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Senior High School Talent Still Looking for College Homes
By Willie Saylor, WIN STAFF
I spent the day broadcasting audio of the opening rounds of the Cheesehead tournament in Kaukauna, Wisc., two weeks ago. Afterward, I returned to the hotel and ran through the day’s college results and I sent a congratulatory text message to a Division I coach whose team had won a big dual.
He responded, “Thank you. Keep finding us diamonds in the rough!”
Through all the traveling, writing, scouting and ranking, one subsequent role that has developed is of a match-making nature. University Y needs a 184 pounder and I get an e-mail asking what’s out there and who fits. College Z has a 133-pounder who hasn’t developed like they thought and they need a solution.
So I’m always on my toes, looking for talent that bridges the gap from high school to college. Not just the big names everyone knows; the ‘diamonds in the rough,’ too.
But, it’s inevitable.
Regardless of how many major tournaments I go to (and I go to all of them), or how much film I watch, there are always late bloomers and guys who hit the next level during the summer or senior season.
At one time, it may not have been such a unique situation. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hustle of recruiting and the busy period between Fargo and the start of the regular season. But what it’s created is less money for talented kids who don’t hit their stride until January of their final high school year.
Sitting with other members of the press, one recurring comment at regular-season national majors the past few seasons has been, “There seems to be less college coaches here this year.”
They’re done recruiting already.
Of my Top 100 college prospects (10 at each weight), 85 of them were signed before this season started! And that’s been the growing trend the last few seasons; the bulk of recruiting is completed before the regular season starts.
But we all like surprises and wrestling is a sport where you certainly don’t win a match based on past credentials. You win on hard work and how good you are now.
Undoubtedly the biggest starburst this season came at that very Cheesehead tournament, where a little-known talent out of Illinois really made waves.
In retrospect, Lockport’s Shaun’Qae McMurtry was primed for a breakout. He was a state runner-up to Spartak Chino (now at Ohio University) last winter. But McMurtry has never wrestled a hefty summer/national schedule, so he remained inconspicuous.
That changed at the Dvorak in December, where, in the finals, McMurtry handled nine-time All-American and Wisconsin Badger recruit, Justin Koethe, 6-3.
Two weeks later, and coming into the Cheesehead, we knew we had intrigue in a potential final that would pit McMurtry against Apple Valley’s Brandon Kingsley, one of the nation’s biggest recruits, and one of Minnesota’s most successful wrestlers ever.
What we didn’t expect is McMurtry’s thorough domination.
With a 12-6 win and a 5-to-1 takedown differential, McMurtry had arrived.
Lockport’s head coach, Josh Oster, provided some insight to McMurtry’s development.
“Early in his high school career, Shaun had a lot of matches where he would give up the first takedown and, many times, back points,” Oster said. “It was fairly typical for him to be down four or five points going into the second period. The thought that he was in trouble never entered his mind and he would routinely come back and win those matches by constantly attacking and scoring points on his opponents.
“There were numerous times his freshman and sophomore years that he would make such a comeback that his opponents could barely stand after the match. His sophomore year he was losing 9-1 after the first period at sectionals and made one of the greatest comebacks I’ve ever seen to win that match and move on to state. Since that time he learned to limit his mistakes while keeping his ability to score and wear people down.”
Oster went on to cite McMurtry’s diverse interests as one reason he hasn’t been more nationally acclaimed. “Shaun’Qae plays football in the fall and in the spring has played volleyball and run track,” Oster said. “Shaun takes a lot of pride in our school and likes to be a part of the general school spirit. He’s a member of the Student Athlete Leadership Team and was one of two male representatives of his class to be chosen to attend the JKB Leadership Ranch. He is also a captain of the football team.”
But make no mistake about it, McMurtry wants to wrestle in college.
After his big Cheesehead title, when asked about his college plans, Shaun’Qae said, “I really haven’t gotten any offers. I hope I do now. I really want to wrestle and I can see myself competing anywhere from 157 to 174, so hopefully someone needs a kid in that range.”
Oster thinks his star has a bright future, and that his coming out party in Wisconsin was just the beginning of big things ahead.
“I think Shaun’Qae will be a great college prospect because there is still a lot of room for development,” Oster said. “Shaun hasn’t wrestled in the offseason since grade school. He’s made great advances during the season for the last four years. He has a ton of athletic ability and an awareness of his body that you can’t teach. When Shaun’Qae sees an area that he wants to improve on he will concentrate and put the extra work in to improve in that area and with twelve months to work on things instead of four, there’s no telling how far he can go.”
Like McMurtry, there are several talented prepsters still looking for homes. Consider them the ‘best of the unsigned’.
Here we offer a handful of senior talent still uncommitted, and still looking for an opportunity.
Mason Todd, Pendleton Heights, Ind.
