When Gene Big Solider III was three years old he hated wrestling, he lost often, pouted more, but never gave up once.
From his first wrestling match at 46 pounds to the end of his seventh-grade year he loss more times than he can remember, but he kept going back for more.
“When I was little I used to hate it, now it’s more of a passion to me,” Big Solider said. “When I was littler sometimes I got beat more than I do now, the more I win now the more I like it, it’s easier for me to win.”
Now at 17 and 160 pounds, Big Solider is a force to be reckoned with on the Pawhuska High School wrestling team. With a record of 11-5 most of his opponents are pinned quicker than the click of a camera.
He’s a perceivable threat in the large high school wrestling world and for good reason.
His coaches, parents, family and supporters say it’s his discipline and strength that make him a menace on the mat.
His uncle Bruce Cass, who was also a wrestler at Pawhuska, has watched Big Solider mature on the mat but believes there’s more to Gene’s talent than hard work.
“You see theses guys at practice who are hard workers, you see these people they’re not great athletes, they’re just hard workers, then you see these people with God- given talent and it’s just easy, Gene’s kind of between there, he’s got a lot of hard work and then he’s got some God-given talent.”
That rare talent has also given Gene the ability to be an extraordinary football player.
Because of his talents Big Soldier has earned the chance to play college football. On Tuesday, Feb. 7, Big Solider will sign a letter of intent to play football at Haskell Indian Nations University.
So far, he’s gotten everything he’s dreamed of, even with all the talent he’s been given his success didn’t come without tribulation.
A Wrestler at Heart
Gene grew up similar to most Osage boys his age. He grew up in and around the In-Lon-Schka as a water boy and a committee member.
He grew up with a big family who supported him in everything he did. He grew up in a family of wrestlers.
His mother Danielle Cass said her grandfather, father, uncle, brother and others were wrestlers and that Big Soldier was destined to do the same.
“Growing up in Pawhuska wrestling is the sport here, you always have football but that’s the next sport…” she said. “Wrestling that was just the thing for us, that was a given.”
Danielle Cass got Big Solider started in wrestling when he reached the 37 pounds weight limit. First tournament was an open youth tournament in Barnsdall.
He had no experience but placed third.
He spent most of his youth moving up and down on the winning scale and at times he said he found it tough to keep with the sport. But once he reached high school he realized how badly he wanted to be successful in wrestling and changed things up.
“When I was a freshman I wrestled a bunch of tough people that were going for the state title and I kept getting beat a lot and I thought I was past that stage, then when I became a sophomore I realized that no matter who you…it just depends on how hard you’ve been working…” he said. “It was just that year, I just, I don’t know what it was I just started to push myself more than ever before.”
Danielle Cass said once her son started to take the sport seriously he made obvious changes in everything he did. She said once wrestling season came around all soda was banned from the house. When he went hunting instead of eating the deer meat he’d grill himself a steak. He became so disciplined that for three years he was able to maintain a weight of 110 pounds.
She said her son matured in so many ways simply because he developed a respect for wrestling.
“He had to maintain his weight, be discipline with his body…have the dedication, heart, just flat out heart, I’ve seen him hang on to a kid with just a finger nail,” Danielle Cass said. “He can get beat and just be classy about it.”
Big Solider started on the varsity squad as a sophomore. As a junior he qualified for the state meet but lost in the third-place bracket.
But his hopes are higher this year. With the post-season creeping up Big Soldier has plans to make it further than he has before.
“I’m going to try to win an individual state title in wrestling this year,” he said.
But if he doesn’t, he said he’s thankful for everything wrestling has given to him.
He knows the maturity he’s gained from partaking in the sport and tools he can carry on with him into the future.
“Wrestling has taught me to be dependent on myself, be stronger and realize when your down you have to get up and keep fighting,” he said. “If you’re going to try to wrestle, just keep working your best at everything you do, work on your technique, conditioning, conditioning’s the main thing you need to work on but if it’s not in your heart to wrestle then it’s not in your heart to wrestle. It’s something you got to be passionate for.”
A Football Player by Choice
Big Soldier also grew up with a pigskin in his hand. He started playing football when he was in the fourth grade and considers it his favorite sport of the two.
Defensive end and wide receiver Big Soldier has been selected as the All-Area and All-District defensive end.
“I like football more,” he confessed. “My family just pushed me do my best and I just pushed myself to do my best in football, it just comes more natural to me to play football.”
Those close to him can see how much he enjoys playing football even if he is talented in both sports.
Pawhuska head football coach and assistant wrestling coach Eddy Scott said he’s coached Big Soldier in both sports since he started coaching at Pawhuska six years ago.
“He works hard in both sports, when it comes time to put the pads on Friday night he’s always ready to go, he plays hurt, he plays injured, just like he does when he wrestles but I think football, I think he loves that sport more than wrestling, just for the simple fact that I think the contact aspect of it he really craves and loves to do,” Scott said. “… I think in retrospect football’s probably the best thing for him, wrestling a great sport but I think he’ll excel more in football.”
He said Big Soldier works hard everyday and has proven to be a true leader on both teams. He said many of the youth athletes look up to him for a number of reasons.
“I think just his speed and quickness and overall aggressiveness, he has to rely on that because he doesn’t have the size,” Scott said. “He’s going to be very hard to replace for us, he’s going to be extremely missed by me and my coaching staff, just been a real pleasure to coach.”
Big Solider has always hoped his football talent would take him places and after next Tuesday it will.
Football has paved him a way into college where he plans to study biology. After he’s earned a college degree he plans to become a firefighter, something his father Gene Big Soldier Jr., Iowa, once did part time.
“I’d like to help people if they’re caught in a fire or just a forest fire or something like that, it’s just something I’d like to do,” he said. “(I want to) come back here and try to be a firefighter for the BIA or just a fire station downtown.”
Big Solider can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Living in Pawhuska allows him to do all of his favorite things: fish, hunt, see his friends and be around for In-Lon-Schka.
“I want to come back here, have a family here, have my kids grow up around this culture and stuff,” Big Soldier said.
He is the oldest of seven children between his parents. He has three younger sisters and a brother on his mother’s side and two younger sisters on his father’s side.
He is also the grandson of the late Eddie Cass and Terri Gillett, the great-grandson of Marion Cass and the late Dan Cass. His uncle Sammy Cass and aunt Denise Cass and Bruce Cass and his wife Dana Cass, as well as his father’s family heavily support him.
He has been a water boy and is on the Pawhuska District Committee, something he doesn’t take for granted.
Danielle Cass said her son grew up in and around the summer dances and knows the importance of his culture. She said she’s often suggested he participate in powwows but he enjoys the dances more.
“He said ‘it doesn’t feel the same, I don’t like doing that, you don’t get the same feeling you get out there, the feeling you get out there you don’t get it anywhere else’,” she said. “He loves it, he loves it a lot.”
To most it’s not hard to see the connection Big Soldier has with both his Osage and Iowa culture. To him, family and culture come hand in hand and without either, he wouldn’t have the success he’s had.
“It’s a big thing because my family is really connected with the culture and I like being around everything we do, Osages and Iowas, it’s fun to be around your family and your friends and your culture, you learn new things or just continue doing the dances,” he said. “I just want to thank my mom and dad, all my family and friends for supporting me all these years, helping me out, my coaches.”