Crystal Lake Central wrestler Caden Ernd worked previously with one Illinois assistant coach and is close friends with one current and one future Fighting Illini wrestler.
So while Ernd looked around at other schools, Illinois is where he felt he was meant to be.
“Illinois kind of sold me that I know most of the team there and it was the right fit for me,” the Tigers senior said. “I trained with (Illinois assistant) Mike Poeta in the eighth grade and I was pretty close to him. He helped me along the way. There was a connection and it seems like a great fit.”
Ernd, who was third at 160 pounds in last year’s Class 2A State Tournament, committed to Illinois last week. He will join Prairie Ridge graduate Trey Piatrowski, a junior at Illinois, and Marian Central senior Dylan Connell, an Illinois commit, as college teammates. Connell has won three state championships.
Ernd had interest from NCAA Division I programs Northwestern, Campbell and Davidson, and also had looked at D-II Lindenwood (Missouri). Illinois just made the most sense.
“I talked to different people to get all aspects on where I’m going,” Ernd said. “It definitely helps knowing people where you’re going to be going for the next four or five years of your life.”
Ernd started wrestling when he was 5 in the Crystal Lake Wizards, then wrestled his eighth-grade year with Wrestling Factory. That was the same year he worked out at Poeta Training Center, before Mike Poeta was hired at Illinois.
“I always knew I wanted to wrestle at the highest level,” Ernd said. “My support system, my family, friends and coaches all helped me get there. This is definitely the goal, I still have more to prove.
“I have great parents (Eric and Taryn) who are very supportive of my decision. My (Central) coaches (Justen) Lehr and (assistant coach Jon) Murphy, the coaches at Poeta, Dylan and I trained there. Zac Brunson (who took over at Poeta). I’m a product of them and my strength coach, Ryan Jauch.”
Ernd can sign his National Letter of Intent on Nov. 11.