Penn State is known for recruiting wrestlers from all over the country.
The Nittany Lions didn’t have to go too far for their most recent commit. As a matter of fact, they went just down Route 45 to Spring Mills.
Penns Valley’s Baylor Shunk recently committed to be part of Penn State’s program as a preferred walk on.
“I was looking at the TV when I was little,” Shunk said Thursday after an open gym practice, “and thinking, I want to wrestle for Penn State one day. Getting that phone call was pretty amazing. Nobody ever thought about it. I didn’t even think about it.”
Shunk becomes the first Centre County wrestler to commit to the Nittany Lions since Bald Eagle Area’s Jon Gingrich joined the team in 2010. Shunk will also become the Rams’ third Division I wrestler, joining Corey Hazel, who is with Lock Haven, and Curtis Decker, who is with Pittsburgh.
“It puts a feather in Penns Valley’s cap as a program for a third D1 guy who’s wrestling,” Penns Valley coach Joel Brinker said. “They all are definitely unique and hold that special spot in a coach’s heart, so to speak. Shunky is definitely a student of the sport. He’s not the most athletic like a Corey Hazel, but he’s a wrestler.
“His technique is as good as anybody who has come through our program, if not the best. Curt had the competitor’s attitude. Corey is an athlete who become a wrestler. Shunky has been a wrestler his whole life.”
Another thing Shunk has been his entire life is a farm hand. He helps out daily on his family’s farm. Brinker joked about one day he was driving home and saw Shunk out on the tractor roaming around fields after practicing. Shunk credits his time on the farm for the wrestler he has become today. The main thing he pointed to was his work ethic he has developed.
“There is a toughness to farming,” he explained. “You are working in the dead heat of summer, throwing hay bales around. You have to push through some pain sometimes. You’re sweating and it’s rolling into your eyes and it’s a lot like being in a wrestling room. On a farm, it’s long days. It’s not 12-hour days, it’s 14-hour days, sun up to sun down. It’s hard work no matter what you’re doing. It’s like an entire body workout when you are working on the farm.”
Shunk got to leave the farm for an official visit to the campus back in September for a weekend. In his words, he and his family came away with “an awesome impression of Penn State wrestling.”
His first day, he got to meet the team, watch them practice and see the facilities. He went to dinner that evening with coach Cael Sanderson, his parents and their hosts Paul Feite and Joey Blumer. Shunk said Sanderson was picking his dad’s brain most of the evening about beef farming. The following day, he got to be on the field for the Penn State-Kent State football game. On the final day, he had breakfast with the team and then headed back to the farm. Shunk said he was awestruck during the visit being around Sanderson, his staff and the team.
“You are with Cody (Sanderson), Cael (Sanderson), Jake Varner, Casey Cunningham,” Shunk said, “you see these guys on TV, you see them sometimes around Penn State. But, just getting to hang with them and getting to talk to them was unreal. Even during the visit, there was no talk about wrestling, which was nice.”
There was a key piece that helped make Shunk’s dream a realty. Shunk trains at the M2 Training Center, which is owned by Penn State great David Taylor. Brinker noted that one day Taylor was chatting him up about Shunk, trying to find out more about him. A few days later, Cody Sanderson gave Shunk a call and the rest was history.
“David took him to the Virginia Duals,” Brinker said. “He saw him knock off multiple-time state champs in the country. He is a genuine, true person. He doesn’t do inappropriate things or have extracurricular activities that he shouldn’t be doing. He’s just a great all-American kid. They are getting a gem. He is going to add to the program with his character, and he’s going to fit right in. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
As Brinker said, Shunk is a student of the sport; however, he is a teacher, too.
Shunk has been running Penns Valley’s open gym practices. He is usually teaching the junior high guys and/or his teammates who are there the stuff that he is learning either from Brinker or from Taylor at M2.
Shunk said he tries to show technique that works for everyone, but he knows that everyone is different. He noted there was a particular time that he got the most joy out of being the teacher rather than the student of the sport.
“I had a moment last year with Hayden Yearick,” Shunk explained. “He has a little bit of a weird head outside shot, that he steps with his outside foot. I was trying to figure out a misdirection shot for him. He has a nice high crotch. He got it once, but then he would go for it again and the kid knew it was coming. I helped him develop a different shot to the other leg. It felt so awesome to help somebody and see it work. I watched him hit it 10 minutes later. Ever since, I’ve been coming in and leading these open gyms. Getting to see them grow everyday, it’s just awesome.”