Ponderosa's Cohlton Schultz: A once-in-a-generation wrestler who just may be the state's best

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He was in Slovakia, fresh off making the semifinals in an international tournament, and Cohlton Schultz couldn't shake the disappointment.

Schultz, a senior at Ponderosa, couldn't get past a loss at wrestling's Junior World Championships last September, where he would ultimately take bronze.

"It's not just one of those things you can shake off," Schultz said. "Taking bronze, that was a rough one. I was hurt. I remember that whole night. I talked to my dad on the phone. I was still teary-eyed about it. I tried to keep my composure in front of everyone, but as soon as I got back in the locker room, I broke in front of the coaches.

"It was rough," he continued. "It's almost like a piece gets torn out of you. It was semifinals of the World Championships, and I was heart-broken from that loss."

A high school senior, shaken by placing third in the world. It's something many coaches along the way have told him will one day make him the best at what he does.

Schultz, who wrestling experts agree is supremely talented from both a technical and mental standpoint, has an uncommon drive. In his mind, he says, "everything is a competition." For someone like Schultz, dreams don't have to just be dreams. They become goals. And his goals are huge.

"Ever since I can remember starting wrestling," Schultz said, "I always had it in my mind wanting to be an Olympic champion."

It was something that got started when Cohlton's older brother and best friend, Trent — himself a two-time state champion at Mountain Vista — started wrestling as a kid. Cohlton, in diapers, would mimic Trent's practice on the corner of the mats. Eventually, his dad put Cohlton into his own tournaments.

"My dad became a big supporter of me, and got me believing that it was an actual thing I could achieve, being a World Champion and an Olympic champion," Schultz said.

His drive has already led him to do great things in wrestling at a young age. Schutlz won on the international stage with a Cadet World Championship in 2017, along with titles at the Pan American Championships in 2015.

"I've always made it my expectation to be the best in the world," Schultz said.

Now, on the eve of his fourth and final state wrestling tournament in Colorado, there's a question lingering in the minds of many among the wrestling community: Is he the best wrestler the state has ever produced?

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It may not be a fair question to ask, especially about a high school kid. Especially given how difficult it is to compare across weight classes, let alone across time.

But the fact that the question lingers does mean this: Schultz is special. As in, wrestlers — and people — like him come around once a generation.

"A kid like that — you know, you can train with the best coaches, right? And you'll never get to his level," said Tim Yount, one of Colorado's foremost experts in wrestling who has been putting out the sport's definitive individual and team rankings for years. "You can wrestle four hours a day and do weights and run and do all the things that a coach whose had great success with others has done, and you'll still never get to the point where this kid is. He is naturally gifted, but ... he hasn't taken that for granted."

Said Bob Smith, the legendary former coach at Wray who has been to every state tournament since he wrestled in it in 1952: "He's the real deal. ... Kids like him are very rare. I think he's one-in-a-million."

Said Ponderosa principal Tim Ottmann, the school's former longtime coach who is something of a wrestling historian: "In my opinion, I don't know that we've ever had one better in the whole state, and perhaps maybe even the country."

Schultz is already a four-time champion at two major high school events: the Doc Buchanan Tournament in California, and the Reno Tournament of Champions in Nevada. He became the first-ever four-timer in Reno.

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This weekend, Schultz has the chance to become a four-time state wrestling champion in Colorado.

In his previous three state tournaments, Schultz has pinned his opponents in 11 of the 12 matches. Only two matches have gone past the first period.

There's something striking about what Schultz has been able to do at state already: Of the 21 previous four-timers, no one has won a single title above 189 pounds. He's already won three titles at 220 pounds or heavier, including a heavyweight title as a junior when he weighed 240 pounds. Schultz, who is now up to about 270 pounds, is wrestling at heavyweight again this season.

"If you think about that, those kids are three-to-four years older than you," said Mikael Smith, a former four-time champion at Nucla from 2002-05 who is now a state tournament official. "They're more mature, especially in that division. Especially in those upper weights. That's pretty amazing that he came through and won it. ... In that fact, that's pretty impressive."

Said Yount: "One of the things I think that has maybe been missed is that point alone. You know, you see a lot of those guys that win four that have come up through the smaller weights. ... And he's in the situation, too, where he's in the biggest class. He's wrestling 5A."

As a freshman, Schultz beat two seniors and a junior en route to the 220-pound title. As a sophomore, he beat two juniors and a senior.

"It's tough, especially early on as a freshman and sophomore," Schultz said. "I remember I tried to never show it, but there were a lot of times I definitely wasn't the strongest guy out there. I might not have been the fastest, the strongest, but I think that's where the mental game comes in. I don't think a lot of people are able to develop that mental side of wrestling early enough to be able to win it at those early weights. You've got to be able to out-think them, and be able to keep your head on your shoulders the whole time."

Those lofty goals he set when he was a kid include becoming a four-time state champion. Schultz said he remembers watching Jake Snider, Ponderosa's only four-time champion, win his fourth in 2010.

"I thought that was an amazing thing, so I wanted to do that," Schultz said. "I wanted to be a four-timer."

At times in his young career, Schultz has been coached by Jared Haberman, a four-time champ at La Junta from 1996-99.

