His path has been anything but conventional, but Colby Smith believes he is where he always was meant to be, wrestling for the University of Missouri.
A four-time semifinalist and three-time state champion from Holt High in Wentzville, Smith is off to a 2-0 start while competing at 125 pounds for the Tigers, who are 3-0 and ranked eighth in the country.
Smith, redshirt sophomore, recorded a technical fall in Mizzou’s 30-8 victory at the recent Grapple at the Grove outdoor dual at Illinois and followed with a decision Friday when the Tigers opened their home schedule with a 21-8 win over 10th-ranked Virginia Tech.
“Colby’s doing well, but he’s still working his way back after the redshirt season,” said Mizzou coach Brian Smith, who’s no relation to Colby. “At Illinois, he really came on strong. We need him to show that confidence, to be more aggressive from the start of matches, to take those early shots and gain control.
“The guy at 125, he can really help set the tone for the entire dual. With Colby, John Erneste, Jaydin Eierman and Grant Leeth in those lightweights, we can really get things rolling. And Colby at 125 can be a key for us. Honestly, it’s been a while, probably since Alan Waters, that we had that kind of consistently strong guy to start our duals.”
Waters, a Tiger standout from 2010-2015, still competes internationally and is serving as a volunteer assistant coach at Mizzou.
He was a four-time NCAA tourney qualifier who earned All-American honors in 2013 (fourth) and 2015 (third). His career record was 136-14.
Colby Smith was the Post-Dispatch All-Metro wrestler of the year in 2016 after going 51-2 and capturing the Class 4 title at 132 pounds as a senior. He also won state championships to cap his freshman and junior seasons, and placed third as a sophomore.
Smith’s high school record was 94-11.
“We definitely knew who he was,” Brian Smith said. “He’d been to our camps and his high school coach, Jason Moore, wrestled here. He committed pretty early.”
Just before the start of his senior season, Smith accepted a scholarship to Grand Canyon University, a seemingly up-and-coming program in Phoenix making the transition to Division I.
But in early March 2016, without warning, the school dropped its wrestling program.
Smith eventually landed at Appalachian State, in North Carolina. He wrestled at 133 pounds for the Mountaineers as a true freshman in 2016, going 27-11. He earning a berth in the NCAA tournament and competed in front of large group of family and friends at the Savvis (now Enterprise) Center that spring, going 1-2.
Still, it was quite an accomplishment to get that far.
But he felt like something was missing.
“That year, I had a lot of time to think,” Smith, 20, recalled. “Not to brag, but I was able to handle everybody from 125 through 149 at Appalachian State; I knew that if I wanted to reach my goal — being a national champion — I needed to find a place where I’d be challenged more, where I’d be pushed physically and mentally every day.”
And he’s found that at Mizzou.
Competing at 133 and 141 pounds last year in open tournaments, he went 15-6 while posting four top-five finishes.
But with fifth-year senior Erneste and two-time All-American Eierman at 133 and 141, respectively, Smith knew that getting down to 125 would be his best shot at getting into the Tigers’ lineup.
“It’s definitely going to make Thanksgiving a little more of a challenge,” he joked. “But I have goals and I know I have to stay disciplined if I’m going to stay in the lineup and help this team. I’ve told coach Smith that I’m willing to do whatever it takes and I know I have his full support and the support of my teammates, too.
“The competition in the wrestling room here, it pushes you because you’re constantly going up against tough guys, guys who challenge you with their different styles. But there’s also a tremendous support system in place here that helps you on and off the wrestling mat.
“There’s a real feeling of family on this team; I know my teammates are counting on me to do what I need to do and they know I’m going to be there for them, too.
“We’re off to a strong start and plan to keep working hard to keep it rolling right through March.”