Story from Tony Herman, Hastings Tribune
The Hastings College wrestling team lost its heart and soul Saturday morning. Bradley Cusatis Jr., 22, of Beatrice, a fifth-year senior and 157-pound HC wrestler, was killed in a crash with a train, along with his mother, 43-year-old Tracy Core of Lincoln.
The northbound 99-car Burlington Northern Santa Fe locomotive crashed into the side of their 2002 Suzuki in the driveway to a cornfield one mile north of Webber, according to an accident report from the Kansas Highway Patrol. The two were helping with corn harvest.
The double fatality crash happened less than two years after Cusatis' father, Bradley Cusatis Sr., was killed in a Dec. 15, 2010, car crash on Interstate 80.
"It's terrible," HC wrestling coach Shawn Kelley said this morning. "You wouldn't wish it on your enemy, and when it hits this close to home it's even more difficult."
Kelley, who called Cusatis one of the hardest working people he'd ever met, said he was positioned to win a national championship this year after shoulder injuries led him to redshirt last season.
"Realistically, and I'm not just saying this cause he was my guy or because he's gone now, he had a chance to win a national title this year," Kelley said. "He definitely would've been top three."
Cusatis had beaten All-American wrestlers before his redshirt season and was well known among competitors.
"Everybody's sending their condolences from around the nation right now," Kelley said. "He was a good one. He'd push my buttons as much as he could, but at the end of the day he was a goofball and everybody loved his competitive side he had and he just rubbed off on the team."
When his father died, Kelley was one of the first people Cusatis called.
"That was a different side of him than I'd ever seen," he said. "He was an emotional wreck, and that's just not who Brad was."
The HC wrestling team is planning ways to memorialize Cusatis, Kelley said. That could include a patch with his initials on team members' headgear or singlets.
A T-shirt was another idea tossed around.
"Brad was such a goofball — pink was his favorite color — so I'm sure we'll do some kind of pink shirt," he said.
After Cusatis' death, Kelley gathered with team members to talk about their teammate's life and his death. Kelley said such a conversation wouldn't fly with the toughest guy on the team.
"He would tell us to get to work," he said. "He wouldn't want us to sit and dwell on it."
Cusatis took on Mixed Martial Arts fights in the offseason. Wrestling was the outlet for his emotions, his way to relax.
Without going into details, Kelley said Cusatis made the best of a tough situation. Talking with one of Cusatis' aunts over the weekend, Kelley said he learned Cusatis grew up in the Superior area but transferred to Beatrice High School after his freshmen year of high school where he graduated in 2008.
"He came from a really hard life and got things going in the right direction and really had to fight through some demons that he overcame," Kelley said. "He was really everybody's favorite kid even though he was a smart aleck."
One of Cusatis' teammates, Justin Ferguson, who graduated from Hastings College in May and now lives in Lincoln, also graduated from high school in 2008 and often wrestled Cusatis in practice. Ferguson said HC wrestlers called Cusatis "The Bulldog."
Cusatis was a hard worker and the biggest joker among their group of friends.
"He always brought excitement wherever he went," Ferguson said. "He was the wild guy of all of our friends at Hastings. He was the toughest wrestler on the team by far and the nicest. "
"If anybody had a car problem he was the guy to talk to; he knew everything about cars. He helped me out and everybody else on the team. He was just a great guy all around."
According to his Facebook profile, he worked for the custom-cutting operation Woerner Farms of Burr Oak, Kan. A Woerner Farms representative said this morning Cusatis worked for the company most of his life.
"This was a typical weekend for him; he would go work every weekend," Kelley said. "He was a hard working kid."
There was weekends Cusatis would leave Friday evening and drive a semitrailer all the way to Montana to pick up farm equipment and come right back.
Cusatis had more drive than a typical student, Kelley said, and he "worked his butt off" to stay in school.
"He was a true, blue collar worker," Kelley said. "He worked for everything he had: his car, his insurance, his house. Nothing was ever given to the kid and I don't think he wanted it given."
As a freshman he was only the third best wrestler for his weight class, but eventually became the top HC wrestler for his weight class and qualified for the national tournament that year.
"After that he just got better every year," Kelley said. "He had a mean streak in him. When he walked on the mat he wanted to punish is opponent. As a coach you want that kind of attitude. It didn't matter if it was a No. 1 kid in D-1 or the worst kid in the nation, he was going to try physically beating them because his technique wasn't as good as a lot, but he made up for it with his tenacity."
There will be a Celebrate of Life for the Cusatis family on Thursday night at 7:30pm on campus.
Picture from Amy Roh, Hastings Tribune