MASON CITY — It’s a funny thing what one year in a college wrestling program can do to a guy.

Ryan Faught was a placewinner and a two-time state qualifier at Clear Lake, but his senior year didn’t end where he wanted it to in 2016 when he ran into a brutal bracket at districts and failed to advance to the state tournament in his final season.

So with a chance at a fresh start at NIACC last year, Faught battled through a tough season and wound up accomplishing one of his goals in making the national tournament at 174 pounds. He's hoping it was the start of something good.

“Making nationals the first time was a really good experience to get that experience through,” Faught said. “You just have to end up staying healthy and working towards that goal at the end. The ultimate goal is to go on to regionals and qualify for nationals and do big things. A real eye-opener is it’s not that far away from where I could be and where my goals are.”

It was a battle all season for Faught to get to that point.

He finished the season with a 10-17 record and recorded one technical fall and one major decision.

Faught credits a part of his success to the training partner he had at Clear Lake in three-time state champion Ryan Leisure, who is now at Iowa State.

But, he also loves the differences college wrestling brings.

“What I really learned just going from high school up to the next level is that it’s just a bunch of guys who actually want to be in the room, want to work hard and want to do great things,” Faught said. “And it’s just getting practice partners in there with you that really want to help you get to the next level.”

With an offseason full of work, and a path set clearly for him to succeed, NIACC coach Steve Kelly expects big things out of Faught this year.

“The kid’s going to have a lot of confidence. He walks in the room more of a leader, chin up and he knows what to expect,” Kelly said. “He’s always been a tough, hard-nosed, physical wrestler, but now he’s got more confidence in what he does.

“He listens more so he’s opened up his offense – like a football team opening up the playbook. That’s what he’s doing right now and it’s fun to watch.”

It’s guys like Faught Kelly hopes to build the team around this year, and he has a couple of the hammers to do it.

It starts with sophomore Austin Anderly, who comes in to Wednesday’s season opener at Iowa Western ranked No. 1 at 141 pounds in Intermat’s preseason NJCAA Division I rankings.

Anderly placed fifth in last year’s national tournament and was 14-7.

“He’s a fun kid to coach,” Kelly said. “He’s not scared to go upper body with anybody and he’s a guy you want in your corner if you ever get in a fight.”

Jaylen Lee is the only other returning national qualifier and he comes into the season ranked fourth at 184 pounds. He, too, scored a fifth-place finish at last year’s national tournament.

Faught is ranked seventh at 165 pounds, and the Trojans are ranked 11th as a team.

“I feel we have a good group of guys and everybody is working really hard,” Faught said. “I think we can do some great things as a team. At the end of the year we kind of got it together and I think with this group of guys we can get it through and do phenomenal things throughout the season.”