Kyle Conel stood at the center of a media scrum, answering questions with a broad smile underneath his handlebar mustache. Conel took time to consider each question before responding, but when he was asked what makes Penn State wrestling a special program, he didn’t take much time to think.
“Just having fun,” Conel said. “That’s what’s special to me. Everyone here has fun. There’s a bunch of guys here that love wrestling, love the sport, coming here puts a smile on their face and puts a smile on my face.
“I just have so much fun here on a daily basis, and just enjoy it every single day.”
Conel transferred to Penn State this year after beginning his career at Kent State. The sixth-year senior was an All-American in 2018, finishing third in the NCAA Championships, defeating Ohio State’s No. 1-seed Kollin Moore twice as an unseeded wrestler.
He said the academics at Penn State played a major role in his decision to become a Nittany Lion.
“First and foremost my focus was academics,” Conel said. “I wanted to make sure I got the most out of my education that I could in one last year. Here at Penn State there’s a one-year Master’s program that I can do, which is not offered at too many schools around here.”
Conel said the program is called Management and Organizational Leadership, a graduate program he compared to an MBA without the second year of specialization. The 197-pounder wants to combine that degree with his undergraduate degree in computer science to start his own company.
“I want to start my own software development company,” he said. “What I’m learning now are some business skills ... I have some programming experience and some tech support experience. I want to be able to combine that with some business knowledge.”
The new Nittany Lion has clear goals off the mat, but also know exactly what he wants out of his time at Penn State on the mat.
“I just want to become the best wrestler I can be,” he said.
Conel will have the opportunity to become everything he’s capable of as a wrestler thanks to his personal drive and a loaded wrestling room. The sxith-year senior is expected to man the 197-pound spot in the Penn State lineup and has already worked with returning 184-pound starter Shakur Rasheed. Rasheed, a fellow sixth-year senior, said his first experience training with Conel has so far been a good one.
“I’ve only worked out with him one time,” Rasheed said. “We scrapped a little bit. It’s really cool to have him to work with. He has a different style and a different feel for me, so he helps a lot.
“He’s one of the most genuine dudes I’ve met. He’s such a nice dude.”
Rasheed couldn’t help but notice how much Conel was enjoying talking to the media.
“Look at him,” Rasheed said with his eyes on Conel. ”Look how big he’s cheesin’ right now. He’s just a good dude to have on the team.”
The 184-pounder, and the other wrestlers in the room, are a big step up in competition for Conel, compared to the wrestlers he worked with at Kent State. He said that’s been a big part of the transition for him in transferring to Penn State.
“There’s obviously a ton of very high-level guys here,” he said. “Being in this wrestling room, not just at practices but with Regional Training Center stuff. I’m kind of getting used to some freestyle guys because at Kent (State) we didn’t have an RTC like that. So I’m getting a feel for guys who haven’t wrestled folkstyle in years and how big and strong they are.”
While the move to Penn State has definitely been a major step up for Conel, he wanted to be clear that doesn’t diminish how much he enjoyed his experience with the Golden Flashes.
“When you go from a smaller Division 1 school to a bigger Division 1 school, there are a lot of differences in resources,” he said. “But I don’t want to go too (far) into that. I really enjoyed Kent (State). I love the school and I love the community. I’m from Northeast Ohio so I love that place, but I’m also enjoying my one year that I have here.”
Now that he’s at Penn State, Conel will have a chance to train with Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson, who said he’s excited to have the sixth-year senior in the room.
“He’s a really good kid,” Sanderson said. “He always has a big smile and I think we’ll have a lot of fun with him this year.”