Tim Jackson, the Head Editor of the school newspaper, has agreed to join the wrestling program for a season-long series of articles highlighting the program and it's wrestlers through stories from both on and off the mat. Tim has put together an extensive series of article topics. Below is the fourth story in the series.
He has a complexion and an appearance that is both appealing and inviting. When you speak with him, everything is important and worthwhile. If it's important to you, it will be important to him. If you leave your conversation with him and you are not happier than you were when you began, he feels like he's failed you in some way.
Senior Colin Ely is one of the few people who are genuinely interested in whatever you have to say. By extension, that makes him one of the most interesting people you will ever meet. Awkward silences don't exist in his world, because he can always find something to keep the conversation flowing in a seemingly effortless and natural way. Despite his talent on the mat, perhaps his greatest gift is his ability to entertain, listen, and make you feel like you're the most important thing going on in his life at that moment.
"Off the mat, I'm a positive person," Ely said. "I try to be nice to everyone and I try to meet as many people as I can."
Not surprisingly, his caring nature and his natural inclination leads him to treat every wrestler on the team as his best friend. Ely is rewarded with the respect and admiration of all those who look up to him.
"He has a very big heart," head coach Mike Rogers said of Ely. "He is passionate about all the guys on the team, even the new guys. He gains respect by giving [respect]. That's a hard thing to replace."
What will likely be the most difficult thing to replace when Ely graduates in about five months is not his intensity, creativity, or performance on the mat. It will be the comforting and respectful presence he brings to the locker room every day. What Ely does for the F&M wrestling program cannot be measured in statistics, and those characteristics typically are the most challenging ones to find.
If Ely is calm, respectful, and good-natured off the mat, he is unrelenting, intense, and creative on it. Generally the most exciting wrestler on the mat every week, Ely has a habit of getting himself in trouble, and then getting himself out of it. While it provides excitement and suspense for those watching him, the coaching staff tends to hold its breath when Ely begins to experiment with different techniques and strategies in the middle of a match.
"He doesn't mind taking risks, I just wish they were a little more calculated," Rogers said. "His matches are always wide open. He can sometimes get lost in the match. As a coach, it's a good problem to have. It's better to have to bring a guy back than to have to push him on. As a coach, you don't want to restrict creativity. He's exciting to watch. It's not going to be slow and methodical."
"With Colin, he's that example of a guy who is always one move away from winning," assistant coach Matt Greenberg added. "He's also one move away from getting into trouble."
Ely admits he can sometimes be a little too adventurous on the mat. However, to ask him to restrict that creativity would be to place a limit on his ability. He thrives on the freedom he has on the mat, and it all goes towards making his opponent uneasy and guessing as to what Ely might do next.
"When I'm on the mat I'm a totally different person," Ely said. "The energy I bring is all about trying to pressure [my opponent]. Sometimes I get carried away. I wrestle, it's funky a little bit and I do some stuff people have never seen. I do try to go back the coach's gameplan though."
Expecting Ely to comply completely with any specific routine is unrealistic. He leaves his own unique mark on every match, and you cannot expect him to wrestle the same way every time. In fact, it's safe to say that you will see a slightly different wrestling style every time you watch him.
But that's what makes him special. His emotion and creativity are what make him so, and, while the coaching staff may wish he would be a bit more conservative at times, they are the reasons why fans are drawn to him when he steps onto the mat.
"The Emotional Leader"
Not surprisingly, as someone who thrives on creativity and the ability to express himself, Ely is considered by his coaches to be the emotional leader in the locker room. Where other seniors rely on the standard they set through their actions, according to the coaching staff, Ely is more likely to be the vocal presence.
"He's the emotional leader of the team," Greenberg said. "Everything he does, people take notice. If he sees you losing focus, he'll grab you and tell you. It took him two years to grow into that. Our biggest loss [when he graduates] is that emotion he brings every day to the program."
Ely recognizes the pivotal role is has on the team. Not everybody can be an emotional leader; it's something a person grows into. Even those who want to be the vocal presence in a locker don't always work out, as many struggle to be heard in a way that does not sound like they're talking down to those around him. For Ely, his vocal nature comes from sacrificing so much and putting so much into the program, and, when he does get vocal, it stems from his sacrifices rather than his superiority, which resonates with those around him.
"Being an emotional leader comes from being so into the team," Ely said. "Everything means more. Losses hurt more and wins mean a thousand times more than they would otherwise."
"As a senior and as a captain, I view all the guys as my friends," he added. "From my perspective, we're all together. I don't have a conscious realization of my impact on the [team]. But I realize they look up to the seniors."
Ely believes every wrestler has an impact on how the team performs over the course of the season. It's cliché, but the team is only as strong as its weakest link, and, because of that, Ely sees value in every wrestler and in everything his teammates brings to the team dynamic. For this reason, his vocal nature is perceived as caring rather than condescending.
Connected to his ability to make every conversation he has important, he has the capability to make every teammate feel like he has a place on the roster. There are certain qualities that make a man a true leader, and one of them is the ability to make every person he runs into feel needed. Ely possesses that gift, and it shines through in everything he does.
As an outgoing, charismatic individual, Ely is not afraid to experience something new. It's what makes him so interesting: while wrestling is a major part of his life, it by no means defines him exclusively.
Over the summer, in between his job at F&M and training for his senior season, Ely carved out two weeks to travel north to Williamsport, PA to work with Professor Levine on an archaeological dig in a cornfield. Despite the rural nature of his surroundings, Ely found a way to reach out and connect with those around him.
"We were excavating a Native American site from the 18th century," Ely said. "We were in a cornfield for most of it. We had a good time and we learned a lot. I got to hang out with all my friends and make a bunch of new ones too."
As a tribute to his goofy and outgoing nature, Ely found a way to connect with the people around him.
"We looked up things to do in Williamsport online when we got there," Ely said. "Number 24 was going to Dunkin' Donuts. It made Lancaster look like New York City. We were always going to Rita's when we were up there, and brought that up with two girls working there. They actually said they were planning on going to Dunkin' Donuts later that day. We shared a pretty good laugh together."
At F&M, Ely has had the opportunity to branch out and explore countless opportunities. For this reason, the prospect of not being a student next year is one that he doesn't choose to think about all that much.
"I'm going to miss pretty much everything," Ely said. "I'll miss the competition, the team, and most of all, the people. That's the biggest thing. Just the general feeling [of F&M]."
When Ely accepts his diploma in five months, the wrestling program will be losing a vocal leader who has carved out a critical role within the program. But, perhaps more importantly, the entire F&M community will be losing one of its most charismatic and outgoing members. It is difficult to replace someone with the uncanny ability to make every person he talks to feel important.
There's a reason everyone likes being around him. When talking to him, you know you're with someone who is genuinely interested in what you have to say. While it is always possible that you could leave that conversation in a bad mood, chances are you won't, and, more likely, you will leave feeling the best you've felt all day.