Feb. 19, 2009
By Larry Watts
Tyrel Todd was never a big fan of cutting weight.
But for three years, the Bozeman, Mont. native, who estimates he tips the scales at around 210 pounds during the offseason, had to get down to 184 pounds for the University of Michigan wrestling team. And there has been little to argue about when it comes to his success -- fifth place in the NCAA Championship two years ago and third place last year.
However, when the fifth-year senior returned to Ann Arbor this season, head coach Joe McFarland approached the two-time All-American with a different idea. He suggested Todd might find 197 pounds more to his liking.
"I hadn't really thought about that before, but it really wasn't a bad idea," he says. "Cutting weight takes a lot of fun out of the sport. It takes the focus off technique and puts it more on this weight-loss thing, which has almost become a sub-culture of this sport.
"I was cutting close to 20 pounds the whole year last year and there were many times I was 10 pounds over the day before a match. It wasn't killing me to cut the weight, but it does wear on you mentally and physically through the course of the season. I've been feeling so much better this year and been able to focus more on my technique."
The adjustment was going perfectly. He was 2-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally heading into the Cliff Keen Invitational in early December. While working on a pin during his second match with Ryan Sutherland of Columbia, Todd felt a pop in his left knee. He eventually scored the pin, but he was forced to withdraw from the remainder of the tournament.
"I got an MRI when I got back to Ann Arbor and, sure enough, my ACL was completely torn," he says. "I had been toying with the idea of going back down to 184, but there was no way I could get the work in now to make that kind of a cut.
"I thought, 'Senior year, how could this happen?' But my goals don't change; it just makes the road a little bumpier. I've tried to keep that attitude and continue to compete at a high level."
By remaining at 197, Todd knows he will not get a shot at top-ranked Jake Herbert of Northwestern on the collegiate mat. Todd defeated the former NCAA champion twice in freestyle last summer, when he placed fourth at the Olympic Trials.
"Jake is the only guy at 184 I haven't beaten in college," Todd says. "That weight class is really loaded in the Big Ten (Ohio State's Mike Pucillo is ranked second and Iowa's Phil Keddy sits third) this year."
Now Todd has set his sights on meeting top-ranked Jake Varner of Iowa State in the NCAA finals at 197. "I lost to him in the U.S. Open in freestyle last year and I'm looking forward to meeting him again at the end of the year and future freestyle matches as well," he says.
With his knee heavily taped and wearing a brace, Todd was back on the mat at the beginning of January. He suffered his only loss of the year, a 3-2 decision to No. 17 Cam Simez of Cornell, at the National Duals.
"I probably came back a little too early," he says. "I lost a match a match I shouldn't have lost because I wasn't used to wrestling with the brace yet. That was real frustrating, but I have focused on wrestling like I always have wrestled and not let it bother me."
Since the loss to Simez, Todd has reeled off 10 straight victories, including five pins, to raise his record to 16-1. But he has since dropped to No. 6 nationally.
"I can't believe how much better I am wrestling now than when I injured my knee," he says. "I've learned a lot through this ordeal. I haven't been able to practice like I have in the past, when I've gotten more confidence through my extra workouts and knowing no one else is working harder than me. Now I am focusing more on the mental aspect of my game and seem to be wrestling as good, if not better, than I ever have."
Five pins in his last 10 matches, raising his season total to a career-high eight, certainly has cut down on the wear and tear on his knee.
"If I get the chance to get them on their back and stick them early so I don't tweak my knee, that's great," he says. "I want to get them in and get them out as fast as I can. Pinning is the ultimate in wrestling. It's fun!"
Todd is a sixth generation raised on a 100-year-old, 400-acre dairy farm in Bozeman. The dairy business has since been sold and neighbors farm the land, but the Todd family still owns a few horses and cows. His father was a former wrestler at Montana State University and started a club program, where Tyler began wrestling at the age of 5.
"Milking those cows sure makes your grip stronger," Todd says. "And it sure doesn't hurt your strength when you have to toss around 100-pound bales of hay."
Before making it to the NCAA Championships, Todd still has a little business to take care of in the Big Ten, which will be holding its championship meet at Penn State March 7-8. He was fifth in his first season, third two years ago and took second last year, bowing 4-3 to Pucillo in the finals.
"When I wrote down my goals at the beginning of the season, the NCAA and Big Ten championships were at the top of my list," he says. "Winning the nationals is by far at the top of the list. You'll remember Big Ten, but not nearly as much as the national title. The Big Ten meet will be great preparation for the nationals."
On the Wednesday following the NCAA Championships, Todd is scheduled to have surgery to repair his ACL. Then the secondary education major will begin a six to nine month rehab before he can return to the mats.
"Slice and dice," he says. "It will be a good opportunity to really concentrate on my classes. Once I heal, I will be full go to compete freestyle, go to camps and travel overseas."
With a goal of bringing back the gold medal from the 2012 Olympics, Todd will take graduate studies at Michigan, where he will be a volunteer assistant and compete with the Wolverine and New York Athletic club teams.
One of his workout partners is volunteer assistant coach Andy Hrovat, who defeated Todd at the Olympic Trials last summer and represented the U.S. in the Olympics.
"We're close friends and competitive," he says. "I believe we have made each other better. It helps to have someone on his level work with you while you're in college. It helps my confidence knowing I'm holding my own with one of the best wrestlers in the world. If I do well against him, I should be smashing these guys in college."
When he finally hangs up his singlet, Todd hopes to land a job in college coaching and perhaps counseling.
"As my dad says, wrestling is a means to an end," he says. "I love the structure the sport provides and the pursuit of excellence you strive for. I want to pass that on to younger athletes."