March 19, 2014
By Matthew Bontorin, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
When heavyweight Mike McClure made his commitment to the Spartan wrestling program in 2009, he had two clear objectives.
"Coming in I made it my goal to leave here as an All-American and a national champion," McClure said.
To some, these goals would seem unattainable - but after posting a 55-0 record with a second-place finish at nationals his senior year of high school, McClure was no stranger to winning.
The often daunting task of transitioning from high school wrestling to the Big Ten, the nation's top wrestling conference, came easier to McClure than it did to most. He made an immediate impact as a redshirt freshman, going 22-5 overall and 7-1 in duals. McClure credits the high-caliber wrestlers and coaches within the Michigan State program as a key to his early success.
"Day in and day out wrestling some of the top guys in the nation got me ready," said McClure. "Our coaching staff is great too. They are always willing to help and stay after practice to get extra workouts in."
McClure has developed a particularly close relationship with head coach Tom Minkel.
"All these years here he has always had my back," said McClure. "When he sees something in my wrestling that could be improved he's always quick to come up and talk to me. He has always wanted the best for me. He tries to make me into the best wrestler I can be."
With the support from his coaches and teammates, McClure continued to improve at a rapid pace. In his junior season McClure led the Spartans with 34 victories and qualified for the NCAA Championships.
"That tournament was unlike any other tournament I've ever been at," said McClure. "It was a blast but it was a lot to handle at the same time. There are thousands and thousands of fans."
McClure went 2-2 in the NCAA's and came back to Michigan State with a strong sense of belief and confidence going forward.
McClure started his senior season off by going 17-7 overall with a match at rival Michigan looming against the No. 1-ranked heavyweight Adam Coon. McClure defeated Coon, 5-1, sparking what Minkel describes as his most memorable moment of McClure.
"Adam Coon was undefeated and hadn't been beaten the entire year," said Minkel. "Mike beat him 5-1 and it wasn't even close. I think that demonstrates what Mike has, which is the ability not to wrestle the environment, record or the reputation, but just go out and wrestle your best when you need to."
McClure's strong showing throughout the grueling Big Ten heavyweight schedule has proven he has reached an elite level.
"It's been an extraordinary growth," Minkel said. "He came in as a very successful high school wrestler but going from high school to the Big Ten is a big difference. Physically he's matured into a very powerful heavyweight. He's shown relentless effort in the weight room."
"It's winding down to this weekend. It's time to make those dreams come true. I feel like I'm on the right path, I'm seeded No. 7 and I've looked at the bracket and I like my spot on there. I feel confident going into the tournament."
McClure believes that wrestling in the Big Ten Conference has given him a competitive edge over wrestlers in other conferences.
"Every week you're wrestling a top-10 caliber guy," said McClure. "If you're hanging with them you know you can possibly compete for a national championship. It's really great for us because a lot of the other conferences don't get to wrestle Big Ten guys, so once they get to the NCAA Championships, their eyes kind of open up. They've never seen heavyweights perform at such high levels."
After a career-best fourth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships McClure was awarded the seventh seed in this week's NCAA Championships and is set to face Pittsburgh's Patrick Tasser in Thursday's first round.
Although McClure emphasized his desire to simply have fun during his second go around at nationals, he also feels a sense of urgency knowing that this is his last opportunity to fulfill the goals he had set for himself as a freshman.
"It's winding down to this weekend," McClure said. "It's time to make those dreams come true. I feel like I'm on the right path, I'm seeded No. 7 and I've looked at the bracket and I like my spot on there. I feel confident going into the tournament."
Minkel expressed similar confidence in his heavyweight's chances.
"He has got a lot of experience and maturity," said the 23rd-year Spartan head coach. "That will help him a lot. He's been to the NCAA's before and I think that plays a big role. I think he's about ready as he can be."
Regardless of the outcome of this weekend's tournament, the future is bright for this soon to be graduating senior. After completing a single leg backflip during a tournament win in Reno, Nev., his junior year, the WWE took notice of McClure's amazing display of athleticism.
"All throughout my childhood I loved WWE," said McClure. "I can definitely see myself doing it."
What the WWE also might view as attractive is McClure's flair and in particular, his trademark mullet hairstyle, which has made him a fan favorite at Michigan State. Signs of "Fear the Mullet" can be seen at MSU's home matches.
"I feel like the crowd likes it," said McClure. "It's something that gets them all hyped up. I think it's funny, and my teammates think it's goofy. I'm kind of a goof, so it fits me."
With his time winding down as a Spartan, McClure reflected on the enormous amount of support he's received from his parents who have been to every single one of his matches.
"Even when they have to drive 10 or 15 hours, they still find a way to get there," said McClure. "It's always nice to see them out in the crowd. It really gets me going. I'm blessed to have such support like that. It's one of my big motives."
With the national championship in sight, Minkel feels that this is McClure's time to shine.
"This is his final go," said Minkel. "His sights are set high and I think he'll have a great weekend."