Chris Bono thinks senior agriculture science major David Kocer can be a national champion wrestler for South Dakota State this year, but it wasn’t always that way.
Bono threw Kocer into Big 12 Conference wrestling competition as a freshman, and it wasn’t always easy for the 6-foot-1-inch, 174-pound Wagner native. He struggled to adapt to the work ethic Bono requires from his wrestlers.
David’s brother, Alex, had already wrestled under Bono for one season and helped David with the transition from high school to college.
“I know my freshman year and sophomore year, it was so tough,” David said. “There’s so many times when you’re like ‘I don’t think I can do this. I don’t think I can do it’ and looking back last year and this year how much easier it’s become and everything I’ve learned through it.”
He posted a 26-20 record his freshman year. Bono said David did a good job learning from his freshman season.
Although David has had to battle with his fear of losing, he has overcome it by learning from his mistakes.
“He has become much more of a student of the game, and he figures out what it is, and he goes and fixes it,” said Bono.
His record has reflected his improvements. As a sophomore, he was 30-13 and then went 24-10 as a junior. This season he is 17-4 and is No. 9 in the nation in the 174-pound weight class. But Kocer doesn’t like paying attention to the rankings.
“I honestly try not to pay attention to the rankings, I know they are there, but that’s not what it’s all about,” said David.
Bono said David is only special on the mat, but also off it.
“He’s a hard worker, and overall a great kid,” Bono said. He added that he would describe David as “somebody you’d want your daughter to marry.”
David’s grandfather Tom Studelska was a wrestling coach for 35 years and was an influence on wrestling within the Kocer family. Studelska never exactly encouraged wrestling, but instead says the boys decided it is what they wanted to do.
“While I would be coaching, the boys would sit on the ground behind my chair by the mat, so I didn’t really encourage them because they chose to become wrestlers,” Studelska said.
David has been wrestling since he was 5 years old, and some of his best memories are traveling with his grandfather and friends.
“He would take us on trips around, and on national trips when we were younger and that was always kind of cool,” David said.
The Studelska’s never miss any of David’s duals. They have season tickets for home duals and watch all the away duals on a livestream.
The top eight wrestlers in each weight class are named All-Americans. David said he would be honored to be named an All-American, but his main goal is to place within the top three at the NCAA National Championship in Cleveland this March.