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Best of both worlds: BHS' Darter finds wrestling, esports home at Ottawa U

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Bakersfield High's 220 pounder Justin Darter tries to bring down David Barela of Northview in the 2018 Rumble for the Rig wrestling tournament. Darter recently committed to wrestler and compete for the esports team at Ottawa University in Kansas.

When choosing a college, most student-athletes are lucky if they can secure a spot on one championship-caliber roster.

By next year, Justin Darter is likely to be competing on two.

Darter, a senior and three-time state-qualifier at Bakersfield High School, took a big step towards fulfilling his childhood dream of wrestling collegiately on Nov. 11, when he signed a national letter of intent to compete at Ottawa University, an NAIA program in Kansas.

During his recruitment, Darter says he immediately hit it off with Ottawa coach Colby Crank, who's led the Braves to back-to-back Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference titles.

"There's not a lot of good people in this world anymore and you can just tell that he's one of the good ones," Darter said. "I really do just love the guy and I really can't wait to have him in my corner. And I think I can definitely help them get another championship."

And while wrestling will be his primary focus, Darter is also excited to join another Brave team with an even higher pedigree of success.

In recent years, esports have exploded in popularity on college campuses, with over 100 schools now hosting sanctioned teams.

An avid gamer, Darter became aware of E-gaming opportunities thanks to a serendipitous online friendship he'd struck up with Parker Perentis, who just so happened to attend Ottawa University and was a member of both the school's men's basketball and esports squads.

"I had no idea there were collegiate opportunities (for esports) until about a year ago," Darter said. "My focus is definitely wrestling, but during the offseason, I'm excited to join the esports team."

Darter, who admits he's "not as good at video games as wrestling" may have to sharpen his skills with a controller before arriving to campus. When he gets to Ottawa, he'll join a Call of Duty Team that last week won the Tespa National Modern Warfare National Championship.

But it isn't college championships that Darter, who placed sixth at 220 pounds during last year's state wrestling tournament, currently has his sights on.

"I want to be a state champ," said Darter, who is expected to compete in either the 220 or heavyweight division during his senior season in 2021. "That really is all I'm hoping for."

Regardless of where he wrestles, Driller coach Andy Varner expects Darter to be in the mix for a state title, and has no doubt he'll carry the success he's found on the mat in high school over to his adult life.

"He's worked hard and he deserves every opportunity that comes his way," Varner said. "He's one of the hardest working, most-respectful kids that you'll ever meet. He's going to be successful at the next level and he's going to be very successful in life."

Expecting he'll become a full-time heavyweight in college, Darter says signing an NLI was a dream come true, and he's eager to put his years of preparation to good use.

“Ever since I was four or five years old and I started wrestling, my goal was to get a scholarship and wrestle in college and go for that national championship," he said. "So I’m definitely excited for the future.”