In many college sports, starting immediately is a selling point. Significant early playing time can make an athlete’s decision on a particular school.
Wrestling is a little different. In the ferociously competitive Big 12 Conference, redshirting early is commonplace. This luxury wasn’t afforded Missouri’s Chris McCormick, though.
“My first two years here it was pretty tough,” McCormick said. “I kind of got thrown to the wolves as a true freshman, and it’s hard to jump from high school to college.
“Mentally, I probably wasn’t ready to go out and wrestle those guys that were going for national championships when I was 18, 19. It was like they were men and I was just a boy basically.”
Now a junior, McCormick will be the man to beat at 141 pounds this weekend, as the 12th-ranked Tiger wrestlers travel to Ohio.
McCormick enters Saturday’s triangular with Ohio State and Virginia Tech in Columbus, and Sunday’s match at Ohio University with a 15-3 record. He’s coming off of an impressive seventh-place finish at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas that gained him national attention, as he has broken into several publications’ rankings.
But the path to this point has been unorthodox.
McCormick accumulated a 26-32 record his first two seasons wrestling at 133 pounds. The years were marked by inexperience and struggles to make weight. Last year McCormick took a redshirt, though, and made a weight change.
It has made all the difference.
“He got forced into the lineup his first two years, and he needed a redshirt year to get adjusted to college wrestling and all that,” coach Brian Smith said. “But we had injuries and somebody become ineligible, and he was thrown into the fire.”
Much of McCormick’s earlier problems adjusting had to do with his struggles to make weight at 133 pounds. McCormick said weighing in just one hour before meets was something he had never done before college, and caused him to focus more on losing weight than wrestling leading up to matches. It was something his coaches noticed, and thought might be remedied by moving up a weight class.
“In the practice room he would go hard, but then on days of matches he would be cutting weight and just didn’t have the same energy,” Smith said.
“Some guys just don’t wrestle well when they cut weight, so I told him to go ’41, and it’s made a big difference.”
With senior J.P. Reese solidly holding onto the starting spot at 141 last season, McCormick finally got that redshirt year to adjust, both to wrestling in the Big 12, and now wrestling at 141 pounds.
Although McCormick said it was difficult sitting out, he had the foresight to know the move would pay off down the road.
“Even though it was really hard, it was something I needed to do to get adjusted to the weight class, and I think it helped,” McCormick said.
“In a redshirt season there’s a lot of work to be done. You concentrate a lot on the strength and conditioning, and I got a lot bigger and stronger. I’m at probably the same weight I was at but I gained a lot more strength.”
Said Smith: “He’s a different wrestler on the mats from his first two years to now. The confidence he has… is the biggest improvement. He’s kind of put it all together now and he’s doing a super job.”
Wrestling in open competitions during his redshirt year, McCormick posted a 20-3 overall record. His coach said that success helped pave the way
for this season, as McCormick has improved his focus and skills on the mat.
“He’s an intelligent wrestler,” Smith said. “He isn’t the most athletic or a super athlete out there, but he does what’s best
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for him; that’s going out there and brawling with his opponent and wearing them down.”
The results indicate the improvement, as McCormick won the CMSU Open and finished second at the Missouri Open leading up to the Cliff Keen tournament. Wrestling International Newsmagazine has him ranked 15th at his weight class, while he’s 20th according to Amateur Wrestling News.
While he doesn’t pay much attention to the rankings, Smith knows McCormick is beginning to make a name for himself.
“He’s up there with the elite,” Smith said. “I know there’s a lot of people that noticed him out at Vegas: you know, ‘boy, this kid’s really come on, where’s he been,’ because of the redshirt. He opened some eyes, but our eyes were always open seeing the things he could do, and I’m happy for him. He’s one of those kids that works extremely hard, and trains very hard and does things right, and now it’s paying off.”
McCormick says he’s more concerned with what’s ahead than behind, namely the Big 12 and National tournaments. He can continue to prove himself this weekend in Ohio. But he can also now look back on the start to his career as a plus.
“It was the top four (nationally ranked) guys in my weight class as a freshman I had to wrestle on a consistent basis in conference, and I think it helped me in the long run to face them right off the bat,” McCormick said.