When Mike Whitehead isn’t working on homework or practicing for his next match, he prefers to spend his time outdoors hunting or fishing. If he is as talented in the woods as he is on the mat, no animal is safe.
Whitehead, a senior ranked No. 13 at heavyweight, is wrestling his first and last season at Missouri. He is a transfer from Southern Oregon.
Whitehead stood out as an NAIA wrestler, dominating the heavyweight division and beating many top-ranked Division I athletes.
Whitehead came to No. 4 Missouri to compete on a team contending for the national championship. Most important, Whitehead wanted a chance to become a national champion.
After changing majors Whitehead had to take 21 credit hours, six during the summer semester and 15 in the fall, to become academically eligible. Whitehead found the load challenging and said at times he needed to focus his attention on school and not wrestling.
“There were weeks that I wouldn’t let him in the room,” coach Brian Smith said, “He’d just study.”
Homework wasn’t the only obstacle that Whitehead needed to overcome. He was the new guy on a close-knit team. Whitehead said his teammates made this obstacle almost obsolete.
“The guys were supportive and nice,” Whitehead said. “They helped me slide right in.”
Whitehead quickly discovered that being at Missouri required a new level of commitment.
“We have kids that are chasing to become national champs and a team that wants to win a national title,” Smith said, “The work ethic was at a different level and I think that was different for (Whitehead).”
Now that Whitehead has settled in with the Tigers, Smith said he is pleased with Whitehead’s progress and that he has become more coachable. Whitehead said he isn’t satisfied, though.
“I’m not gonna be satisfied until I’m No. 1,” Whitehead said.
The Tigers wrestle against Eastern Illinois at 1 p.m. today at Hearnes Center. Whitehead will face the Panthers’ Peter Ziminski.
Smith said that Eastern Illinois isn’t a powerhouse, but it has good individuals. Smith is hoping the Tigers will use these matches to work on their weaknesses in preparation for the Big 12 Conference championships March 6 in Ames, Iowa.
The 133-pound match between Missouri’s Paul Collum and Pat Dowty will be another match to watch. Collum (No. 17) and Dowty wrestled earlier in the year with Collum winning 9-4.
The Tigers will be without senior captain Jeremy Spates (No. 3 at 149), who is taking time off to recover from the flu. Junior Cody Greene, who has lost once this season, will replace Spates.