UPJ All-American wrestler McKillop taking redshirt |
District College

UPJ All-American wrestler McKillop taking redshirt

Pitt-Johnstown senior wrestler Travis McKillop, a Burrell graduate, is redshirting this season.
Burrell grad Travis McKillop recently became the first Pitt-Johnstown wrestler to win a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference individual title.

Chinese buffets and candy bars are calling his name, but Travis McKillop promises he is only going to give in to temptation for a short time. This lapse is only temporary.

“I don’t have a match until Nov. 16 so I guess I can live it up until then,” McKillop said with a laugh. “No holding back. But then it’s back to work. I am not sitting out.”

The Pitt-Johnstown senior wrestler put strong emphasis on the not part. The three-time All-American from Burrell is taking a redshirt this season, a year after reaching the NCAA Division II championship match at 184 pounds.

The man to beat has taken a seat.

While the move is somewhat surprising considering the success he had last year, it is all part of a blueprint that was put together with careful thought over time.

“I wasn’t sure when I would take it,” McKillop said of the redshirt. “I thought about taking it at the very beginning or the middle (of my career); or maybe finish my career then take it and finish my schooling and then help the coach out.

“I think next year we’ll be the team to beat. We have a lot of tough, young kids, and they’ll be getting some experience. I think we could have the best team UPJ has had in a long time.”

Former UPJ star Howard Bell, a Penn-Trafford graduate, took the same route as McKillop. He was a two-time All-American when he redshirted. But he came back to earn the same recognition two more times.

Three years ago, McKillop was one of the few true freshmen in the program who did not use his redshirt right away although coaches strongly entertained the idea. But the wrestler who coach Pat Pecora once called his “franchise quarterback” instead went 22-7 and quickly became acclimated to the college level.

The next season he showed he was ready to become one of the country’s best in Division II: he reached the NCAA semifinals and finished third, a 33-2 record by his side. He was the nation’s “Most Dominant Wrestler,” based on a scoring statistic.

But his junior season topped them all, when he reached the national finals and finished 30-5. He became the Mountain Cats’ first PSAC champion.

McKillop, an academic All-American and a biology major, wants to experience not only an individual title but also one with his teammates.

“At Burrell, we always had state-championship (caliber) teams,” McKillop said. “What’s better than that? National championships.”

While his official statistics will remain silent, McKillop will remain active on the mat, wrestling unattached in open tournaments, the first Nov. 16 at the East Stroudsburg Open. He said he will compete in more matches — 30 to 35 — than he would have normally.

He also plans to spend time working out at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“There are still a lot of key ingredients that go into (this season),” said McKillop, a former PIAA champion. “I am still watching my weight. It will be weird. I am kind of nervous. But I am excited, too. I’m having fun.”

McKillop will travel with the team and, aside from yelling encouraging things, he will contribute in another way.

“They want me to be the video-tape guy,” he said. “I’ll be the media guy. I might be tweeting.”

With aspirations to become a coach, McKillop thinks his experience on the sidelines will pay dividends.

“I want to follow in my coaches’ footsteps,” he said. “Look at Isaac Greeley. He has been working with me since I was 8. Fourteen years later, I am still with him; still learning from him every single day on and off the mat.

“I am hoping to have the same influence down the road on a kid that (Greeley) had on me.”

While momentum would seem to be with McKillop after such a big year, that wasn’t a concern when it came time to choose between competing or delaying his career.

“There are no guarantees in life,” he said. “I could be walking to class tomorrow, fall down and break my ankle and be done forever. I am wrestling harder now than when I was competing before. I want to be a national champion more than I want to breathe. This will hopefully help me to get there.

“I know the end of my career is coming soon. I’m getting old. I’m 22 now. I am kind of dragging it out.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at [email protected].

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