As a kid, Sun Valley's Ryan Catka dreamed of being a Navy SEAL. As he grew older, the aspiration to be a member of the nation's elite military unit has waned a bit, but not his desire to serve his country.
He's going to get that chance.
The All-Delco wrestler announced on social media recently that he will attend the United States Naval Academy.
"The Naval Academy is a great school," Catka said. "It's one of the top schools in the country and the new coaching staff with Coach (Cary) Kolat, (Blaize) Cabell and a couple of other guys who came over with Coach Kolat from Campbell are great coaches who can help me to be the best wrestler I can be. I think I can go far there."
Catka selected the Midshipmen over Virginia Tech, Columbia and Penn. It wasn't an easy choice. His older brother Hunter, a two-time PIAA champion and three-time Daily Times Wrestler of the Year, is a freshman at Virginia Tech.
"I know Hunter wanted me to go to Virginia Tech with him and stay on the same team and stay close," the younger Catka said. "I think he's going to do super great there. It's an awesome school and I love the coaches, but I just didn't see myself there. I chose a different path."
Catka enters his senior year with a 68-13 career record and a third-place finish at 195 pounds in the PIAA Class 3A championships last March. He capped a 40-3 season in dramatic fashion. Catka rallied from a one-point deficit for a 4-2 victory over Cumberland Valley's Jake Lucas in overtime to claim the first state medal of his career.
He credits his brother with much of his success.
"There's no other partner like him," Catka said. "Just having the best heavyweight wrestler in the country for a brother and a training partner is something else, but this year is going to be a little different and I'll have to change things up and get some new partners.
"He's pushed me and has been a leader. Early on when I really didn't want to go to practice, he pushed me. He'd take me there. Early in the mornings, he would wake me up and we'd get a quick workout in before school. In the room, he pushed me to my limits."
Still, following in the footsteps of an older, highly successful sibling isn't easy.
"I've had some challenges with that," Catka said. "I've kind of felt in his shadow at times, but I've learned to overcome that and just be my own person and try to make a name for myself."
Finalizing his college choice capped an interesting offseason for the Catka, who will wrestle at 215 pounds under the PIAA's new format that has 13 weight classes instead of 14. He underwent surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus. It's the same injury that cost him most of his sophomore season.
"The strength is almost back to 100 percent," Catka said. "I feel really healthy and good."
Catka felt good enough to pick up a hobby during the pandemic. He went golfing for the first time last week.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," Catka said. "My dad (Sean) has been golfing for a little bit and I just asked to go out with him and I thought it was pretty fun. I shot a 109 (at Rock Manor in Wilmington, Del.) I didn't think it was too bad for my first time."
Mostly, though, Catka has spent much of this time working out with Malvern Prep's Nick Feldman and Caden Rogers, and Martin Cosgrove of Camden Catholic, the 2019 New Jersey 195-pound state champ. He doesn't have to go far for the workouts.
"It's in our garage," Catka said. "It has two levels. There's an upper level and a lower level. The upper level we put a wrestling mat in there and the lower level we made a weight room. We have a good amount of weights down there and a big mat upstairs. We're really blessed to have that."
Catka hopes those offseason workouts lead to a stellar senior season, but with the coronavirus pandemic, no one knows if there will be a season. He has his fingers crossed, but at least he has his college choice out of the way.
"I know what I'm getting into going to Navy," Catka said. "I know it's going to be difficult and challenging, but that's what I want, the discipline. The other schools I was looked at are all very good schools, but I just thought that Navy would set me up best for my future."