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PackWrestle: 2021 Middleweight Preview

Peyton Williams/NCSU Athletics

Last week we took a look at the guys who will likely make up the Lightweight rotation for the NC State wrestling team this year. Lots of familiar names - a trend you will notice throughout this preview series, as the squad returns all of last year’s starters.

This week we will look at the Middleweights. This group is going to be the nucleus of a team that should continue to be a mainstay in the Top 10 rankings and be the class of the ACC. Experience and class mixed with a dash of youthful talent should deliver some big results.

149 Pounds

Ed Scott (Fr)

Preseason Ranking: FloWrestling - NR

My top pick for a new face in the Pack lineup is Ed Scott. The phenom freshman from DuBois, PA will be a beneficiary of the ruling that participation in winter sports this year will not count towards an athlete’s eligibility. Therefore, I can’t see a reason not to slot him into the lineup - using a redshirt wouldn’t make much sense, if for no other reason than getting him some experience. However, I’m not convinced that he isn’t just straight up the best guy we have available at this weight. The freshman beat last year’s starter, AJ Leitten at wrestle-offs two weeks ago. And he proved at the 2019 Clarion Open that he is ready to handle college competition. As a high school senior, Ed entered the college open tournament and made it to the finals, only losing a close 7-6 decision to Clarion’s #4 Brock Zacherl. It’s not out of this world for high school kids to enter college opens, but it is abnormal to have an outing like that.

Scott was a two-time state champion in the great wrestling state of Pennsylvania. He put together a perfect 79-0 record over his final two seasons, and even had a 28-match pin streak going through his final state tournament. Let me remind you he was competing in the best state there is for wrestling - the kid is a certified animal. He was rated as the #19 recruit on FloWrestling’s Class of 2020 Big Board - second at his weight - and was a two-time Powerade champion. I could go on and on with the accolades, but I will save my breath. Just keep your eyes on this guy, he’s the future.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shot to the guy mentioned above, last year’s starter, AJ Leitten. Leitten is certainly a capable wrestler. He posted a 20-10 record and placed 4th at ACCs in a competitive weight class. However, he didn’t qualify for NCAAs which is a huge hit. He did wrestle a close match with Scott in the wrestle-offs, losing 6-5, but in a year that doesn’t count towards eligibility, you have to think the coaching staff will favor the guy with higher potential, which appears to be Ed Scott at this time. Either way, the goal is to qualify every weight for the national tournament and see what they can do from there. And I believe Ed Scott is our best shot at earning points at 149 in St. Louis.

157 Pounds

Hayden Hidlay (R-Sr)

Preseason Ranking: FloWrestling - #2

One guy we know will be scoring points in St. Louis is “Double H”. Hayden Hidlay enters what could end up being his final season in a Wolfpack singlet - or at least he hinted on a recent Mat Geeks podcast that his return for the 2021-2022 season wasn’t guaranteed. Of course, we all hope Hayden stays in Raleigh for as long as he is eligible, but if this does end up being his final season he has given so much to this program and has really led the charge in taking it to new heights. In his two trips to NCAAs, Hidlay has placed second and fourth. He continued that success last year as he compiled a 28-1 record and won his third straight ACC title at 157 pounds. He was named ACC Wrestler of the Year and had earned the #2 seed at NCAAs before it was canceled.

Going into this season, Hayden will once again be one of the favorites to take home the crown at 157. His rivalry with #1 Ryan Deakin of Northwestern is certainly one of the juiciest in the country and would make that one of the most highly anticipated finals matchups should they meet there. Deakin was responsible for Hayden’s lone loss last year, a 6-2 match in the finals of CKLV. They have been going back and forth for years, and now it’s the Mug Dog’s turn. I think Hayden gets it done and becomes the fourth NCAA Champion of the Pat Pop era.

165 Pounds

Thomas Bullard (R-Sr)

Preseason Ranking: FloWrestling - #7

Once again, 165 & 174 will be manned by the Bullard twins. The smaller but older of the two, Thomas, will enter his senior season ranked seventh in the nation. And he justifies that ranking after a strong junior campaign where he went 23-6 and earned the #10 seed at NCAAs. Our hope for last season was that Thomas would take that next step up into All-American contender status, and that he did. The only thing lacking from his resume in his first two seasons was the big-name wins, and during the 2019-2020 season he collected several - one over four-time All-American David McFadden which was instrumental in winning the Virginia Tech dual, and two over eventual ACC Champ Jake Wentzel of Pittsburgh.

As has been the case the last several years, 165 will be one of the tougher weight classes. While it graduates the likes of two-time NCAA Champ Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State and the aforementioned David McFadden, it returns top contenders Marinelli of Iowa and Wick of Wisconsin. Then you have to factor in the return of Logan Massa from Michigan and reigning National Champion Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech, both of whom took Olympic redshirt seasons last year. The top of this weight class is possibly the deepest in the country. Can Thomas breach that upper echelon and become a title contender? If so, that would be huge for Popolizio and company. If not, he will probably fall into the 6-10 range of the podium chase.

174 Pounds

Daniel Bullard (R-Sr)

Preseason Ranking: FloWrestling - #12

Once again, these two are twins for a reason. Daniel not only resembles Thomas from a visual standpoint, they seem to mirror each other in results as well. The 3-minute younger Bullard posted a 24-6 record last season and enters his senior campaign ranked twelfth in the country. However, Daniel did not get as many opportunities against top competition as Thomas did in 2020, so it’s difficult to gauge where he lies in the All-American pecking order. He finished as runner-up at ACCs and earned the #15 seed at NCAAs. Daniel did finish the season tied for the team lead in pins with six (Hayden Hidlay & Thomas Bullard). So, one thing we can count on from Daniel is a fierce top game and bonus points.

Fortunately, this weight has been gutted by graduations. Five of the top seven seeds from last year’s bracket have expired their eligibility, so there is room for Daniel to move up. He just needs to get those higher level victories under his belt to prove he belongs. The top 3-4 guys in this weight class seem to be in a tier above the rest, but that leaves several podium spots open and I believe Daniel can take one. Similar to Thomas, I see him slotting into the 6-12 range of this weight. If we can get both of these guys to place in the Top 8, a team trophy will almost assuredly be coming back to Raleigh.

This group will be the crème de la crème of the PackWrestle lineup in 2021. In duals, these four back-to-back should get us a good deal of momentum rolling into the Upperweights. In tournaments, their ability to compete with anyone in the country along with their bonus point potential should translate to big points for the team. The success of the team as a whole rides on this group.

Tune in next week for the final installment of this preview series, where we’ll look at the Upperweights.

Go Pack!