By Dan Hardenbrook

Every small-town kid dreams of being under the bright lights on the biggest stage in their sports. For Engadine’s Hayden O’Neil, who wrestles as part of the varsity co-op with the Newberry Indians, that meant a return trip to Ford Field for the MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals last weekend. The home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions was transformed into the ultimate battleground for the best grapplers in the state, and O’Neil was on the mat competing in the Division 4 138-pound weight class where he was one of only 16 in the entire state to qualify.

O’Neil opened the tournament against Union City’s Aiden Taylor, and suffered a defeat by pin at the 3:05 mark. Although his hopes for a State Championship were over, his time in the tournament wasn’t done. He had a chance to win out and earn a spot on the podium and that’s what he set his sights on. He knocked off Brown City’s Easton Jagger with a quick pin off his own in the consolation bracket.

O’Neil picked up the win just 2:33 into his matchup and stayed alive for another matchup, where he went head-to-head with Hudson’s Austin Marry. That’s where the journey ended for O’Neil, who was defeated via pinfall at the 1:34 mark. Marry, who won a first-round match before being sent to the consolation round, went on a strong run that ultimately ended in a third-place finish.

O’Neil finished his junior season as one of the top wrestlers in the state, compiling a 45-12 record. He was the only U.P. wrestler to reach Ford Field from his weight class. If he stays at 138, he will be one of the highest rated seniors in the division. He will also have a shot at the 100 Win Club, a prestigious career mark for high school wrestlers.