State champ, Fargo AA
Notes: Todd, the top ranked 120-pounder in single-class Indiana, narrowly missed another Fargo medal this summer, by just a match. He’s a legitimate college prospect, and could suit a team looking for a need at the lead-off spot for years.
Eric Montoya, Volcano Vista, N.M.
Two-time state champ, NHSCA Runner-Up, Super 32 Placer
Notes: I first saw Montoya at NHSCAs two years ago when he was edged in the finals by Lehigh recruit, Randy Cruz. Long and lanky, Montoya gives opponents fits. He needs to develop a more diverse offense as he struggles to create openings against elite competition, but the framework for success is there.
Eddie Klimara, Providence Catholic, Ill.
Three-time state finalist, Fargo Champ
Notes: Klimara is a premier recruit. He’s compact and powerful and still wrestling 126 this year, so a season or two at 125 in college isn’t out of the question. Surprising a talent such as this is still on the board.
Jared McKinley, Perry Meridian, Ind.
State champ, Fargo AA
Notes: Another single-class state champ, McKinley leads the star-studded and nationally ranked Perry Meridian team. He’s undefeated on the year and ranked No. 1 in the state again.
Jamel Hudson, St. Anthony’s, N.Y.
Super 32 fourth-placer
Notes: Hudson shined in the loaded 132-pound bracket at the Super 32 last fall, taking out highly-ranked Kevin Norstrem, three-time Pennsylvania state placer Shyheim Brown, and two-time New Mexico state champion Lawrence Otero. His only losses came to Ohio state champion and North Carolina signee, Joey Ward.
More importantly, Hudson’s skill set translates well to college. He has a non-stop motor that always has his opponents reeling. And he’s very efficient from the front-head position. Thumbs up on this kid.
Natrelle Deminson, Bakerfield, Calif.
Two-time state placer, NHSCA Runner-Up, Two-time Doc Buchanan champ, Fargo AA
Notes: Deminson is as steady as they come. He’s extremely well coached and stays at home in his positioning. You’ll get a lot of production from this guy.
Zach Dailey, Massillon-Perry, Ohio
State champ, Ironman 3rd, Fargo AA
Notes: A lot like Deminson. Not flashy, just a winner. Why he’s still on the board is beyond me. Great prospect.
Max Schneider, Lane Tech, Ill.
Notes: Schneider is one of the more interesting prospects to come along in a while. He hasn’t wrestled a national schedule because in the off-season he’s a world-class judo talent. As such, he has incredible feel and a penchant for big throws. It’s not entirely clear what his future aspirations are. But colleges should kick the tires here. His talent is undeniable.
Geordan Speiller, Pine Castle Christian, Fla.
Fargo champ, Ironman runner-up, Super 32 placer
Notes: Speiller is a blue-collar kid. Hard worker with high wrestling aspirations. He’ll do well at the next level.
Dylan Palacio, Long Beach, N.Y.
Two-time state third place, Two-time NHSCA placer, Fargo AA
Notes: A lack of a state title puts Palacio under the radar. But he’s been behind some studs and has wins over several nationally-ranked foes. In fact, he beat Fargo champ and Cornell-recruit Brian Realbuto last week. Palacio, who’s also a nationally ranked soccer player, has high upside, and is hungry for college wrestling opportunities.
Joey Davis, Sante Fe, Calif.
State champ, Reno TOC champ, Flonationals Champ, Doc Buchanan champ
Notes: There’s no way to understate this: Davis is awesome. Extremely offensive and constantly putting the pressure on, Davis just keeps getting better and better. Grades may be an issue, but work with him. He’s worth it.
Taylor McGiffen, Alton, Ill.
State 3rd, NHSCA runner-up
Notes: I like McGiffen a lot as a college prospect. He’s wrestled at higher weights, but has been shedding pounds and becoming more athletic. In fact, at 182 this year, he’s competing lighter than he’s ever had. Great work ethic, too.
Roland Dunlap, Muskego, Wisc.
State champ, state 3rd
Notes: As an upperweight in Wisconsin, Dunlap has been in the shadows of superstar Devin Peterson, who is heading to the Badgers next year. But Dunlap has been with Peterson every step of the way. In fact, Dunlap was the state champion last year in a bracket that included Peterson and Fargo AA Shane Hughes, who’s now at Columbia. This kid’s good.
Take your pick. College coaches repeatedly tell me that the toughest prospects to find are career 125-pounders and heavyweights. But there’s no shortage of talent in the latter category this year. Only Johnny Schupp is not a state champion and he just took the reigning California champ to overtime. All these guys are legitimate Division I prospects:
• Austin Georgen, Caledonia, Minn.
• John Rizzo, Richland, Pa.
• Mimmo Lytle, Swanton, Ohio
• Riley Shaw, Washington, Ohio
• Jordan Gruettner, Muskego, Wisc.
• Johnny Schupp, Vacaville, Calif.