big board in the Spartans’ mat room.
Because of the big-match experience and offseason tournaments, Nelson expects Akins to be comfortable in the most important matches of the year.
“He’s accustomed to big matches on the grandest stages,” Nelson said. “He’s been involved in the biggest matches in not just the state but the country. He’s probably more excited for the opportunity to compete again on a big stage than he is nervous.”
Another state title would further the distance between Akins and every other Sycamore wrestler.
So, is he the best wrestler in Sycamore history?
“Everyone has their opinion,” Nelson said. “If I say yes someone else will say no. Of course, I am biased. I coach him day in and day out. I know for sure that he’s gone up against some of the best competition in the country and come out on top. He’s in a position to be the first four-time place winner in Sycamore’s history. That speaks for itself.”
Akins isn’t worried about his place in history. He’s going to set the bar high and let others decide.
“Freshman year I went to state and set a goal to be a state champ,” Akins said. “As a sophomore I didn’t place higher and was disappointed. When Austin won his state title I would look up at the board every day and see his name. I wanted my name to be up there. I want to do it again. I want the results to speak for themselves.”