Josh Eller did more than enough during his high school wrestling career to get attention.
Three state tournament appearances. A fourth-place showing in his weight class as a junior. And a second-place finish as a senior.
All told, the recent VCHS grad piled up 99 career wins during his Vandals varsity career and became just the fourth individual in the history of the storied program to place at state multiple times.
But, ironically, it’s what Eller did this offseason that landed him a spot on the Coe College (Iowa) wrestling team for the next four years.
Competing at the Brute Adidas Iowa vs. Illinois All-Star Classic – an event normally open to Class 2A wrestlers only – Eller showed that he belonged, defeating Iowa Class 3A 112-pound state champion Joey Jerkovich, 7-2.
As a result, Coe College coach John Oostendorp decided Eller belonged on the Kohawks’ roster.
‘A couple days after that, they were trying to get me to sign with them,’ Eller said. ‘They were looking for any way to get me up there.’
The interest was mutual, as Eller jumped at the opportunity to become part the up-and-coming Division III program after dealing with months of uncertainty regarding his wrestling future.
‘When they called me, it was a great relief of stress,’ said Eller of the twist of fate that led to him becoming a college wrestler. ‘It was amazing… It just goes to show how one match can determine your future.’
Eller not only deserves credit for beating Jerkovich handily – but taking the initiative to put himself in such a position in the first place.
A member of the highly regarded Purler Wrestling Academy, ‘offseason’ has not been a part of Eller’s vocabulary since he started wrestling back in the fifth grade.
He qualified for state a year later, but did not place. The disappointment of the latter didn’t sit well with Eller, who promised his dad, Brad, he’d be on the medal podium the next year.
Eller backed up his words by placing fifth at state as a seventh grader, and a diligent work ethic helped Eller exceed that accomplishment on two occasions in the years to come.
Eller did not rest on his laurels after coming within a whisker of taking a state title in Champaign in February.
He was busy in March, beating Kirkwood, Mo., standout Andy Huber, 5-0, at the East-West All-Metro Meet before topping Indiana state qualifier Christian Golden, 2-0, at the Illinois/Indiana Classic Duals.
Eller was wrestling last monthat Senior Nationals in Virginia Beach, Va., when his dad told him of an opportunity to compete in the Illinois vs. Iowa Classic.
‘I thought he was crazy,’ Eller said. ‘I was like, ‘How am I gonna wrestle in that? It’s only double A.”
But it turns out, Illinois’ scheduled representative in the 112-pound weight class was unable to wrestle, creating a void Eller was more than happy to fill.
‘They tried to contact other people, but none of them would do it,’ Eller said. ‘So they eventually came to me.’
The rest is history, as Eller has become the third member of a stellar seven-man 2008 VCHS senior class to earn a wrestling scholarship.
‘It’s a really neat thing – especially for the guys who enjoy it,’ VCHS coach Jason Clay said of seeing a student-athlete go on to the next level. ‘And Josh is a guy who’s always enjoyed the sport of wrestling – he loves to wrestle.
‘It’s gonna take a lot of dedication. But he’s shown a lot of dedication here, and I don’t expect anything less out of him when he goes to college.’
Clay also feels Eller’s unique wrestling style will serve him well at the next level.
‘The better you are on your feet, the better off you’re gonna be (in college),’ Clay said. ‘College wrestling is a lot about feet wrestling and takedowns.
‘Josh has kind of got his own style. He’s a leg rider. He’s real tough on his feet; it’s hard to take him down. His takedown percentage was in the 80s, so he was getting a lot more takedowns than he was giving up, which is huge when you get to the high competition at state. I don’t know if he got taken down the whole weekend.’
But Eller will have his work cut out for him in the avoiding takedowns department next year when Coe meets defending Division I national champion Iowa, a program for which Oostendorp wrestled for during his college days.
If Eller can crack the Kohawks starting lineup, a matchup with All-American Charlie Falck could await him.
It’s an opportunity that could be viewed as a dream come true, ‘or a nightmare,’ joked Eller.
The opportunity to wrestle in college, however, is certainly a dream come true for Eller and those closest to him.
‘For them, it’s been a family thing,’ said Clay of Eller and his parents, who have spent countless weekends driving all over the country to tournaments the past seven years. ‘It’s pretty neat they’ll get an opportunity to see Josh wrestle in college.
‘And a lot of the kids that did extra things in the offseason are the ones getting the opportunities to do more in college. It’s a good example for our young kids.’