For NC State graduate student Justin Oliver, wrestling has been a part of his life since the age of six.
His mother’s boss introduced him to wrestling, but little did Oliver know, “wrestling” was not what he expected.
“I was 6-years old, so wrestling to me was WWE,” Oliver said. “I got to the first practice and I literally cried the entire time because it was completely not what I thought it was going to be.”
In that moment, his dad asked him if he wanted to continue to wrestle, and he said yes, which led to him becoming the person he is today.
Oliver grew up in Davison, Michigan where he attended high school, where successful wrestlers such as Brent Metcalf, Jon Reader and Paul Donohoe were produced. Having these greats in his backyard gave him experience and prepared him for the next level.
Oliver had a stand-out high school career, going 172-5 and winning Division-I state championships in 2011 and 2012. He placed third in 2013 and was the runner-up his senior year.
When choosing a college to go to, Oliver said that his choice came down to Central Michigan and NC State. Ultimately, Oliver chose to go to Central Michigan, where he earned a degree in organizational administration.
“I wasn’t mentally mature enough to move that far away from home,” Oliver said. “I didn’t quite know myself enough to be able to move 12 hours away from my family, from everything that I knew and into a completely new environment.”
At Central Michigan, Oliver redshirted his freshman year and was named the Chippewas’ redshirt freshman of the year. He qualified for the NCAA Championships for the following three years, earning All-America honors and placing seventh his sophomore year.
With one season of eligibility left, Oliver transferred to NC State in 2018.
"Justin has been a great addition to our team,” head coach Pat Popolizio said. “He helped fill a need, and his experience will help us through both our ACC and NCAA Championships in March. I'm excited to watch him compete here in his final campaign."
After falling one-win short of All-America honors both his junior and senior seasons at Central Michigan, Oliver said that improving his game at the NCAA Championships was at the top of his list of goals he wanted to accomplish this season.
“I want to win this last match as a team, and as an individual, against Virginia Tech, so we can secure the team ACC title,” Oliver said. “Then we can go into the ACC tournament, upset a few people and win the ACC title, and hopefully keep that momentum going forward into the NCAA tournament and finish out on top.”
The Wolfpack won that match against Virginia Tech as a team, with the ACC dual title coming down to a criteria point to determine the match. While wrestling is a team sport, athletes compete in their own respective weight groups, and the points they earn as individuals compile into a team score.
“It can be hard to really differentiate the two sometimes,” Oliver said. “You just gotta go out there and do your job.”
Being a graduate student, Oliver is one of the older athletes on the team and tries to give some of his expertise to the younger wrestlers.
“I definitely bring a little bit of experience I guess, being one of the older people on the team,” Oliver said. “I have a different perspective, being from a different school, and knowing how special a lot of the things that we have going on here are. The resources that we are given and the level of support that we have here is a lot more appreciated.”
Being at NC State has given Oliver more opportunities and has shown him a more competitive atmosphere.
“There’s more of a fight from the guys,” Oliver said. “No matter what position you’re in or what you’re feeling, everybody gives 100 percent, and that’s definitely something that I needed.”
Since Oliver is now so far away from home, he looks to his teammates for a sense of family. They challenge him and give him something to work for. In addition to the give and take of advice from his teammates, he looks up to one of his first coaches as his inspiration to be a better wrestler.
“It was actually Brent Metcalf’s brother,” Oliver said. “He died in a car accident when I was in fourth grade. I actually have a tattoo that’s inspired by him. He helped me a lot with starting out wrestling so I’d have to say he is one of my biggest inspirations.”
With Oliver’s final season of eligibility coming to an end, he is reflecting on his wrestling career and hopes to use the lessons he has been taught over the years in the outside world.
“Everything,” Oliver said. “Obviously, earning All-American Honors when I was 16 was definitely special, but just being able to go through the entire process of it, and build the relationships that I’ve built and train the way that I’ve trained kind of helps me know that I’m going to be able to do whatever I want to do outside of wrestling. It’s definitely an accumulation of everything, the people that I’ve met, the people that have supported me and helped me throughout the process, will definitely be something that I will forever cherish.”