By Brad Morris
ASHVILLE — With three Big Ten schools to choose from last Friday for his verbal commitment, the personal touch that one wrestling program made turned out to be the difference maker for Teays Valley senior Cam McDanel.
“Nebraska wrote a paper for me that listed all the things that they felt like they could do to help make me a better wrestler,” McDanel said. “That little extra detail was something that stood out and impressed me about how invested they wanted to be in me as a person and as a wrestler.”
McDanel also considered Ohio State and Purdue before deciding to head west and give his verbal commitment to the Cornhuskers. The Teays Valley senior intends to make it official during the next signing window in early November.
“I took my visit to Ohio State last fall and went to Purdue and Nebraska this fall,” McDanel said. “All three programs were excellent and would have been great opportunities for me, but something just stood out about Nebraska that put it over the top.
“(Head coach Mark Manning) is a great guy and then I really enjoyed talking with (Tervel Diagnev) who works with some of the bigger guys. The campus, the wrestlers on the team that I was able to hang out with and everything just felt right.”
McDanel, who plans to major in biology and eventually get into the pre-med program at Nebraska, noted that he wanted to make his college decision before his senior season begins in December.
“I wanted to have all of this wrapped up by then, so I didn’t have to worry about this university or that university being out to watch me wrestle,” he said. “I want to really enjoy my senior season, have a lot of fun and go out there and win.”
McDanel is a three-time state qualifier and two-time state runner-up at 182 pounds in 2021 and 190 pounds earlier this year. There was no state wrestling tournament in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past two seasons, McDanel has posted a record of 85-7 for the Vikings.
Teays Valley coach Todd Nace was excited for McDanel’s verbal commitment and believes the drive for excellence in his senior grappler has made the difference.
“Cam had three big-time universities to consider that all have very good wrestling programs, and he found the right fit at Nebraska,” he said. “I’m really excited for Cam and the future that he’ll have there.
“Cam is a dedicated young man who isn’t going to let anyone outwork him. He seeks out elite practice partners, he worked out over the past couple of summers at the regional training center at Ohio State and travels to big-time tournaments across the country, including when he won a national championship in 2021 out at Fargo and then when he was one point away from making the U17 world team.”
The Vikings have sent wrestlers to Division I schools, including Cam Lathem to Cleveland State and Luke Nace and CJ Kinzer to Ohio, over the last decade. McDanel would be the first grappler from Teays Valley that went on to compete at a Big Ten university.
“This shows that a kid doesn’t have to go to an Upper Arlington or an Olentangy Liberty to be found by a big-time wrestling program. A kid can do it right here at Teays Valley,” Nace said. “Cam is someone that our younger kids can look up to and see how hard he works and how dedicated he is.
“This is something that can also give the program a lift, like it has for our softball program since they’ve sent a few kids to Ohio State over the last decade and several others to smaller Division I programs.”
McDanel revealed that he plans to take a “gap year” to continue training before he officially enrolls at Nebraska.
“That’s going to be a huge opportunity for me to go out and wrestle in Colorado Springs, to get to compete every day and to also travel internationally to wrestle in different tournaments and see some different styles,” he said. “The coach out there is great to work with and I’ll have great wrestling partners to also work out with.
“It’s also close enough to Nebraska that I can go back and forth if I want to go out there for a week and work out at their regional training center.”
McDanel credited the impact that his father, Josh, has made in his wrestling career. Josh was a two-time state qualifier and Mid-State League Buckeye Division Wrestler of the Year as a Viking and is now an assistant coach with the program.
“I couldn’t have done this without my dad,” he said. “My dad kept calling guys and insisting that they get me into tournaments, and I think he’s also helped us become more up-tempo with our high school practices, where we have cut the time to an hour or an hour and 15 minutes and go pretty hard.
“My dad lifts with me, tells me what weights that I need to be lifting and has done everything that he can to support me.”
McDanel’s focus this school year is completing his climb to the top and win a state championship at 190 pounds. He made the tough decision to not play football this season, so he can enter wrestling in peak condition. McDanel rushed for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns last season as a junior.
“That’s been tough to watch my friends play football and not be out there with them competing, but it was the smart decision and what was best for me,” McDanel said. “I wanted to focus on working out this fall to get ready for wrestling season, making my official visits and also not getting banged up playing football. That was pretty important for me to be healthy going into wrestling.”
McDanel is slated to travel to the Super 32 tournament, which is considered the best preseason high school event in the country, this upcoming weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina. The tournament will help cap McDanel’s preparation for the upcoming season, which starts Dec. 3 in Marysville and will ramp up the following weekend at the prestigious Walsh Jesuit Ironman Tournament.
“I’ve been working on my stance since I was out at Fargo at the end of July, doing workouts to strengthen the muscles in my legs so I don’t get straight legged later in a match,” McDanel said. “I’ve been working on my defense and wrestling freestyle to work on things that have cost me points here and there.
“As far as I am concerned, you can always work on top, bottom and neutral and seek out great wrestling partners to work with that will push you and make you better.”
While McDanel is focused on standing at the top of the podium come March 2023 in the Schottenstein Center, the senior grappler believes that he can have a lot of company donning blue-and-gold at the state tournament.
“I’m really excited for this season as a team and believe that we have the potential to be really solid,” he said. “We have Gunner Havens, who was a state placer, and Joey Thurston, who was a state qualifier, both back. We added Braxton Sheets, who is a tough wrestler from Grove City. Then we have Roman Younger and a couple of younger kids who I think can do well if they put the work in.
“We have the potential to where we can have a lot of guys make it up to the Schott and compete well there.”
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