Daniel Smith estimates that he has wrestled around 100 matches since his junior campaign with South Jefferson came to a close.
“When the offseason started, I went to school, lifted at school and then a few times a week, I drove two hours to Chenango Forks to practice with Team Worldwide,” he said. “Coach Rick Gumble runs a great freestyle practice and it was worth it to make the drive. From the end of the high school season, I probably wrestled every weekend.”
While he was busy on the mat, in the weight room and in the car, he wasn’t too busy to decide on his future home – the University at Buffalo.
Smith, who also considered Binghamton, Bloomsburg and Drexel, said that his comfort with the coaching staff was one of the big factors for him.
“My brother [Darrick] wrestled for John Stutzman so I’ve known him for a long time,” Smith said. “They called me on July 1st – the first day they were allowed to call recruits. When I went on my visit, I loved the campus and liked all the coaches. They were on the coaching staff at Fargo too. I felt like we had a great relationships and it made my decision pretty easy.”
Smith said he expects to compete at 197 pounds at the college level after wrestling at 170 as an 11th grader in Section 3.
“I gained around 15 pounds since last season,” he said. “In college, they’ll put me on a diet and weight program to fill out my 6-foot-2 frame. I’ll be going up to 182 for this season.”
Smith expects great things in his senior year in the new weight class after a 46-3 junior campaign that didn’t conclude the way he imagined it would.
“I was unhappy with how my season ended,” he said of a 1-2 showing in Albany. “I believe I was better than where I finished. It was my first time at the state tournament and in a way I don’t think I was prepared because after the first weekend of the season, I didn’t really have a contested match. Some of my matches weren’t high scoring but I always felt like I was in control.”
He didn’t have to wait long to face a tough challenge in Albany. After winning his opening bout, Smith faced top-seeded Christian Dietrich. The nationally-ranked Greene star defeated Smith 3-1 on his way to the title bout.
“I lost that heartbreaker [to Dietrich] and kind of fell apart after that,” he said. “I was really frustrated because I wanted to be in the finals.”
While he didn’t reach the finals as an individual, Smith experienced championships on the team level in 2013-14. South Jefferson had a stellar season, winning the Section 3 Dual Meet and tournament championships while going 28-0 overall.
“It was great,” Smith said. “It’s a lot of fun when you’re winning. When I was an eighth grader our team went undefeated and it was really exciting. I was hoping we could do it again. Then, this year we did it with probably one of the best teams we’ve ever had at South Jefferson.”
He expects good things from the squad again despite the losses of some key performers to graduation. In addition, longtime coach Pat Conners retired. (John Babcock, who Smith said has been coaching him since he was in seventh grade, has taken the reins of the program).
In addition to another strong showing on the team level, Smith expects a different ending for himself. He has demonstrated the ability to wrestle with top notch opponents, including wins this spring over Christian Stackhouse of New Jersey, who went on to place third at Fargo and Pennsylvania’s Ryan Preisch, who was fourth in North Dakota. Smith picked up All-American honors of his own at the NHSCA Nationals as a sophomore.
He plans to get onto another podium this year — at the Times Union Center — before moving on to the MAC to wrestle for the Buffalo Bulls.
“I think being at the state tournament before will help me this year,” he said. “My team is also supposed to go to Eastern States, so hopefully I’ll beat some kids there and have some seeding criteria for the end of the year. My goal is to be a state champion and whoever I have to beat to do it, I plan on beating.”