When Brett Wildman was a kid, he was given a pogo stick as a birthday gift.
While Penn State’s freshman phenom may have outgrown the toy, he hasn’t outgrown the symbolic nature of the gift.
“It was my favorite gift that I was super excited about,” Wildman said. “I do not use it anymore but I am still trying to jump higher and reach new goals in my life.”
The idea of reaching new heights has gotten Wildman to the point of being one of the most important Nittany Lions, but now his eyes are squarely on the task at hand: Penn State’s EIVA semifinal match with George Mason on Thursday night.
Contrary to what his last name might suggest, Wildman has a calming and focused persona both on and off the court.
“I like to think that I’m simple, focused and fun,” Wildman said. “Whatever I’m doing in the moment, I concentrate on just that. I also like to have fun, and I think that people enjoy themselves with me.”
He’s fun-loving and lively when he wants to be, but one of his most prominent attributes is his ability to flick the switch and lock in during important moments.
Thursday night’s match will provide one of those moments.
Penn State is at the point in its season where the goal is to survive and advance. A focused and dedicated mind is what each player — including Wildman — must maintain in order for their hard work all year to translate.
However, Wildman, an adrenaline junkie, is looking forward to completing a goal on a bucket list — one that includes skydiving and never wearing shoes in the summer — by simply ending his freshman season with a positive attitude and having fun with his teammates.
On the court, Wildman will never be an emotional rollercoaster. He is calm and focused while still carrying that fun personality with him. Perhaps most impressively, he can balance his demeanors.
“Brett is cool, calm and collected and that was very helpful when we faced the more difficult teams because he always stood level, not getting too emotional and making those stupid mistakes,” high school coach Mel Gero told The Daily Collegian. “I think this translates into real life for him, too.”
Wildman, an extrovert, focuses on the now in all phases of his life. You won’t catch him watching Netflix or gaming like so many of his peers. In many ways, Wildman’s interests are old fashioned.
He would rather spend his time training to reach his goals in volleyball, studying for his classes as a part of the Schreyer Honors College and being sociable with other people, instead of using his phone or laptop.
His quirky, lighthearted personality is something that started when he was young and has stayed with the Virginia Beach native throughout his life.
Even though he can be a little more reserved at times, Wildman doesn’t let anyone or anything stop him from being him.
“Sometimes, he isn’t the biggest personality in the room and will let the older guys wave their feathers, but on the court he will always show you what he can do,” Gero added.
Volleyball was not always Wildman’s area of expertise. In fact, it wasn’t until he was honored as an AVCA High School All-American in 2018, that his career in the sport started to take off.
He played baseball up until sophomore year in high school, but it was around this time that he began to not feel the same passion for it as he did for volleyball. But his time on the diamond wasn’t for naught — Wildman attributes his serving power to his time as a pitcher.
Once recruited to Penn State, Wildman began to see how that power could translate from one sport to the next and has used it to his advantage ever since.
During the middle of his freshman season at Penn State, Wildman was selected as the only player to represent the EIVA conference and United States in the World University Games in Napoli, Italy this upcoming summer as an outside hitter.
This season alone Wildman has recorded 149 kills and 55 digs and has been named All-EIVA Honorable Mention.
“I remember asking him at the beginning of his junior year of high school, ‘So you want to play in college? Because you definitely can,’ and he looked at me like I was crazy,” Gero said. “Shortly after his parents told me that I had planted that seed in his head because he never thought of it himself, and I could just tell that if he wanted it, it was going to happen to for him.”
Every opportunity Wildman has been given, including his spot on the court as a Nittany Lion, he thanks his parents for. All of his accomplishments and his love for the sport have been supported by his loved ones.
“From the beginning I grew up with an insanely supportive family,” Wildman said. “Ever since I was little my parents would help put me in a position to support my dreams whether that was baseball, volleyball or not a sport at all.”
What Wildman might not realize is that what others gave to him, he has been giving back to those around him all along.
“The first day of tryouts I remember Brett said to me, ‘I’ll do whatever the team needs from me,’ and that really stuck out to me, and that’s the attitude he has carried with him the whole way,” Gero said. “I can’t praise him enough and I tell his parents all the time they raised him so well because he is such a team player and even when he was the best he would make sure to help everyone else first.”
With three years and the rest of this season remaining as a Nittany Lion, Wildman is only focused on what is right in front of him.
It’s obvious he has a bright future ahead of him, even if he isn’t sure what that future is. Wearing a team USA jersey remains the goal, but he understands that no matter how big his dreams may be, he has to start small.
“Brett won’t take a back seat to anybody,” Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said. “I think he is going to get better and better once things start clicking for him and with his arm he will be playing at high altitudes.”
While traveling the world and be able to play volleyball is a goal of his, this beach boy is all for the sun and sand in his home state.
If volleyball could only exist in Virginia, Wildman would simply be pleased to spend the rest of his life at home fulfilling his dreams. But for right now, he’s enjoying the early stages of building what could be an impressive legacy at Penn State.
“I see him as the next Matt Anderson, that’s who he is to me,” Gero said. “That’s the potential I see in him.”