"That'll be cool, having an opportunity to join him and all those other names up there," Schultz said. "It's a pretty amazing feeling. It's a pretty cool feat that I've been wanting ever since I was a little kid."

Smith, the former Wray coach, compared Schultz to Bob Thompson, the first four-timer from Montrose in 1956-59: "I think Schultz probably has more knowledge," he said. "He's been exposed to a lot more, just because of the times. Thompson — we didn't have all this that's going on now that kids can do."

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There's more to Schultz, though, than wrestling. He has a depth that isn't exactly common in a high school senior.

He's committed to Arizona State — as the nation's No. 1 recruit, mind you. And he's interested in their biodesign program. That program, according to ASU, "addresses today's critical global challenges in healthcare, sustainability and security."

His interest in the field was sparked after taking honors biology at Ponderosa, and he's currently taking a college-level bio tech course.

"I'm loving it," Schultz said. "It's a lot of fun."

Asked what he might want to do in the field, Schultz named off a variety of options, and then shrugged. He isn't quite sure yet, which makes sense. But he wants to be part of it: "The kind of change they're able to make in the world, who wouldn't want to be a part of that?"

Ottmann, Ponderosa's principal, said Schultz is the type of person who easily moves between different groups within the school.

"He doesn't just hang around the athletic area and just kinda connect with the so-called 'jocks,'" Ottmann said. "He's very nice and respectful to everyone."

Often times, wrestling takes Schultz to far-away places in the middle of the school year. He always checks in with his teachers to grab assignments to complete on the road. And when he comes back, having, say, just won a gold medal, "You would never know it," Ottmann said. "He hasn't let that affect his head."

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There's a humility there, and it extends to the mat.

"He doesn't take kids, cut them, take them down, cut them," Ottmann said. "He goes out there and tries to take care of business, and he's very respectful of his opponents, as well. He's just got it all."

Schultz easily could've stopped wrestling for his high school, especially with pressure to train full-time in Greco. But he just couldn't give up the chance to represent Ponderosa and be part of his high school team.

"It's a huge feeling you can't get anywhere else," Schultz said. "I get to represent all my friends, and the community. But also I really enjoy the team aspect. Outside of high school, it almost becomes like a job a little bit, but being able to help kids in the room, being able to be here for all my friends, it's just a feeling that's hard to explain, but it keeps me coming back."

Asked about his legacy as a high school wrestler, Schultz spoke of being a role model.

"I try to think about it more like when I was a little kid seeing all these guys doing crazy things," Schultz said. "I try to think about how I can be the best role model I can for the next generation of wrestlers, kinda proving that everything I'm doing is possible. Especially coming from the Highlands Ranch/Parker area, you can do it. There's a lot of opportunities to get it done, and you've got to take advantage of all of them. As far as legacy goes, I really just try to do everything I can to try to leave the imprint for the future."

It's not uncommon now to see young wrestlers asking Schultz for an autograph.

"I think one of the cooler things is all the little kids I get to meet and talk to," Schultz said. "It's pretty fun. I enjoy it. I enjoy being able to try to be a role model for all of them."

Said Ottmann: "He's an ambassador of the sport, and of Ponderosa. He gives back to the sport all the time. Kids look up to him and idolize him, but he's just a regular guy. And I think he really wants people to understand that, that success hasn't gotten to his head, and he's willing to give back to the sport that's been good to him."

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Keep this in mind: No Colorado-born wrestler has ever won Olympic gold. Yes, Coronado grad Henry Cejudo won gold in 2008, but he was raised near Phoenix, and moved to Colorado to train at the Olympic Training Center before his junior year.

And Colorado is important to Schultz.

"I take that to heart. Wearing the Ponderosa singlet, I take that to heart. I try to carry it with me in everything I'm doing," Schultz said. "Being able to represent my state, represent my country, is just a huge blessing. Everyone who supported me along the way, it's all really a testament to all the work they've done.

"You know that saying, 'It takes a village?' It's really true," Schultz continued. "There's a lot of times I don't think I could make it without everyone supporting me and pushing me towards it. Wrestling's a hard sport as far as self-motivation. You don't have a whole team cheering you on most of the time. You hit some lows, and there's a lot of people around you that have to pick you back up."

Considering what he has already accomplished, and the potential of what he may yet do, it sets Schultz up to, perhaps, be the best high school wrestler the state has ever produced.

"Today, I believe for a Colorado product — and I don't consider Cejudo a Colorado product, he's an Arizona product — this is the No. 1 kid I have ever seen in the state of Colorado. Bar none," Yount said. "There is no one that's going to be able to touch what he's going to do at the international level as a high school kid, and that's the crazy thing. He's already doing internationally what some kids do after they graduate from college, and that really sets him apart from some of the other unbelievable athletes that we've had in this state."

Said CHSAA assistant commissioner Ernie Derrera, who has attended more than 30 state tournaments, and seen 16 of the 21 four-time champions:  "He's the best that I've ever seen in Colorado, and that includes some pretty spectacular wrestlers. It's undeniable that the young man is what he is. I mean, he won a World Championship. Who else do we know of that's won a World Championship?"