WEST LIBERTY, Iowa — Bryce Esmoil knows there's a target on his back.

The senior wrestler from West Liberty not only acknowledged the inevitable but embraced it as he signed his letter of intent to wrestle at Northern Iowa on Thursday at West Liberty High School. 

"I'll have everything to lose, and nobody else will have anything to lose," Esmoil said. "I just got to keep going."

The defending Class 2A 195-pound state champion is ranked No. 16 in the country in his weight class by InterMat Wrestling.

After verbally committing to the Panthers on Oct. 15 − citing the coaches, facilities and teammates as factors into his decision − he followed through with an official commitment Thursday as family, teammates, classmates and coaches packed into the cafeteria to witness West Liberty's first national signing of the school year. 

"It's pretty nerve-wracking," Esmoil said about the event. "I've never done that before ... not a lot of people have. It's very special, a special moment in high school." 

Wrestling has been a part of Esmoil's life since Kindergarten, a hobby passed down to him from family members. 

"I picked wrestling because it's the sport that's closest to my family," Esmoil said. "We played football, we played baseball, we played basketball in my family. Everybody wrestled." 

The senior has regularly improved in the sport ever since his freshman year of high school, when he finished seventh at the state tournament.

He left with bronze a year later as a sophomore and then eased his way to a 15-0 technical fall victory last February over Woodward-Granger's Cody Fisher in the Class 2A 195-pound championship. 

Still, Esmoil knows there's room for growth. 

"I still got to stay focused, make weekly goals, seasonal goals and just try to stay positive through the whole thing," Esmoil said. "There's going to be ups and downs from now on until my senior year of college. I just got to keep going, never get off the train tracks. Keep the train rolling." 

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