Franklin Regional senior Tyler Smith could have gone big, but decided to go small ... and he couldn't be happier.
Smith, a three-year starter for the Panthers wrestling program, was being courted by Big Ten wrestling powers such as Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State, but decided to go in a different direction.
"I loved the relaxed atmosphere at Bucknell University," said Smith, a three-time WPIAL Class AAA runner-up and a PIAA champion. "It's located in the small town of Lewisburg. I loved everything about the campus and what it has to offer a student-athlete."
Bucknell is a four-hour drive from Pittsburgh, about an hour east of State College.
"Bucknell is known around the world for its education," Smith said. "And the wrestling program is doing well under coach Dan Wirnsberger. It's also close to home so my family can come see me wrestle."
Smith made four official visits to various colleges.
"I had a variety of schools recruiting me," Smith said. "I made visits to Buffalo, Edinboro, Pitt and Bucknell. I actually visited Bucknell three times. I was so impressed with my first visit that I went back two more times to get to know the coaches and campus better. After my third visit, I accepted their scholarship offer."
Smith has a chance to start in his freshman year.
"I don't think they want me to redshirt," said Smith, who was recruited to wrestle in the 141-pound weight class. "They have a couple kids at 141 that I would have to beat out. I would have to earn a spot in the starting lineup. I welcome the challenge."
Smith's career at Bucknell will have to wait a bit, however. He still has another year to wrestle at Franklin Regional. Smith has set the goal of winning four gold medals.
"I'm really looking forward to my senior season," said Smith, who captured his first gold medal last season at the PIAA Class AAA tournament. "It's nice to know that I don't have to worry about recruiting any more. No distractions. I can just concentrate on my wrestling."
Smith broke into Franklin Regional's starting lineup as a 112-pound freshman and placed second in the WPIAL, thus earning the first of three PIAA berths. It was the first of three consecutive WPIAL silver-medal performances for Smith. His PIAA title last season ended his string of finishing second.
"It was such a relief to finally win a big tournament," Smith said. "My goal this year is to win four gold medals."
Smith will compete in the 138-pound weight class with the goal of winning WPIAL and PIAA individual titles. He also believes Franklin Regional has a chance to win WPIAL and PIAA team titles.
Franklin Regional placed second in the WPIAL and third in the PIAA last season, while Canon-McMillan claimed both titles.
"Canon-McMillan is still the team to beat," Smith said. "We're hoping this is our year to shine."
That could be possible as Franklin Regional has starters back in all but one weight class. And the Panthers have added two very talented transfers who could make them the team to beat in the WPIAL and PIAA.
Spencer Lee comes from the Saegertown School District as the most highly touted freshman in the state. Also coming from Saegertown is Devin Brown, a sophomore who won a PIAA Class AA title at 106 last year.
"Both Spencer and Devin transferred in at the start of the school year," Franklin Regional coach Eric Mausser said. "Spencer is already eligible because he transferred before starting high school. Devin will have an eligibility hearing before the season begins."
Smith has competed in two national tournaments since winning his PIAA title.
"I went to Virginia Beach with the Young Guns Wrestling Club to compete in the NHSCA National Duals," Smith said. "We won the team title and I went 8-0.
"I also went to Fargo [for the Junior National Freestyle Championships]. I had a disappointing performance. I finished eighth at 138 pounds.
"It was the toughest tournament I've ever been to. I want to go back next summer and show that I'm better than that."