STILLWATER, Okla. -- As a high school freshman, Caylor Williams went 0-24 and got pinned 22 times while wrestling at 171 pounds for the Palm Bay Pirates in Melbourne, Fla. "Spent a whole year getting my [butt] kicked," he said. "Then I just kept chipping away and chipping away." As a senior, Williams went 50-0, and was crowned Florida High School Class 3A state champion at 189 pounds. Williams, 22, now an E-4 with the Colorado Army National Guard, brought that resilience to the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, or UNCG. Now he's headed to the 2013 FILA Wrestling World Championships, scheduled for Sept. 16-22, in Budapest, Hungary, as the 211.5-pound Greco-Roman wrestler for Team USA.
"I've wanted to make the national team and the world team for a long time," Williams said after defeating Marcus Finau of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, in the finals of the 2013 U.S. World Team Trials at Oklahoma State University. "The same way I came into this tournament, nobody knew who I was; I wasn't a favorite, that's the same way I feel about the world. The number one guys from Russia, Cuba, Hungary, I'm ready to wrestle all of them. "This has always been in my mind; I just had to let my body catch up to my belief," Williams continued. "On average, when someone decides they want to win an Olympic gold, eight years from that point when they make the mental decision to take that gold is when they actually get it. I'm ready to put in the work, the years, whatever it takes." Williams made short work of every wrestler he faced during the challenge tournament and the finals of the U.S. World Team Trials. His four matches combined lasted roughly 3 minutes, 30 seconds.
"Just go out there and pummel these guys hard," he explained. "It's a fight. Just like the announcer was saying, 'it's a fight.' That's what I say to myself. If I bumped into them on the street, it would be the same thing. If they try to come at you, the only difference is we're on the mat and there are specific rules I have to follow." Williams has grown accustomed to exercising resilience. After redshirting his freshman year in Greensboro, he won the Southern Conference crown and qualified for the Division I NCAA Championships as a sophomore. The night before departing to the tournament, Williams learned that UNCG would soon drop wrestling.
"We had all just qualified for nationals and we're in there cutting weight," Williams recalled. "The day before we were supposed to leave, like the vans were going to be there in the morning and we were there that night, our athletic director came in, sat us down, and said: 'You're not going to have a program when you come back. Regardless of how you do at nationals, regardless of how your team has performed, you're just not in the picture for the future.' My guys were crushed."
Coach Jason Loukides, a former World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, wrestler and coach, came to their rescue. He formed a group called Y.E.S. Wrestling. The acronym stands for Youth, Education and Sport. Loukides taught the Greco-Roman discipline to a bunch of college wrestlers who would have been competing in freestyle. "He's been training us and mentoring us," Williams said. "When we got cut, we had all these athletic advisors for our classes, and we lost all that. So he became all of that for us." That, in itself, was a huge step in Williams' progression toward attaining a college degree and wrestling on the senior men's level.
"He spent his own money sending me to Azerbaijan so I could get mat experience internationally," Williams said. "I've been overseas like four times now." Loukides, who competed as a Soldier in the 2001 Greco-Roman Wrestling World Championships in Patras, Greece, helped Williams find the Army WCAP Wrestling Team at Fort Carson, Colo.
"As soon as I got to Colorado it was just a whole 'nother level," Williams said. "The altitude was kicking my butt; the dryness in the air." Williams quickly spent the $1,000 he received for graduation gifts on getting to and around Colorado Springs.
"When I joined the National Guard, I had the intention of serving my country and joining WCAP," Williams said. "I've been staying wherever people will let me stay. I've got a tent, and I have a sleeping bag. I'm living out of my car right now. Wherever I park that thing, if there's some grass, that's where I'm sleeping." WCAP wrestling coach Shon Lewis said finding a place to sleep no longer will be an issue for Williams.
"He's not going to have a problem with that type of stuff anymore," Lewis said. "He's with the Black and Gold now, so we're going to take care of him and get him ready for the World Championships.
"He's one of our new guns, and we're happy to have him. He's working hard, and he's hungry. As long as he stays hungry, and he stays humble, I think he's going to do great things." Williams praised the Army for renewing his wrestling life after UNC-Greensboro dropped its wrestling program. Spc. Jamel Johnson came with Williams from Carolina and also joined the WCAP Wrestling Team. "I thank WCAP for picking us up and taking us to the next level," Williams said. "It's the number one team in the country right now." In the blink of an eye, the newest member of the WCAP Wrestling Team became a rookie on the U.S. World Team. "This stuff is all cool," Williams said after receiving his Team USA uniform from USA Wrestling Director of National Teams Mitch Hull. "But I don't really care, I'm trying to win the Worlds."