From wide-eyed seventh grader to accomplished senior, senior Matt McLaughlin has left his mark on the Kettle Run wrestling program.
One of the most successful wrestlers in school history, McLaughlin recently signed a national letter of intent to wrestle at NCAA Division 1 Davidson (N.C.) College. He wrestled at 106 as freshman and sophomore and 126 as a junior. Coach Mike Foy wants him to jump to 138 this year.
Signing with a D-1 program was a long-time desire for McLaughlin, stemming from his freshman season when he reached the state tournament.
A strong student who wants to be a medical doctor, he searched for schools with Division I wrestling and strong academics and came across Davidson.
"I sent an email to Coach (Andy) Lausier. I heard back within a half hour, and the virtual recruiting began," said McLaughlin, who quickly narrowed his list to Muhlenberg (Pa.), Roanoke, Franklin & Marshall (Pa.), eventual runner up Washington & Lee and Davidson.
He chose Davidson, which has made waves over the years with its men’s basketball program, which produced NBA MVP Stephen Curry and is coached by legendary Bob McKillop (596 career wins).
"Even though the school is small, it still has the trademark D1 atmosphere, even in quarantine," McLaughlin said, noting his Zoom interview with Lausier and assistant coach Joey Dance was instrumental. "I knew I wanted to wrestle for them," he said.
McLaughlin believes he’ll wrestle at 126 or 133 pounds for the Wildcats.
McLaughlin, whose 105 wins puts him seventh in KRHS history, is a product of the Kettle Run youth feeder program.
He stood out to coach Mike Foy because of rapid enthusiasm for the KRHS program even before he was old enough.
"We always told the youth kids the varsity team is going to be wrestling this weekend," Foy said. "'If you guys can make it, it's always a good experience to go and see what a match is like.'
"No matter where we were, whether it was Brentsville, Skyline or wherever, he was there," the coach continued. "It used to crack me up. Here was this little guy, and his eyes were just so big, getting so excited.
"When you see something like that, you know they are going to be good because they just obviously love it. They are going to do whatever it takes."
McLaughlin played baseball since age four, but stopped after his freshman season to pursue wrestling full time.
"I wanted to wrestle year-round and there wasn’t enough time to do both," he said, noting six years of competitive gymnastics provided him with flexibility and aerial awareness, which helped him with mat maneuverability and positioning.
McLaughlin was an immediate starter as a freshman despite a natural weight about 100 pounds, Foy said. The weight differential was magnified because many foes were one or two years older, losing 10 pounds or more to reach 106.
That deficit made McLaughlin's varsity debut even more remarkable, Foy said of a match against a more mature Manassas Park opponent.
"He is getting annihilated like 10-0 or 12-0. I felt so bad I was throwing him to the wolves," Foy admitted. "All of a sudden (in the third period), Matt started scoring. It's 10-2, 10-4, 10-6, Right at the buzzer he ties it up to send it to overtime. Then Matt takes him down and beats him.
"He's very smart wrestler. He just has a way to figure opponents out," the coach said.
Most seniors want to record topnotch senior seasons to cap their high school careers. McLaughlin has an even greater impetus after missing the entire postseason as a junior, suffering from a late-season practice concussion.
He called the injury "one of the most disappointing moments of my entire wrestling career. Ever since that day, I’ve wanted to be back on the mat," he stressed. "So you could definitely say that it’s made me hungry."
McLaughlin plans to major in chemistry in a pre-medical program. He hopes to become an anesthesiologist.