Every so often, University of Indianapolis wrestler D.J. Smith tells a freshman teammate that Greyhounds’ head coach Jason Warthan has requested to see him.
Nervousness is eventually replaced by relief once Warthan informs the young man he’s been set up for a practical joke.
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Smith, a former high school state champion at Franklin, understands the importance of adding levity to what is a grueling season.
“D.J. will keep you on your toes,” Warthan said of Smith, a redshirt junior who is 9-9 this season for the 11th-ranked (Division II) Greyhounds in the 125-pound class. “He wants to someday teach and coach, and D.J. will be a good one. People are just drawn to him.”
After recording a 111-14 record and advancing to state on three occasions in his high school career, Smith is producing results at UIndy after an unfortunate start.
Prior to the start of his freshman season, Smith sustained a right ACL injury in practice. Surgery was performed in Carmel on Nov. 19, 2014, and Smith redshirted.
As a member of coach Bob Hasseman’s Grizzly Cubs, Smith never missed a meet even if a knee, elbow, ankle or any other body part bothered him. This was different.
“Physically, the two weeks after surgery were very tough. The rehab in general for five months was tough,” Smith said. “It was very challenging. That was the first time I had really been injured.
“Getting the confidence back was probably the toughest part. When I actually did get cleared, it’s like I’m scared to shoot on this knee and scared to get in certain positions. It takes time to get back to trusting what your knee can do.”
Smith bounced back strong the following season, posting a 23-10 record. He followed with a 15-14 mark last winter.
Last weekend, Indianapolis hosted its annual Midwest Classic, a two-day event in which 35 programs converged on Nicoson Hall and the Ruth Lilly Fitness Center.
Smith posted a 1-2 mark and failed to place in his weight class.
“In high school if you were good on your feet you could be a really good wrestler,” Smith said. “It took a lot of me working on my bottom and top game and improving on finishing takedowns. It’s just a whole new level.”
Not all of Smith’s contributions to the UIndy wrestling program take place on the mat.
“The thing that makes D.J. stand out is his willingness to step up when others aren’t,” Warthan said. “He volunteered to take a couple (teammates) under his wing, and D.J. runs his own study table.
“He does the laundry for us. He makes sure the locker room is picked up. And if someone forgets to mop the mat, D.J. does it. He takes pride in ownership of those parts of the program.”
All the while displaying a positive attitude and, yes, sense of humor.
Earlier this season, Warthan received a text message from one of his wrestlers claiming he wasn’t going to make weight for an upcoming event.
Slightly confused and somewhat irritated, Warthan responded.
In time, the wrestler texted back with a crying emoji and a three-word message:
“That was D.J.”
Name: D.J. Smith
Family: Parents Dave and Maureen; brothers Mike Dowty, 40, Pat Dowty, 38, and Chris Dowty, 36; sisters Katie Smith, 22, Kylie Smith, 22, and Traci Smith, 22
High school: Franklin (2014)
College: University of Indianapolis
Major: Health and physical education