Former Leavenworth wrestler Daniel Butler wrapped up his first season as a collegiate wrestler in March when the redshirt freshman placed sixth at 170 pounds at the NAIA Wrestling National Championships for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. 

Butler had a bye to start the tournament before he fell in his first match. The freshman rallied off wins in the consolation bracket, including a pin-fall win in the elimination round over No. 4 Nathan Walton to send Butler to the fifth-place match. He would then fall and take sixth. The elimination round match was Butler’s favorite memory wrestling with the Eagles.

Butler said he was happy after the finish with all the hard work he put in to get there.

“I think initially I was very happy,” Butler said. “There was a lot of culmination of hard work. However, I do think there are bigger ambitions for me than just sixth place. After a week or two, I refocused on what I really wanted – to become a national champion.”

The wrestler said the biggest thing that he learned in his first year as a collegiate wrestler was to trust the process. 

“Collegiate wrestling is a tough sport,” he said. “It is a lot longer than high school. You may start out the season not doing really well with a bad tournament or losing a match. But I think you just got to trust the process, stay true and work hard consistently each day.”

Butler’s first year of wrestling for the Eagles came after he redshirted his freshman year. The year away from competition helped Butler. He said he was a little burned out on the sport. After graduating high school, Butler said he wrestled in the summer.

“It wasn’t good for me,” Butler said. “I was burned out and wasn’t ready to wrestle in college. That redshirt year was exactly what I needed. What it did for me above all was rediscover my love for wrestling.” 

Butler said wrestling at Leavenworth helped him become tough.

“My time at Leavenworth High School really taught me how to be tough,” he said. “Because college wrestling is extremely hard. So I would go into the Leavenworth wrestling room and get the crap kicked out of me from day one as a freshman to my last day as a senior. Which is really good because I was physically tough, mentally tough and no one could beat my mind. And that is really important in college because 90% of it is mental. I really developed that. Coach (Matthew) Long is really good at developing that mental toughness. And you can see that today with kids that come out of that program. They’re tough. That’s the biggest thing that has helped me. Not just in wrestling, but also in my career.”

Butler saw success in high school academically and athletically. He was a four-time USA wrestling all-American, four-time academic letter winner and honor roll. He also had multiple state placements and an undefeated record and state title his senior year. The state title would be the moment that he remembers most.

“I had a lot of setbacks in my high school career,” he said. “I tore my meniscus twice, had multiple knee surgeries. Going into my junior year, I didn’t start my season until January. So it wasn’t really set in stone that I was really ever going to win that state title. To see all that work come together at the end in literally the last match was amazing. Not only for me but the others that put that work in to help me get there. They helped me with everything. For me, that one moment was probably my personal best. And I can’t thank the people who helped me enough on my journey.”

After his high school career, Butler said that he chose to attend ERAU because of their “stellar” aerospace engineering program.

The choice is already paying off. Butler is currently in Hartford, Connecticut, for an internship with aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

“Going to Embry-Riddle has helped me build those connections to get a head start in my industry,” Butler said. “It actually had nothing to do with wrestling. It all had to do with what I wanted to go into. I have no regrets with where I picked for my college. I’m happy where I am.”

He said the balance of a demanding major and playing a sport is the hardest thing he has ever done.

“The balance is extremely hard,” Butler said. “I’m working this summer at Pratt & Whitney and this stuff is easy. You don’t have to go work out every four hours. You can sit at your desk and go to meetings. But when I go back to school, I have to balance that athletic life with the academic life. You’re putting in 40-50 hours a week between the classroom and studying. But you also are trying to put in 15-20 hours a week on the mat. So you really don’t have time for anything else. That balance is extremely hard and probably the hardest thing I’ve done in my career.”

Butler was asked what advice he would have given to his past self or other wrestlers who are interested in wrestling in college.

“I would tell my past self and anyone in wrestling to always keep learning,” he said. “That’s the big lesson that is not said enough. Always analyze your wrestling and ask ‘what can I do better?’ Learn different techniques and moves. Always be a true student of the sport. Just because you may be the best in the state or county doesn’t mean you can’t learn more. That is probably my No. 1 advice.”