GEORGETOWN — Hayden Copass may have wound up on the University of Wisconsin wrestling team, as originally anticipated, had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021 Georgetown graduate verbally committed to the Badgers in 2019 before going on to win the IHSA’s 2020 Class 1A 285-pound state championship as part of the Westville/Georgetown-Ridge Farm cooperative.
Then the pandemic threw numerous athletic plans into disarray.
Copass now is verbally committed to a different Big Ten wrestling program, announcing via Twitter on Sunday that he’ll continue his athletic career at Purdue. Copass said he plans to enroll with the Boilermakers this coming January.
“A lot of people probably think it was a big ordeal, but it really wasn’t,” Copass told The News-Gazette on Monday. “(The Badgers) were great to me. They were all great. All the coaches were a class act. It was just not where I wanted to be.”
Copass didn’t vie for an Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association state title as a senior — offered in the wake of the IHSA postseason’s cancellation — because he planned to enroll early at Wisconsin.
Then Copass learned Badgers senior heavyweight Trent Hillger was returning to Madison for an extra season, permitted in response to the pandemic.
So Copass instead was encouraged to take a gap year up in Wisconsin. The 2019 Class 2A 285-pound state runner-up did little more than train and wasn’t a fan of the experience, noting that “technically, I was not part of the University of Wisconsin.”
“It was just kind of throwing me off, and I was kind of homesick,” Copass said. “I decided I wanted to make a change, come back home and find a new school.”
After being released from his National Letter of Intent, Copass’ first college contact was with Purdue head coach Tony Ersland and assistant A.J. Schopp.
“They’ve giving me the opportunity of a lifetime,” Copass said. “A lot of people don’t get second chances, but I’m grateful to get one.”
Ironically, Copass said, the Boilermakers didn’t recruit him as a high-schooler.
But Copass pointed to a good relationship with Schopp and friendships with current Purdue wrestlers like Chatham Glenwood product Mitch Hutmacher and Mt. Carmel grad Kendall Coleman as some of the reasons he initially was drawn to the West Lafayette (Ind.) squad.
“They already had a guy coming in that was the same age as me, so they didn’t need a heavyweight. Some things happened with him, and I heard they needed a heavyweight,” Copass said. “I was just staying on the low, taking some time to think. ... (Purdue) seemed really interested, and if it wasn’t going to work out, I’d pursue other schools.”
Copass also took what he deemed an unofficial visit after initially forging a connection with Ersland and Schopp. He attended a Boilermakers football game and became better acquainted with the other wrestlers.
“I had a great time,” Copass said. “I loved the team. They were all very welcoming. ... It felt like home.”
Copass has been back in Georgetown for more than a month since leaving Wisconsin and works out on his own. It’s been more than a year since he’s wrestled a competitive match, something “I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say.”
He’s planning more drives northeast to Purdue’s campus, which is roughly 70 minutes from Georgetown, in preparation of officially starting his college wrestling tenure.
“I plan to get over to all the (Regional Training Center) practices I can and start getting back in the swing of things,” said Copass, referencing a service offered by USA Wrestling to prospective college athletes. “I’m doing what I can. I’m getting ready, and I’m excited.”