For a couple of Missouri transfers, it has been an uphill road to compete in Division I wrestling.
Heavyweight Mike Whitehead is a senior transfer from Southern Oregon. He thought he wasn’t good enough to compete in Division I. This season, he is 8-1 with five pins.
Whitehead will watch his team from the stands Saturday when the Tigers (1-0) host Indiana at 1 p.m. at the Hearnes Center Fieldhouse.
His transfer isn’t complete until next week because of academic requirements. He lost 21 credit hours when transferring from Southern Oregon. Whitehead, whom InterMat ranks No. 10, has wrestled in open tournaments. He hopes to wrestle with the team at the Southern Scuffle on Dec. 28 in Greensboro, N.C. He said it will depend on how fast paperwork is processed.
Junior Paul Collum is Missouri’s other veteran transfer. A 133-pounder from Iowa Central Community College, he wrestled for Illinois as a freshman but transferred to Iowa Central because of poor grades. Collum, whom InterMat ranks No. 6, is 4-2.
Tigers coach Brian Smith said that he only recruits transfers in a time of need.
“We didn’t have a heavyweight in the room,” Smith said. “We also knew that this is an experienced team and we needed someone to come in and be able to compete at this level.”
When recruits visit the team, Smith said he wants to see how they fit in. After the visit, Smith talks to the team.
“We want guys that are focused on two things, academics and wrestling,” Smith said.
Collum said that he has matured since wrestling for Illinois.
“At Illinois, I was just focused on wrestling,” Collum said. “I knew that Missouri’s program was more structured.”
Whitehead began his career with two years at North Idaho College, including a redshirt season, and two more at Southern Oregon. He transferred to Missouri for his final year of eligibility.
He thought that wrestling on a Division I team was out of the question after finishing fourth for North Idaho at the Junior College Wrestling Championships in 2001.
“Fourth is good from someone outside the sport looking in, but not for someone who knows that only the top couple of guys make it to Division I,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead sprained an ankle two weeks before the championships. The next week he sprained the other ankle. He was supposed to wrestle with braces on both ankles.
The night before the tournament, he went to the mats by himself to see how he could move with the braces. They hindered his movement, so he decided to wrestle without them.
He weighed in as the smallest heavyweight at 218 pounds.
“I wrestled in pain, but I had already made my decision the night before,” Whitehead said. “I had all of these things stacked against me, and I just wanted to go out and wrestle.”
He transferred to Southern Oregon, where he expected to wrestle for the rest of his college career.
Whitehead saw an opportunity to wrestle on a Division I team when the Tigers’ only heavyweight, Kevin Herron, used up his final year of eligibility last season. He turned to his high school coach for counseling. Crater High (Ore.) coach Greg Haga told Whitehead to list the pros and cons.
“He helped me to sift through the thoughts of going through something like this,” Whitehead said. “I’m losing my team that I’ve been with for two years and a coach who signed me under the assumption that I would be there for three.”
Whitehead said it was a tough decision, but he contacted Missouri to see about transferring.
“I’m not getting wrapped up in the fact that it’s my final year,” Whitehead said. “My goal at this point is to keep wrestling hard and have fun with it.”