COLUMBIA — It’s Friday afternoon and the Missouri wrestling team files into the practice facility on the fourth floor of the Hearnes Center.
Senior Nathan McCormick, wearing gray sweatpants and sweatshirt, bounces through the door with an ear-to-ear grin. Wrestling is his job and he loves his craft.
Although Missouri wrestled in its final regular-season meet two days ago, there are no days off. The end of the regular season marks the beginning of tournament season. For the Tigers, this means on Sunday hosting one of the four Division I regional rounds for the Cliff Keen National Dual Meet. The winner will compete in the final round the weekend of Feb. 22 at the University of Minnesota.
This has always been McCormick’s favorite time of year. The time when every stage is big, every hour of training shows, and every piece of hardware that will go in the trophy case is earned.
For as long as he can remember, wrestling has been an significant part of his life. Some may say it’s in his blood.
McCormick’s first brush with wrestling was as an infant. He grew up in Leawood, Kan., a city of 31,867 about 10 miles outside Kansas City. His parents would often bring him along as they shuttled his two older brothers, Chris McCormick, now age 29, and Tyler McCormick, 28, to wrestling tournaments around Leawood. Long before he became familiar with the rules of the sport, he knew its sights and sounds.
The youngest of the McCormick children, he would follow his brothers everywhere. Whether it was backyard basketball or football, wherever his older brothers went he was sure to follow.
So it was only natural that he would become a wrestler. He started at age 4. Over the years, he noted every step his brothers took, because one day he planned to be just like them.
Chris McCormick wrestled for Blue Valley North High School in nearby Overland Park, and became a 2001 high school state champion in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. As an impressive second act, Tyler McCormick became a two-time state champion at the same school, going 48-0 his senior year and winning All-America honors. By the time Nathan McCormick entered high school in 2004, he was ready to add to the family legacy.
Where he would wrestle was never in question. It was a no-brainer – Blue Valley North.
The beginning was rough. Although he had the pedigree and technical skills, he was smaller than most of his competitors.
“It was a little tough my freshman because I was undersized,” Nathan McCormick said. “I weighed about 85 pounds wrestling (in the) 103 (pound weight class).”
He had to adapt. Through experience he learned how to turn his biggest disadvantage into his biggest strength. He knew he could not overpower most of his opponents the way his brothers used to, but he could outlast them. Nathan McCormick turned every match into a war of attrition. As his opponents grew weaker during the match, he seemed to grow stronger.
The investment in his conditioning paid dividends in the following years as his size caught up with his skills and will to win. As a sophomore, McCormick bounced back to win 37 matches and made it all the way to the state championship finals at 103 pounds. While the season ended in a loss, it was a positive. It provided motivation for the offseason and protected against complacency.
The next two years, he made his brothers proud.
As a junior, he again won 37 matches and made the state championship finals at 119 pounds. But this time, he prevailed and won the state title like his oldest brother. Nathan McCormick, however, wasn’t done. He wanted to leave high school on top. He also wanted to match Tyler McCormick’s undefeated season, his two state titles and All-America honors.
As his offseason training continued to transform his body, McCormick moved up in weight class to compete at 125 pounds during his senior campaign. He did his best impression of his brother, going 43-1 en route to his second consecutive state title and Kansas 6A Wrestler of the Year honors. He finished his high school career by being named to the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles’ All-America team.
Like high school, where Nathan McCormick would attend college was already a forgone conclusion. Like his brothers, he would wrestle for Missouri.
Redshirted his freshman year, it felt like déjà vu. His first year at Blue Valley North replayed. Again he was entering a new situation, and again it felt like he wasn't equipped to handle his opponents in the 133-pound weight class.
“You come in (to college from high school) and you just get beat up every day. You struggle to even get a takedown,” Nathan McCormick said. “But I was glad that I had Chris and Tyler’s support. They kept telling me to 'just stick with it, you’ll come through.'”
Come through, he did.
As his brothers had assured him, each year became easier. McCormick’s confidence grew. He began to display the strengths that had made him a high school standout and the traits that made him a McCormick – his conditioning and his desire to get better.
The past three years, he has started for the Tigers, helping the team capture its first Big 12 Conference title in 2012.
Once again, it’s tournament season and Nathan McCormick, ranked No. 5 nationally, has his goals set at an all-time high. First, the Cliff Keen National Dual Meets. Then he hopes to establish Missouri as a champion its first season in the Mid-American Conference.
The largest stage, however, will be the NCAA tournament where he hopes to be the first in his family to bring home some hardware.
“I’m definitely excited. My family’s excited too because this is our last go-round," Nathan McCormick said. "They’ll definitely be there cheering me on. It’s our last shot.”
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder