This is the first part of what I intend on being an ongoing series called “The NAIA Wrestlers Weigh-In.” I figure since I obviously watch a lot of NAIA with my bro as it is and not to mention, the fact that NAIA, D2 and D3 generally get minimal coverage, I will try to put a change to that… because I’m interested in NAIA… and the other levels. And I doubt I’m alone. With that said, if you are an NAIA wrestler, be prepared for me to ask you to do one of these. And if you are a wrestler who is thinking about going NAIA, don’t worry about lack of attention from the media being an issue… I’m gonna cover the hell out of it.
I chose Elias because he comes off as a cool dude and I heard he has an interesting story. That’s it. Plus, I hadn’t covered a Missouri Valley guy yet. And I am glad I chose this guy, for he does have an interesting story and he actually is the one who coined this series, “The NAIA Wrestlers Weigh-In.” I had been scouring my brain for 30 minutes trying to think of a title for this… I asked his input and he gave me a perfect idea in a matter of like 5 seconds. Creative kid.
And this guy is finally an AA. He won the Missouri Valley Invite last year and placed 2nd this year and prior to this year, had just kinda run into some bad luck at the end of the year… Missouri Valley is like a “small NAIA National” tourney and several guys place lower there than they do at Nationals.
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
My dad got me started in 3rd grade, but after some pretty dismal returns and being pretty undersized for my age I stopped until i was in 7th grade. I took to it like a duck to water, and never looked back since.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My dad wrestled at MO State in the 90’s (and also played football) but he was never super serious about it. I also have a cousin named David Toese on a certain NAIA team that isn’t mine! He took 4th at the HOA Conference championship this weekend.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
In youth, I forfeited the 7th grade state finals because my parents wanted me to be home for church. I lost the 8th grade state finals! Biggest rival was Dylan Komperda, he beat me in the finals at state and went on to beat me in HS State semifinals our Junior year!
What was your record in HS?
My record in HS was 151-36.
How did you place at state every year?
After missing weight at districts my freshman year and losing the districts blood round my sophomore year, I placed 3rd in big class state my Junior year and 2nd my Senior year, both @ 182 lbs! (I placed at Fargo before I qualified for state because I am a weirdo!)
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
My back this past season has definitely been the roughest go with physical injury, I sat out almost two whole months this season! I had to do therapy constantly and a couple minor procedures. On another note, I suffered from mental health issues my freshman year of high school and that has helped me for a mindset that really keeps wrestling in perspective of my life and remember that God comes before anything that wrestling gives me. Wrestling is temporary, and most of our life will not be on the mat as a competitor!
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I have been told that I wrestle very rope-a-dope and methodically, and a big tool I use in my matches is a strong stance toward controlling pace and clean shots, as well as a wealth of little tricks up my sleeve!
Who have been some of your most influential coaches?
I would say my most influential coach was probably Matt Cox from Blue Springs, MO. He was the head coach at Fort Osage (where I went) and my club coach at MoWest CWC, and he taught me some of my favorite techniques and gave me a large amount of the mental ideas for the way I approach wrestling now. He was a big rock for me in the tough times I went through with wrestling, and he has done quite a bit for me over the years. He also has a wealth of outrageous stories!
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
My high school had the ability across the board but we could never break the top ten in Missouri, and never had more than 3 state placers in the same year. My college team has a rich history of 20 straight Top-20 finishes at Nationals, and we are on the come up now!
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
When I was in the 8th grade, I went to Tulsa Nationals and got a Jordan Burroughs “Got Doubles?” Hat because he was just so awesome! I didn’t get it signed because JB was charging like $30 an autograph and kids are broke haha. Jordan Burroughs made the double leg my favorite shot (maybe not my best 😂).
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Losing the state finals my Senior year was pretty heartbreaking, it felt like a waking nightmare and I went to some pretty low places after that. My awesome girlfriend (that I’m still happy with now) and my coaches helped me to look forward toward summer wrestling and getting ready for college!
You wrestled for the American Somoa World Team, if I’m not mistaken? How much of an honor was that for you?
Yes I did! In September I competed at 74 kg for American Samoa, which is the homeland of my Dad’s parents. It was such a blessing from God and a huge honor to put on a singlet and wrestle for the humble people of our islands! It came pretty full circle to me to be in the same bracket as Jordan Burroughs my childhood hero! I plan to wrestle in the currently-unannounced Olympic Qualifier for the Africa&Oceania regions (it was in Morocco but got postponed because of the coronavirus.)
How loaded was that Heart Conference 165 lb bracket this year? Do you think it was the deepest in the nation?
That bracket was STACKED. 5 of our 6 qualifiers from HOA placed at Nationals. I have no doubt it was the toughest conference bracket possibly in NAIA history, and My coach sure believes 165 was the toughest weight this year at the NAIA and that seems to be a common theme at 165 lbs at every collegiate division.
You won the NAIA “mini-National” title (The Missouri Valley Invite) in 2019 and was runner-up in 2020. So your obviously one of the best guys at this weight range, but just didn’t have a good National tourney until this year, but everyone who followed, knows that you are among the best. This year was your first year to AA at nationals and how good does it feel to get that monkey off your back?
It felt awesome to place! Ever since I got to Valley I expected myself to do well but I got a pretty rude awakening my first season when I lost to Niven and Swafford last year. I came into this year ready to compete for God and less focused on results, and I definitely had a more successful season that I was happier all season long with. I made weight easier, slept better, and all around felt more prepared thanks to my offseason work and more importantly my faith in God growing exponentially.
Who was the fiercest competitors you have faced at the D1 level?
What sticks out to me from D1 over the years would be David Kocer (tech falled me just about everyday at SDSU😂), Bailee O’Reily, Zane Mulder, and Peyton Mocco.
Who was the fiercest competitors you have faced at the NAIA level?
There have been alot of tough NAIA guys! The top ones that have really given me some tough goes these past two seasons would be Ryan Niven & the Grand View guys in general, Isaiah Luellen, and the Graceland guys Brennan Swafford & Drew Sams of course!
How do some of the D1 and NAIA guys compare to each other from your experience? Do you feel some NAIA guys can compete at that level?
For the most part, a lot of the top NAIA guys like the ones I mentioned would definitely compete at the D1 level and could certainly start at some places. There is obviously just a larger depth of tough guys at D1, with an upper echelon group at D1 that separate themselves from others like Gable Steveson or Spencer Lee. I agree that overall, D1 is tougher than NAIA there is no argument about that just look at the USA world team. However, it would be completely ignorant to say that NAIA All-Americans and Champs like Michael Pixley, Lucas Lovvorn, Evan Hansen, Shay Deshazer, et cetera could not compete with D1 guys at a high level. I would argue that many top NAIA guys could make big noise at D1 nationals, and that frequency will only increase as the NAIA grows bigger and increasingly becomes the choice for tough wrestlers to compete in. But ultimately, the NAIA needs to stop comparing itself to D1s and begin to value the inherent competition and deep ranks that we already have!
You and Drew Sams have had some huge battles in some high-stakes situations… is it fair to say you guys have a mutually respectful rivalry going on?
Drew is a TOUGH wrestler, and I have the utmost respect for him the guy never stops!! I love wrestling him because it always has new stuff involved and I personally believe from firsthand experience that Drew was the toughest guy in the 165 lb bracket to not place. I pray he does well for himself next season and sincerely hope him and Swafford stop ganging up on me at 165 haha.
Are you happy with the move from SDSU to Missouri Valley?
I am very happy at MoVal! I had some beloved times at SDSU but MoValley is where I feel God has intended me to be for a lot of reasons! I love the team, the coaches are top-tier and care about me, I am getting a great education, and its a stone’s throw from my hometown of Independence, MO.
How did you feel when you won the 2019 Missouri Valley Invite?
I felt excited and that I was a shoe-in to be a national champion as a freshman! 😂 I learned the hard way to not hang your hat on big tournament wins because there are always bigger ones, and the only thing that matters when its all said and done is how well I held up my commitment to Jesus Christ!
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
I am very grateful for everything that has happened in my career and I feel that all the mistakes and successes have contributed for my benefit. I would really change nothing!
Do you see yourself coaching someday?
Undecided about that! I plan to attend law school after I leave Valley, and whether there is any level of coaching in college or HS or just youth club coaching will definitely have to be played by ear as of right now.
What is your best wrestling memory/accomplishment? How hard did you work?
Competing at the Senior FS World Championships was a pretty high point, but so was placing at NAIAs! Torn between those two things. Whatever comes I know is in God’s plan for me and I will praise Him for it. But perhaps winning an NAIA title would beat them both LOL!
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
I wrestle all year, and I have done summer trips overseas with Athletes in Action for mission work and training too.
What other sports did you play?
I played football for a few years before high school and did not do super great haha.
What are your hobbies?
I am into reading, learning Russian and playing guitar!
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Wrestling has been for me an avenue for learning about physical fitness, mental toughness, and gaining grit in my character and soul, and I know God has given me so much in the sport that will pay off as an employee, husband, and father (and maybe a coach!)
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
My advice for upcoming wrestlers would be to have fun with the sport, trust in God’s plan, and remember that wrestling is not the silver lining of your life. Your best years of life are not in the sport of wrestling, but they can sure be affected by it for better or worse.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
Trivia: I have 5 siblings, I have a 4.0 GPA, and I am undefeated on police-administered breathalyzer tests. 🙂
Shoutout to Tyler Crow for always getting my beard right!