David Cheza considers MSU his home.
Stepping out of the training room, ice pack strapped to his shoulder, the 157-pound senior struggled to keep his composure as he reminisced about his time in green and white.
“It’s been a place that’s helped me develop not only as an athlete, but as a person,” Cheza said. “It’s a place that I want to stay at, and will always be a part of me.”
For five years, the Grand Blanc, Mich., native has been the rock in the middle of the Spartan wrestling lineup.
A year ago, Cheza was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA after hurting his shoulder in 2010.
He started the season strong, going 7-0 in dual meets and being ranked as high as No. 19, but Cheza’s season and career came to an early end when he injured his shoulder for a second time.
Although he can’t compete, he said his role with the team isn’t yet done.
“A lot of guys look up to me, and they look up to my wisdom,” he said. “I try to be a role model to them. I have an obligation to them and there’s a lot I can still do with them.”
In his career at MSU, Cheza racked up 69 wins against 56 losses.
He finished as high as sixth at the Big Ten Championships and qualified for the NCAA Championships twice in his career.
The loss of a senior leader like Cheza is a huge blow to a team still winless in the Big Ten.
Head coach Tom Minkel said not only was it bad news for the team, but it’s unfortunate to happen to a good athlete and teammate like Cheza.
“Heartbreaking for him,” Minkel said. “He’s the captain of the team and the sixth-year senior. (It’s) hard to loose him.”
Taking over for Cheza at the 157-pound weight class is sophomore Ryan Watts who is 2-3 since entering the starting lineup.
Watts has faced Nos. 1, 2 and 4 in the country at his weight class and said his good performances against tough opponents has helped him make the transition into the starting lineup.
“I feel like wrestling a lot of those (highly-ranked) guys — I’ve been in a lot of close matches with those guys,” Watts said. “Just keep my tempo up against everybody who I wrestle and focus on rising to the occasion at every match.”
Through it all, Cheza has been right there by Watts’ side, pushing him and helping him get better everyday.
Cheza said he encourages Watts to use every opportunity he has — both on the mat and in the wrestling room — to get better and look forward to upcoming seasons.
“He kind of just got thrown in there and you can see he’s capable, there’s just a lot of things that aren’t at his attention right now that I’m trying to bring to his attention to correct,” Cheza said. “Going through the season will prepare him a lot for the next season because a lot of it is maturity.”
For the final three meets in his time at MSU, Cheza will be on the sideline, watching Watts compete in his place. They’ll also be spent remembering the good times he had competing.
And while there are hundreds of memories Cheza will take with him from his time as a Spartan wrestler, he said it’s hard to put his finger on one specific event; what he will remember most are the people he spent his time with and the relationships he formed.
“It’s just the moments with them,” he said.
“It’s not about the workouts, it’s not about the practice, it’s not about the competition. It’s those moments that you’ll remember, it’s those moments that are special to you.”