FARGO, N.D. — Luke Weber has grown accustomed to the big stage.
From winning the first of his 212 high school wrestling matches at Forsyth to winning a Big 12 Conference championship at North Dakota State earlier this month, Weber has always viewed his next moment as the biggest moment.
“You’d never convince Luke Weber that Forsyth’s a small town in Montana. From everything I hear, Forsyth is the center of Montana,” said North Dakota State wrestling coach Roger Kish, “and that’s that Luke Weber personality.”
Weber has never lacked confidence, but he’s riding an all-time high now. After graduating from Forsyth in 2016, Weber started his wrestling career at Nebraska. After one season with the Cornhuskers, he transferred to North Dakota State, where he’s found a home.
The pieces are fitting into place in this pandemic-altered wrestling season. Weber, through all the challenges, has had his best college wrestling season, and he’s peaking at the right time. At the Big 12 Championships he opened the 165-pound bracket with a 16-2 major decision over Troy Mantanona of Oklahoma.
“My first match, I was scoring a lot of points, I felt good,” Weber recalled. “Then the quarterfinal match against (No. 1 seed Travis Wittlake of Oklahoma State), I knew he was going to be a really tough opponent, and he was. I trusted in my coaches and I trusted in my training. I knew that it was going to be a hard-fought battle and ultimately I ended up on top.”
The 5-3 sudden victory clinched Weber’s place at the NCAA national championships, but he wasn’t done at the Big 12 Championships. He scored an 11-7 decision over Wyoming's Cole Moody in the title match, winning the second Big 12 championship in NDSU history.
“Then for the finals, I was pretty nervous, but I’m not to shy away from a challenge. It was a big match,” Weber said. “Getting that first takedown in like all of my matches was key to my success in getting ahead in the matches, and I just wrestled hard from there.”
“This was an example of Luke Weber buying in 100% to the program and doing everything he could to be a leader of our program,” Kish said. “And in doing so he’s reaping the rewards and the benefits, and it’s shined in how he competes.”
“I think this year I really bought in and I really bought into what the coaches were telling me,” Weber echoed. “They were telling me that I’m a Big 12 champion candidate and I can (become an All-American) at nationals and hopefully win a national title. Just buying in and believing what they’re saying, I think’s been a huge difference.”
Weber will take a 13-2 overall record into the NCAA Championships, which begin March 18 in St. Louis. He’s the No. 9 seed in the 165-pound bracket and will wrestle 24th-seeded Andrew Sparks of Minnesota in the first round.
“Carrying the momentum, I’m just going to ride the wave. After (the Big 12 Championships), I’m fully confident that I can wrestle with anybody, so I’m just going to keep that mindset and keep moving forward,” said Weber, who will be joined by NDSU teammates Jared Franek (No. 8 seed at 157 pounds), Owen Pentz (No. 31, 197) and Brandon Metz (No. 22, 285) at the NCAA Championships.
Weber will also be joined by two more Montanans: Belgrade’s Jarrett Degen, Iowa State’s No. 18 seed at 149 pounds, and Havre’s Parker Filius, Purdue’s No. 18 seed at 141 pounds.
Degen, who was an NCAA All-American in both 2019 and 2020, placed fourth at this season’s Big 12 Championships. Filius placed fifth at this year’s Big Ten Conference Championships and will be making his first appearance at the NCAA Championships. He qualified for the 2020 championships, but those were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Nothing but support,” Weber said of the reaction from the Treasure State wrestling community. “It’s really nice to see that, to get that from old high school teammates and other people we competed against reaching out and telling us congratulations. It’s a really great feeling, and it’s nice to know that we have support system behind us and people supporting us all the way back home.”
Weber has a little more Forsyth in Fargo, too. His younger brother Michael, who was also a four-time state champion for the Dogies, is a redshirt freshman for the Bison.
“It’s kind of just like high school. He’s like a little chihuahua, he keeps barking up the tree. Sometimes the big dog’s got to put him in his place,” Luke Weber said with a laugh. “But no, it’s good. I really enjoy having Michael up here, you know? It makes it really a home feeling. Yeah, it’s good.”
“These guys have big personalities, they’ve got big personalities,” Kish said. “What I can tell you about the Webers is, they bring this exciting, just this exciting momentum to practices, right? The laughter and the fun that they bring to a workout is contagious. When they get excited, it gets the people around them excited. It just makes for a great room, a great experience. These guys, the Webers, have a lot to do with that, and it makes for a lot of fun. We’re very proud of them. Their personalities are something that builds this room.”
No matter if that room’s in tiny Forsyth or at college wrestling’s biggest stage.