COLUMBIA — Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” blares from the speakers of the MU wrestling facility, which, situated in the recesses of the fourth floor of the Hearnes Center, is easy to overlook.
Fifth-year senior Todd Porter, average in height but a solidly built 174 pounds, pulls his headgear over auburn-colored hair cropped close to the scalp as he prepares for what Coach Brian Smith has in store for the team.
The wrestlers wear sweatpants and sweatshirts as they jog around the three full-size competition mats that make up the room. Many have wrapped duct tape around their waists, ankles and wrists, insulating their bodies in order to induce as much sweating as possible to lose weight. Scuffling sneakers, gritty grunts, and thudding bodies are as raw as the rock music filling the room.
The usual 38-man roster has been stripped down to a 12-man travel roster – one wrestler to compete in each of the 10 weight classes and two alternates.
Some might say that Porter's inclusion on this traveling roster has been a long time coming.
It’s Friday morning and the team is set to go on the road. In two hours it leaves for a two-day Mid-American Conference affair starting at Northern Illinois and ending at Northern Iowa. In the meantime, some wrestlers still need to drop several pounds to reach their weight requirements while others need only to maintain.
This is the kind of challenge that Porter lives for.
Porter began to gain recognition as a wrestler during his high school career. Growing up in House Springs, a small unincorporated community of 11,500 residents 31 miles southwest of St. Louis, Porter attended Northwest High School, the only high school in nearby Cedar Hills.
It was at Northwest where Porter met Michael Chandler, the school's top-ranked wrestler. During Porter's freshman year, Chandler proved to be his biggest inspiration as a wrestler. After high school, Chandler went on to become an All-American wrestler and a mixed martial arts Bellator Lightweight Champion. Chandler's road to success became Porter's blueprint.
During his high school career, Porter competed in the Missouri State High School championships twice, placing third during his senior campaign in 2008. Yet, despite his performance at state, Porter did not get the attention of the one school where he dreamed of joining the wrestling team, the school where his idol Chandler was building his own legacy: Missouri.
“I recruited myself,” Porter said.
Taking matters into his own hands, he approached his high school coaches and told them Missouri was the school for him. They arranged for a Missouri recruiter to watch him wrestle. That fall, he was Tiger.
The next four years would be an exercise in patience and determination.
Even though Porter made the team, he would have to prove he belonged. This point was driven home when he was redshirted his freshman year.
Proving that he belonged was a theme that continued for the next three years as he failed time and again to make the team’s starting lineup for dual meets each season.
Porter’s biggest hurdle, the wall keeping him from achieving his goal, was Dorian Henderson, MU’s featured wrestler in the 174-pound weight class. Beating out Henderson seemed an insurmountable obstacle at times. Quitting, however, was not an option for Porter. Wrestling was not just a sport, it was who he was.
“I had doubts, like maybe I should just quit,” Porter said, “But I never seriously considered it. I didn’t know what I’d do without wrestling.”
He realized that his best shot to make the starting lineup would be after Henderson graduated. As a result, Porter began spreading out the number of credit hours he took with the intention of returning for a fifth year.
He couldn’t graduate with unanswered questions. He needed an opportunity to show and prove his abilities not only to his coaches but also to himself.
The plan seems to be working.
Porter began the year winning. After taking first place in Missouri’s Black and Gold Meet, the annual intra-squad scrimmage, he now boasts a record of 23-6 in overall competition.
"Maybe it was in my head that those guys were better than me," Porter said, "But I really hadn’t bought into the lifestyle that it takes to be successful."
Once Porter returned to campus, his work ethic and drive were at an all-time high. It was his final chance to have success at MU and he dedicated the time to making it happen.
He also moved in with Missouri teammate Nathan McCormick and incorporated some of McCormick’s habits into his own daily routines.
“I saw the meals he ate, his bedtime, everything,” Porter said, “Some of his habits were a lot different than mine.”
Now Porter has set his sights on a new goal, one achieved by his idol Chandler.
“I’m looking to get that All-American status,” Porter said.