App State NCAA qualifier Flitz represents ‘never give up’ mentality for wrestling program

App+State+redshirt+senior+Thomas+Flitz+stares+down+his+opponent+before+the+Senior+Day+match+against+Chattanooga+begins.+Flitz+finished+the+day+2-0%2C+also+securing+a+victory+over+Presbyterian.+

Andy McLean

App State redshirt senior Thomas Flitz stares down his opponent before the Senior Day match against Chattanooga begins. Flitz finished the day 2-0, also securing a victory over Presbyterian.

Cameron Burnett, Senior Reporter

During the 2019-20 season, redshirt senior 174-pound wrestler Thomas Flitz was in the midst of a breakout year, where he was 30-11 in his matches and had qualified for NCAAs. However,  COVID-19 shut down the season right before the championships began.

“It was really bittersweet last season, I was super upset about it and it was really discouraging because it was my first time qualifying,” Flitz said. “I had to accept what it was… that hunger definitely carried over. I (qualified) once, I know for a fact I can do it again. It definitely drove me this entire season and this offseason. I’m still hungry, my opportunity got stolen from me last year.”

Flitz came to App State as a preferred walk-on, and after redshirting his first year, went 23-31 in his matches the next two years. This adversity was a huge moment in his career and made him push harder for his goals.

“I came here ready to work out and ready to learn, not many people had high expectations for me, even I didn’t have high expectations for myself. I would tell people I did, but I just never actually believed it,” Flitz said. “I started getting that self belief, and all of the sudden, there was a whole 180 in my career.”

I started getting that self belief, and all of the sudden, there was a whole 180 in my career.”

— Thomas Flitz

Going into his junior year, this self belief was a part of the transformation that happened halfway through his career. After having a losing record during his freshman and sophomore year while bouncing in and out of the lineup, Flitz took the positive energy to the mat and had the best year of his career to that point, winning more matches than he did over his previous three years combined.

During that dominant 2019-20 season, Flitz went 7-0 in SoCon duals and was ranked No. 26 for NCAAs after winning 17 of his last 19 matches. For the home-state kid, this was where all the hard work had finally paid off. 

“A lot of people might come in here thinking they’re ‘top dog’ and that they’ve all got it figured out…Usually, that’s not the case at all. They come in as a freshman or a sophomore and get beat up and get really discouraged,” Flitz said. “I’ve been there, I know what it’s been like and you just have to push through it and work hard and you’ll eventually get to where you need to be,”

Through his challenges, Flitz has become a leader as a senior, having been through so many challenges and being able to withstand adversity that some might not be able to handle. As his career at App State comes to a close, he’s made sure to spread that mentality of never giving up throughout the team, especially for the young guys.

“Seeing his growth has been very positive for our team as he developed into one of our leaders and one of our team captains,” head coach JohnMark Bentley said. “When you’ve got a guy like Thomas… it’s a sign to the underclassmen like ‘hey if I work hard, a lot of things are possible here.’ I think (Thomas) has a great story to tell.”

Throughout his career at App State, Flitz made great impressions on the team as well as the community, as seen by Bentley. During home events, Flitz has connected with the community and they were able to see his improvement right before their eyes. 

Once he became one of the best wrestlers on the team, Flitz didn’t let the success get in the way of being a leader and great person to those around him on the team and within the App State community.

“He’s just a very genuine, kind person. He’s been a fan-favorite in the Varsity Gym for the last two years, and a lot of that has been because of how he interacts with the community and in the public. He’s a great ambassador for our program… the parents love him, the kids love him, and I think that’s why he has so many fans,” Bentley said.

Redshirt junior Cody Bond has grown close to Flitz throughout his career at App State and echoed the sentiment Bentley had regarding their senior leader. Bond is one of a program record seven NCAA qualifiers this year, alongside Flitz.

“He’s just a really good person and he helps me with my homework too. He’s just a really good guy and there’s not enough good things you can say about him,” Bond said. “I got to witness his change a little bit. He put his head down and kept grinding, and things started changing, and you could see it with him. Next thing you know, he was back out there and winning matches.”

With NCAA’s finished and the season now over, Flitz’s career will be something for the team to learn from going forward. For Flitz, the App State wrestling program has meant everything, and he gives those around him credit for his success as well. 

“If (this program) didn’t mean that much, I wouldn’t be sticking around so long. It’s awesome, I love the culture that we have, the friends that I’ve made and teammates that I have to talk to,” Flitz said. 

After five years within the program, Flitz was able to overcome all odds to become a top-ranked wrestler in the country and worthy of the opportunity to compete at the national level.

The No. 27-seeded Flitz dropped both his matches at the NCAA’s, falling to Oklahoma State’s No. 22-seeded Dustin Plott by a 7-5 decision in the first round. Then, Flitz dropped a tight 4-3 decision in overtime to Lehigh’s No. 46-seeded Jake Logan. 

“I want to leave (this program with the mindset) that anybody can do it, you’ve just gotta put your mind to it, work hard, and believe in yourself even when nobody else does,” Flitz said.