By Doug Gulasy
Like several other tournaments in his college wrestling career, Travis McKillop took first place at the Cleveland State Open earlier this month. But this particular title felt very different.
Instead of having his Pitt-Johnstown teammates to celebrate with, McKillop’s only company was his mother.
McKillop, a three-time Division II All-American, is taking a redshirt season at Pitt-Johnstown.
As part of the redshirt season, he still can wrestle at tournaments but must do so unattached, apart from his teammates and coaches.
“It’s kind of hard,” said McKillop, a Burrell graduate. “You see everyone there, and everyone’s with their team, everyone’s warming up and they’re motivated because their teammates and buddies are warming up and they want to do well. I don’t have that there. It’s kind of like I’m a fly on the wall, just watching. But I’m pretty self-motivated, so I know what I’ve got to do out there.”
Redshirt seasons are common in college wrestling. While taking a redshirt, wrestlers can practice with their team but can’t compete as a member of the team in dual matches or tournaments.
Competition is up to the wrestlers. They still can participate in open tournaments but can’t wear a university-affiliated singlet.
They must provide their own coaches and are responsible for their own tournament entry fee and other expenses.
“It’s kind of like going back to before high school wrestling, when you would go to open tournaments every weekend with your parents,” said Matt McCutcheon, a Penn State wrestler who redshirted during the 2013-14 season. “You have to find your own way there and be able to pay for it by yourself. I’d always have my parents with me and my brother, and they’d coach me from the corner. So it reminded me of elementary days or pre-junior high days.
“At the same time, it was cool because we’d have our other redshirt guys come with us. We kind of coached each other and helped each other with the little things we picked up.”
In many cases, wrestlers’ parents become their coaches. McCutcheon’s father and brother coached him at most tournaments, while McKillop’s mother is in his corner.
“Literally, my mom is my coach,” said McKillop, who has competed at two tournaments. “She’s been around the sport for as long as I have been. She’s been there for everything, and before that, she had my brother. So she definitely knows some stuff. But she doesn’t say too much.
McCutcheon wrestled in four tournaments during 2013-14, finishing with a 14-5 record. This season, the Kiski Area graduate is Penn State’s starter at 184 pounds.
“I liked going through it,” McCutcheon said. “It’s obviously better being with the team and being able to have those guys in your corner to help you, but I like going through a learning experience. It just helped me get better. I think it was good for me.”
Jason Nolf, a 2014 Kittanning graduate, is redshirting this season at Penn State. Nolf won the 157-pound title at the East Stroudsburg Open in November and the Penn State Open in December before finishing second at the Southern Scuffle on Friday.
“When you go to tournaments, you’re still pretty much wrestling for Penn State,” Nolf said. “You can’t wear a (Penn State) singlet. I still feel like I’m wrestling for Penn State.
“I’m representing my team, so I have to go out there and do what needs to be done.”
Most collegiate wrestling redshirts take place during a competitor’s freshman season, and Nolf said he expected to redshirt this year.
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