As a redshirt junior on a team with no seniors, Hayden Hidlay isn't just NC State's best wrestler. He's also a leader and role model for his younger teammates.
It's a job that comes naturally to him. He's been leading and setting an example for one of those teammates for nearly his entire life.
But while redshirt freshman Trent Hidlay has learned a lot from watching and emulating his older brother during their formative years together in Lewistown, Pa., he is anything but a subordinate when he steps onto the mat for the Wolfpack.
Both are ranked among the top three nationally in their respective weight classes and form the heart of an undefeated State team with its sights set squarely on the first national championship in school history.
"I think we work so well together because we build each other up," Trent said. "We really correspond well with each other, the way we train, the way we live, with way we do in school. Having him here, having me here, we really get along well. We push each other."
That mutual motivation has helped the two become almost automatic in the middle of the Wolfpack lineup.
Wrestling at 157 pounds, Hayden has compiled a 24-1 record (10-0 in dual meets) while rising to the No. 2 national ranking. Trent is ranked No. 3 at 184, having won 21 of his 23 bouts with a 13-0 dual record.
They both easily won their individual matches on Friday, providing the Wolfpack with a reliable foundation it needed to eke out a 16-14 victory against rival North Carolina at Reynolds Coliseum.
"They are hard-nosed, great quality kids," Popolizio said. "I think that's the luxury of where we're at as a program."
The Hidlays are one of two sets of brothers on State's roster. Twins Thomas and Daniel Bullard are also mainstays in the lineup and nationally ranked as redshirt juniors.
While Bullards made the conscious decision to attend school and wrestle together, it wasn't as sure a thing for the Hidlays to end up as teammates.
"There was a time in my recruiting process when I wasn't really sure," Trent said. "My top four at the end were here, Iowa, Lehigh and Purdue, so I had a lot of options.
"But at the end of the day, I wanted to come where I felt most comfortable and that just ended up being where (Hayden) was. That made the transition to college really smooth."
While Hayden's presence in both the classroom and locker room has been a positive influence on Trent, being reunited with one another has been good for both brothers.
"Whenever we're drilling or wrestling live, it's a little bit separated," said Hayden, a two-time All-American who advanced to the national title match as a freshman while making it to the semifinals a year ago.. "But once conditioning comes around and we're at practices or on the (stationary) bikes working real hard ... when somebody is yelling in your ear and it's Trent, I've got to make sure I'm a good role model for the younger kids.
"It's a back-and-forth thing. I respect everything he says and he respects what I say. Whenever we need that little extra bit of umph, we can go to each other."
While the brothers are genuinely a united front when it comes to their wrestling, even they're not imune from at least a hint of sibling rivalry.
It showed last week as Trent finished an interview session with the media leading up to the UNC match. Told that he'd won the ACC's Wrestler of the Week award for the second time this season, the younger of the Hidlay brothers made sure to note that he was now only one honor away from matching Hayden's total.
Not that he was counting.
"I'd say the most competition would probably be in a handball game if we're on the opposite teams," Trent said. "He's great for me. He makes me better and I make him better. In the process, we're a good duo."