Upstate New York's plethora of colleges and universities means that this month, thousands of students are graduating, reflecting on their time in college in the region and then moving on to the next phase of their lives. One outstanding graduating senior, Cornell University's Kyle Dake, who was just named Sports Illustrated's male College Athlete of the Year.
Kyle Dake won four NCAA Division I wrestling titles -- and he did it in four different weight classes. It's not often that a wrestler pierces the consciousness of average college sports fans, but in naming Dake its 2013 male College Athlete of the Year, Sports Illustrated used the word "legend" to describe him. And Dake's achievements do not end at the edge of the wrestling mat. He's a three-time academic All-American -- at the Ivy League's Cornell University. Yet Dake, who's from nearby Lansing, New York, takes it all in stride.
"I'm just a regular guy. And everywhere on campus, I've had the unique opportunity to meet a lot of leaders on campus, and being around those people is really humbling, and to see what they're doing, makes what I'm doing seem trivial," he said.
Dake's athletic ability may be in his genes; his father was an All-American wrestler, too. But his achievement came in no small part because of his mental toughness and a laser-like focus on achieving.
"Every match I just go over, you know, my techniques, how I want the match to play out. I always just tell myself that I'm going to be a 2013 165-lb. D I NCAA champion. That's like kinda what I told myself in the time leading up to all my matches. And then when I finally went out and wrestled," he said, "I was just ready mentally, didn't really have to think about anything, just came out and did it."
For Dake, wrestling may be second nature, but the hoopla that came with winning his fourth consecutive NCAA wrestling title was something new.
"I came in such a high after winning my fourth NCAA title. I came back and I had millions of missed phone calls, and text messages and tweets, and Facebook messages, and it was really overwhelming. And then I had to come back and write a paper," said Dake.
But the phone kept ringing, and with the success also came media attention and the challenge of trying to find an agent or manager.
"It's just been a whirlwind, it's been really hectic," said Dake.
And in the midst of it all, as a graduating senior, Dake has to, as he said, "figure out what to do with the rest of my life." It's clear that Dake does not want his wrestling days to end with college. Competing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is just the first goal on his post-college list.
"In four years, I plan on being in brazil, win an Olympic gold medal. Then in 40 years, I'll probably be sitting in a room like this, trying to be like [Cornell] Coach [Rob] Koll, coaching the future of Cornell," Dake said.
Before those 40 years go by, Dake says he also wants to spend more time on the other success in his life -- academics. He says he plans to return to cornell to continue his studies.
But for now, Kyle Dake can take pride in the fact that, as Sports Illustrated put it, he has earned a spot in the discussion of who is the "greatest of all time."
Cornell University holds commencement ceremonies Sunday.