Baxter making up for lost time
Butler wrestler gunning for big senior year
By John Enrietto
Eagle Sports Editor
BUTLER TWP — The message is clear in Caleb Baxter's own mind.
Time to make it happen.
Butler's senior 160-pound wrestler has yet to reach the PIAA Tournament. He has only won a couple of matches at the WPIAL tourney, for that matter.
“He lost two matches at WPIALs 1-0 last year to get knocked out,” Butler coach Scott Stoner said. “I felt sick for the kid.”
So far this year, Baxter has been all business.
He is carrying a 14-2 record with a team-leading 10 pins. Waynesburg, Mercyhurst and Thiel are among the college mat programs interested in him.
“That will sort itself out later,” Baxter said. “Right now, my focus is on continuing to get better, place at the WPIAL meet and get to states.”
Baxter has carved out a solid high school career for himself — 71-21 entering this weekend's Clearfield Duals — despite having to overcome personal circumstances.
He is the younger brother of Cole Baxter, the Golden Tornado's all-time wins leader and the program's lone WPIAL champion. And Caleb missed his entire freshman season due to a broken elbow suffered during football season.
“It was rough following Cole and carrying the same last name,” Baxter admitted. “When I first found out he was going to help coach us early in the season, I didn't want him around.
“I didn't want to see him in the room. Simple as that. I thought it would be uncomfortable. But the way he'd beat me up in practice, force me to pick up the pace ... He forced me to get better and compete harder.”
Stoner recalled feeling the tension between them.
“It was definitely there,” the coach said. “Caleb didn't want to wrestle with Cole here. I told him Cole was going to be here and I didn't see him sitting out two months while he was.”
As it turned out, the two worked together — and Caleb benefitted.
“He showed me a lot,” Baxter said. “When we took Cole back (to Kent State), we talked about my wrestling for two hours in the car. I definitely learned from him.
“I first remember coming around to watch his junior high matches. I've been a wrestler since I was 4.”
Stoner said Caleb “used to come around in shorts and cowboy boots when he was a little kid.”
Of course, much has changed since then.
The elbow injury required surgery, which resulted in a pinched nerve in Baxter's arm during his freshman year.
“He had no feeling in his hand for a while. That's how bad it was,” Stoner said.
Baxter came back to post a 27-11 record as a sophomore, qualifying for the WPIAL tourney and losing in the pig-tail round. He went 30-8 last season and won a section championship before losing the narrow decisions at the WPIAL meet.
“I need to get better on top,” Baxter said of his own mat skills. “Most of my pins are from neutral position or during scrambles. That's why I usually let a guy up once I take him down.
“Other than that, I like where I'm at. I do feel like I've been trying to make up for that lost (freshman) year and I'm finally there.”
A third Baxter — their cousin, Cooper — is coming through the program. He is on the junior high team.
“That family has been nothing but supportive of me for years here,” Stoner said. “I'm grateful for all they've done for me.
“Caleb has so much talent and potential. At first, he wasn't sure he wanted to wrestle in college. Now he does. He will have a lot to offer somebody.
“He's a different kind of kid. He's intense, the way he looks at himself,” Stoner added.
Baxter was forced to sit out Butler's recent match at Highlands because he shoved his opponent after a match at Knoch.
“I stayed in the (practice) room for an extra two hours that day working with Coach (Fred) Powell, then went to Highlands to watch our match,” Baxter said. “I put in extra time whenever I can.
“That shove ... I let my emotions get the best of me. That will never happen again. Learn and move on. That's what this sport is.”