The native-state pull reeled in Michael Pixley.
The Blue Springs High School senior and two-time state wrestling champion, who grew up in Granite City, Ill., signed with the University of Illinois in November and recently affirmed he will honor that commitment and compete for the Illini.
“The coaching staff is great – Mark Perry and Jim Heffernan – and just the recruiting class their bringing in, they can be a team to beat,” Pixley said. “The school's really nice, and they've got a good history.”
Blue Springs coach Mike Hagerty said Illinois assistant coach Mark Perry (like Heffernan a national champion wrestler at Iowa) has been talking to Pixley for more than a year.
“It’s a good opportunity for him,” Hagerty said. “Once he won that national championship (junior freestyle nationals in Fargo, N.D., last summer), I think it secured their interest in him as an upper-weight wrestler.”
Pixley, whose family moved to Blue Springs before his sophomore year, said he attended camps at Illinois as a youth wrestler, and also competed in the state youth wrestling tournament at the campus.
“I met the team there and got their autographs,” he said.
“We have been aware of Michael Pixley for a long time, as he attended a couple of our camps as a young kid,” Heffernan said in a press release after the signing. “He is an extremely competitive and hard-nosed guy who will continue to grow and mature into a 197-pounder. Being an Illinois native, it is nice to bring Michael back home for his collegiate career.”
Pixley won state championships at 182 and 195 pounds at Blue Springs and was third as a sophomore at 160, and before his junior freestyle national championship also won a cadet national title. He will join a program that finished 11th at the last month’s Division I NCAA Championships and saw junior 125-pounder Jesse Delgado win back-to-back national titles. He said he’ll redshirt as a freshman and compete at either 184 or 197.
“It just depends on how much bigger I get,” Pixley said. “I’m starting to fill out now.”
Pixley started this season at 182, and suffered his only loss to Penn State-bound Bo Nickal of Allen, Texas, in the finals of the prestigious Kansas City Stampede, before switching to 195 to better fill Blue Springs’ lineup. At season’s end, he was 43-1 after recording a pin or technical fall against all his postseason opponents, and got ranked second in the nation at that class by one national poll.
“I’m really confident when I wrestle,” Pixley said. “I expect to win. I just let it all hang out and go hard for six minutes. If you’re going to beat me, it’s going to be a war.”
“He’s such a dominant guy and has such an aggressive heart and spirit,” Hagerty said. “The minute the whistle sounds, it’s like Clark Kent stepping into the phone booth and becoming Superman.”
Hagerty admits that Pixley doesn’t cut the most imposing figure for a wrestler, and perhaps that played to an advantage some in high school. But he added Pixley will only get stronger at Illinois.
“At the national level, some of our best wrestlers are not the most imposing,” the coach said. “Michael is deceivingly strong. You don’t get it by looking at him, and I’m sure there’s a lot of guys that have been surprised when they tied up with him.
“He’ll fill that frame out in college, and I think that’s the thing Illinois is excited about. When he does, he’ll be even tougher. You have to love the sport to wrestle in college. I think he’d rather wrestle than do anything else in the world, almost to a fault, but he'll be a good student in college.”