Restarting and rebuilding

Sean Howk’s 1st year of collegiate wrestling

File photo by Travis Rosenau Sean Howk has his hand raised after a win in the 2019 State Individual Wrestling Tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

MARSHALL — When former New Ulm Area wrestler Sean Howk finished his senior year of prep wrestling in 2019, he went out with his hand raised, a state medal and the most career wins in New Ulm High School history.

Now a Division II freshman wrestler at Southwest Minnesota State University, that past is behind him. To get back to the top of his class, it’s going to require patience, hard work and an extra year of preparation.

Howk finished his senior year of wrestling in high school with a 45-3 record and a Class AA third-place state medal at 145 pounds, which also gave him 210 career wins. Those 210 victories passed Adam Hoffmann’s previous NUHS career record of 181 wins.

Now a redshirt freshman at SMSU, Howk wrestles unattached. This means that Howk practices the same with the SMSU starters, but with the exception of a few early tournaments, he and other SMSU redshirt freshmen wrestlers carpool to tournaments around the north-central area, gaining collegiate wrestling experience on their own. Unattached wrestlers are also not allowed to wear school-affiliated clothing and are largely responsible for getting themselves to these events.

Despite all of his past accomplishments and being a leader on his team at NUHS for many years, Howk expected this change in college and he’s embracing his new career.

Photo courtesy of Riley Altenburg/SMSU Howk has his hand raised after a victory in his first year of wrestling at Southwest Minnesota State University.

“I think it’s kind of lived up to what I’ve thought it was going to be,” Howk said. “Nothing you’ve done really in the past really matters anymore. Just knowing that everybody here is about the same was the best part. So you can kind of rebuild and you have your own new career now.”

As a redshirt freshman, Howk plans to wrestle four more years after this season along with double majoring and double minoring, which allows him to spread out his workload while continuing to wrestle each year.

While Howk is basically wrestling for himself this year at the tournaments he attends without his coaches, he still has teammates there to support and coach him during his matches.

“There are five freshmen here and we mostly carpool everywhere we go,” Howk said. “So then we go places with each other, this last tournament we carpooled up to Ridgewater and we have teammates in our corner, so that’s a nice part.”

When comparing his time so far in college to high school, Howk said that the biggest change has been the aggressiveness and strength of his opponents.

File photo by Travis Rosenau Howk wrestles Mahtomedi’s Ian Wilsey in first-round action of the 2019 State Individual Wrestling Tournament.

“The biggest change for me is the aggressiveness of college wrestling [compared] to high school,” Howk said. “It’s been one of the biggest things I think I’ve had to overcome this year, [and] the strength because everyone is so much bigger. And this year I made the decision not to cut any weight, so I’m actually wrestling at 157. So I’m a smaller 157-pounder, but I didn’t want to cut weight this year because I wanted to get stronger for next year where I can be on a dual team and make a run there. So I’ve noticed that strength and every kid here is aggressive, and it’s sort of weird when I go out into these tournaments, pretty much every tournament you go to now in college is like a high school state tournament basically of quality kids all there. Every time you’re wrestling, it’s a tough match out there.”

While Howk admitted to paying less attention to weights in high school than he should have, he’s had to put more time into weight training in college in order to keep up with the competition. Howk gave credit to SMSU head coach Jesse Nelson and volunteer strength and conditioning coach Brad Gillingham for what they’ve done so far with the program’s strength training.

“I never really hit the weights as much as I should have in high school,” Howk said. “Here at SMSU, we lift a lot of weights. I have to hand it to our head coach Nelson and we have a strength training coach here, Brad Gillingham, and he really gives us a really good strength program. Even my family says when I go back and see them, they’re like, ‘You’re looking a lot bigger than you were last year.’ So that’s something that’s really helped, and I’ve noticed that strength is really big in college and I love being here [at SMSU] that it’s such a big thing here, too.”

Howk currently has a 6-7 record with one fall and five decisions, but this season has largely been about preparation for him so far. While he’s still looking to be competitive, he said that getting stronger and learning more have been goals he’s set for himself this season.

“For goals this year, mine were just the little things,” Howk said. “I haven’t really paid attention to my record as much as much as my strength goals and stuff like that, coming into practice every day with good energy. Because I’ve set this year as like a learning year, so I’ve looked into what I need to do for next year, too. I think we have two tournaments left here and after that, I’ll just be practicing, so I can really hit the weights again hard and get bigger and be able to be a full-sized 157-pounder next year. So my goals this season were just to see how strong I could get and really get acclimated to college wrestling.”

Sean Howk

The final tournament on Howk’s schedule will be on Jan. 25 at Saint John’s University. After the tournament, Howk will continue practicing with the team and preparing for next season.

Photo courtesy of Mike and Sheila Howk Sean Howk squares off against an opponent in his first year of wrestling at SMSU.

Photo courtesy of SMSU Athletics The Southwest Minnesota State University 2019-2020 wrestling team.


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