Husker senior Eric Schultz is no stranger to the biggest stages in college wrestling.
Schultz, a five-time NCAA Wrestling Championships qualifier, placed among the top five in his last four Big Ten championship appearances, which includes three straight runner up finishes. While he never claimed a Big Ten or NCAA title at 197 lbs., Schultz capped off his career with his second All-American selection following a seventh place finish in the 2022 NCAA Wrestling Championships and with a career record of 103-42. His success extends beyond the mat as well as he was named Academic All-Big Ten four times.
Schultz finished the 2022 regular season with a 20-4 record and was a perfect 10-0 in duals. This netted him the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Every match in the tournament was a narrowly decided affair.
His first match against Ohio State junior Gavin Hoffman ended in a 3-1 decision. His second match against Michigan graduate student Patrick Burki ended in a similar 3-2 decision. For the third straight season, Schultz made it to the finals in his weight class. In the finals, Schultz was pitted against Penn State junior Max Dean.
In the match, the two remained locked for the majority of the first period. With just over 30 seconds remaining, Dean struck first, as he secured a takedown on his only shot of the entire match. With only five seconds remaining in the first, Schultz managed an escape to keep things close. Down 2-1 in the second period, Schultz started on the bottom. With Dean firmly in control, he secured over 90 seconds of riding time. With 25 seconds remaining in the second, Schultz secured another escape, but was still down in riding time by over two minutes.
Dean added a third point for an escape in the opening seconds of the third, and took back the lead 3-2 and with riding time almost secured. Schultz became more aggressive, and took multiple shots in the last minute of the match. Ultimately, time expired and Schultz fell 4-2, his third straight runner-up finish in the Big Ten Tournament.
“It wore on me a little bit, especially after this year, it was like three times, second every time,” Schultz said. “Coach Tervel [Dlagnev] he helped me out a lot, helped me accept that it happened and I can’t change it and focus on what’s next.”
Schultz qualified for his fifth straight NCAA Wrestling Championships, but still hadn’t reached the podium. He started out the gate strong and won his first two matches of the tournament and advanced to the quarterfinals.
Schultz fell to Iowa senior Jacob Warner 2-0, and was knocked into the consolation bracket. He came back with a two point victory over Virginia graduate student Jay Aiello, but in consolation round five came up short to Rocky Elam, 3-2. This was enough to secure one more contest, the blood match for seventh place. Facing graduate student Greg Bulsak of Rutgers, the match was tightly contested, but Schultz prevailed with a 3-2 decision. He ended his Nebraska wrestling career with his first podium finish at the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Detroit.
“I tried my best to focus on one match at a time,” Schultz said. “Previous years, I got too caught up on results or future outcomes and that really distracts you. I just focused on what I can do next and staying in the moment and that helped a lot.”
Schultz’s wrestling career almost came to an end before high school. He needed to decide between baseball and wrestling before he made the jump to high school. Even after he found success on the baseball diamond, Schultz decided that the wrestling mat was a better suit for him.
“To me baseball was a fun sport you played with friends,” Schultz said. “Wrestling was more my style, it was more physical, but my dad wanted me to play baseball because baseball was my best sport.”
It turned out that wrestling was definitely more his style. After a trip to the J Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camp, Schultz grinded away on the wrestling mat. While in high school at Tinley Park, Schultz found success in both football and wrestling. His work ethic and passion impressed longtime Tinley Park wrestling coach John Pfeffer.
“Eric has always been a great kid,” Pfeffer said. “Undoubtedly the hardest working kid I ever coached. If you’re a wrestling fan, you know it’s a lifestyle, it’s not something you flip on for four or five months of the year. He by far epitomized the idea of embracing the lifestyle and doing whatever he could to devote himself to the sport for success.”
Schultz finished his high school career by with a state title for Tinley Park, and became the first state champion since his father accomplished the same feat. He wasn’t, however, content with following in his father’s footsteps. He set out to carve his own name into wrestling history, and decided Nebraska was the best place for him.
“I wanted to wrestle in the Big Ten, I mean it’s the best conference by far,” Schultz said. “If you were the best in the Big Ten, you were most likely the best in the country. The second reason was the coaches and the team. I really liked how there was a family atmosphere and how diverse everyone was. That was a huge reason I came here.”
In his final season with the Huskers, Schultz passed the 100 career wins mark, a feat only 40 other Huskers have achieved. This was made all the more difficult by constantly competition against the top wrestlers in the weight class in Big Ten matches and with a shortened 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nebraska coach Mark Manning said he believes it’s impressive to surpass.
“You’re a stud,” Manning said. “To do that, it says a lot about their competitiveness and shows what they’re made of. It takes a lot of metal fortitude and sleepless nights. The average fan just sees them wrestle in the match but the doubt, the worry, all that stuff helps them become better people, because of being in pressure moments, tough venues, week in and week out in the Big Ten.”
Without the NCAA tournament in 2020, All-American selections were made by a coaches poll, and Schultz received the illustrious title for the first time in his career. Normally All-Americans are the top eight finishers at the NCAA tournament in each weight class. With his seventh place finish, Schultz not only claimed his second All-American title, but also his first at the tournament.
“It was a lot different,” Schultz said. “Anybody can have a good tournament, anyone can win. Anyone can lose. It’s just those three days days that you can become an All-American and everyone is fighting for it.”
Schultz’s success goes far beyond the mat, he was named Academic All-Big Ten the last four years and was listed on the Nebraska scholar-athlete honor roll in six semesters. His classroom success will result in a master’s degree in education, with the hopes to teach and coach when his wrestling career ends.
“My motto here at Nebraska is we’re preparing these guys for life, not just to win wrestling matches,” Manning said. “There’s a lot of very impressive student athletes at Nebraska, but Eric Schultz embodies it all, high character, hard working, and he keeps his head down and does the work. All the Academic All-Big Tens and Academic All-Americans, he embodies it all, and what a tremendous representative for the University of Nebraska.”
While Schultz is completing his master’s degree at Nebraska, he will continue his wrestling career with the Nebraska Wrestling Training Center, with Olympic gold in mind. While his time in a Nebraska singlet is over, Schultz is nowhere near done with the sport and is continuing to focus on what comes next.
“Eric’s a warrior,” Manning said. “He’s going to continue to leave an everlasting mark on Nebraska wrestling, and we’re super proud of him.”