If you see Chestnut Ridge's Austin Buttry during the day at school, he'll probably be smiling. He'll likely be smiling before he wrestles, after he wrestles and, yes, sometimes even during his bouts.
That goes against the approach that many athletes use when they're competing. Their jaws are set and a snarl can almost be detected. And definitely no smiles. They've got their game faces on.
Buttry's game face just happens to be a smile.
Photo for the Mirror by?Tami Knopsnyder
Chestnut Ridge 285-pounder Austin Buttry has a 100-31 record as a four-year starter.
"That's the way he's always been," Ridge coach Greg Lazor said. "Guys are getting psyched up, and he's smiling. He says 'I wrestle better when I smile.' I think he displays confidence. He's confident when he steps out on the mat, and that spreads to the team."
"I like to put on a show and have fun," Buttry said. "If you're not having fun, then you're not really doing what you like."
The senior 285-pounder did try to change for a couple matches when he was a sophomore, giving up the smile for a scowl. He says that approach didn't last long.
"My sophomore year, I tried to get mad before matches to see if that would work," he said. "My mom saw me doing that and would say 'What are you doing.? Don't do that. You wrestle better when you're happy.'"
Buttry has had plenty to smile about this year and in his career. He just picked up his 100th win - by forfeit against Conemaugh Township - to hike his record to 14-1 for the season. Last year, he placed fifth at the PIAA Championships after making the semifinals.
Buttry, of course, doesn't have the look of a prototypical stud heavyweight. He was listed on the Ridge football roster as 5-foot-10, 252 pounds, and the 5-10 is probably a stretch. He wrestles at a weight in which most heavyweights are at least 6-0 and have more leverage than him.
Buttry has made a name for himself over his career, but early on, opposing coaches and wrestlers had to be taken aback by the short, pudgy kid beating them.
"Coaches have made comments in the past about that," Lazor said, "but that hasn't happened much lately."
"I think people take me more serious now," Buttry said. "There are people who say I'm too short, but it motivates me, especially the last couple of years. It just makes me want to get better and prove people wrong."
While Buttry is different than most heavyweight, he's also had a different rise to success. He was wrestling at the age of 6, but he said he was "terrible." Things didn't start clicking until about halfway through his eighth-grade season, which is when he starting to the Renegades, a wrestling club in Shippensburg.
He started going there every Sunday, and he still makes the trip, weather permitting. In fact, his workout partner at Renegades is Solanco three-time Class AAA state champion Thomas Haines, who handed Buttry his only loss this season when he pinned him in 3:37 of the semifinals of the Powerade Tournament. Buttry bounced back to finish third.
"He honestly is a man among boys out there," Buttry said of Haines. "I could have slowed down the pace a little, but there's not too many guys who can contend with him."
He came up to the high school team as a freshman and went 13-10 wrestling at 215 and 285 pounds. It was the continuation of the learning process for Buttry.
"I took my lumps because I wasn't like any other kid," he said. "Not too many heavyweights come up as freshmen. It was fun, but I took some whoopings. One weekend, I wrestled [Somerset's] Nick Baer and [Central Cambria's] Shane Morris, and I was so sore after that."
The next year Buttry started to give out the whoopings en route to a 33-12 record and 20 pins. The point at which he might have started to make a name for himself came in the finals of the Richland Duals, where his surprised Somerset's Jake Hayman by slipping through a cradle and pinning the senior in 3:15 in a bout that was key for the Lions in their 31-23 win.
"It was fun to know that I could do something like that," Buttry said.
Buttry went on to place third at the District 5 Tournament, and he won a couple bouts at the rugged Southwest Regional Tournament.
As a junior, he went 40-8 with 22 pins, but he ran into a roadblock in the form of Tussey Mountain's Mitchell Hall, who beat Buttry three times, including in the district finals and regional third-place finals. But, Buttry beat Hall, 7-4, in the PIAA quarterfinals to finally get some revenge.
"I'm sure it helped his confidence last year," Lazor said. "I think he had confidence going into states. He thought he could beat anybody down there."
That confidence and success is what Ridge's younger wrestlers have taken notice of, making Buttry a leader on the team. Lazor says it's like having another coach on the team. Buttry even scrubs down the wrestling room mat.
"I like to help out and get other people to look at other perspectives in wrestling," he said.
Buttry is so much of a team guy, he says he'd drop to 220 if Lazor wanted him down there. Whatever weight he's at, Buttry will be a force to contend with the rest of the season.
"The goal is to reach the top of the podium [at states]," Buttry said. "I feel I'm able to achieve it. I think I can only get better."