How did the Campbell Wrestling program become “Big Man U”? It all started after five NWCA All-Americans graduated in 2020. The Camels seemingly lost their “top dogs” heading into the new season; however, hiding in the background were four hungry upper weights waiting to be unleashed.
On multiple occasions in 2021, the Campbell University upper weights came in clutch to secure come-from-behind victories. With the new coaching staff’s guidance, the upper weights improved leaps and bounds throughout the season and even paved the way for new incoming recruits to enter a successful program.
If that still hasn’t caught your attention, let me elaborate further on why the Fighting Camels should be known as “Big Man University.”
Who Are the Campbell Wrestling Upper Weights?
Last year, vacancies at 174, 184, and 285 left space for new wrestlers to make a name for themselves. Even though Austin Murphy, Caleb Hopkins, and Taye Ghadiali were “unknowns” at the beginning of the season, they all stepped up to the plate. The only wrestler returning to the upper weight lineup was 2019 SoCon Champ, Chris Kober, at 197 lbs.
So what made each of these Campbell wrestlers so impressive during last season?
174. Austin Murphy
At 174 lbs, Murphy became quite the team leader in 2021. He went from a 9-10 record during the 2020 season to a 15-2 record last season. He won 13 straight matches, including a victory over top 15 ranked Thomas Flitz. Murphy finished the regular season undefeated.
Then he went on to make the blood round at the NCAA Championships and advance further than any other Campbell wrestler since their 2017 All-American Nathan Kraisser.
184. Caleb Hopkins
Who would have expected a wrestler from Alaska to end up in Buies Creek, North Carolina and then qualify for NCAAs? Caleb Hopkins made his 2021 debut by riding out #2 Hunter Bolen (VT) for 4 straight minutes. Even though he lost, he showed grit and started some buzz.
He improved match by match and won 12 straight matches last season, including 5 by fall. Hopkins clinched his first SoCon title, and knocked off a top-seeded Zach Braunagel at NCAAs.
197. Chris Kober
After wrestling up a weight in 2020, Chris Kober really filled into 197 lbs last season. Although he failed to capture a SoCon title in 2020, he improved last year by going undefeated in the regular season and winning his second SoCon Championship. At NCAAs, Kober also earned his first win on the big stage and battled tooth-and-nail against Jay Aiello (UVA) and Lucas Davison (NW).
285. Taye Ghadiali
Beginning the 2021 season, Taye Ghadiali was originally at 197 lbs. But in the first match of the season against Virginia Tech, Campbell’s coaches decided to bump up Taye Ghadiali from 197 lbs to heavyweight.
He took wins and losses throughout the season, yet he improved each match and clinched two big dual victories for the Camels. From not starting in 2020 to qualifying for NCAAs in 2021, Ghadiali made big jumps.
Two Come-From-Behind Victories in Duals
On multiple occasions, the Campbell wrestling team came from behind to win big duals because of the upper weights. Take a look at these two specific duals when Campbell defeated Appalachian State and Chattanooga.
App State Dual
One of the biggest rivalries in the SoCon is Campbell vs. Appalachian State. The Camels got the better of App State in the previous season, yet certain media outlets still chose App State as the favorites in 2021.
At the beginning of the dual, the media outlets appeared to be correct; in fact, going into 174 lbs, the Mountaineers led the dual 17-3. Austin Murphy knew he had to start off a resurgence, so he kicked things into gear by defeating a top 15 ranked Thomas Flitz. Hopkins and Kober both followed up with big falls to leave the dual up to Ghadiali.
The heavyweight clinched the victory with multiple takedowns to win 8-2. Initially down 17-3, Campbell rattled off four straight wins to come out on top 21-7. For me, this is really when the whispers of “Big Man U” started.
Just two weeks later, Campbell found themselves in a similar situation against the Chattanooga Mocs. Down 15-3 this time, Austin Murphy came alive yet again. This time he pinned his opponent in the first period.
Caleb Hopkins and Chris Kober each won by decision to leave the dual up to Ghadiali once more. The good news for the Fighting Camels is that Ghadiali prospers under pressure. He emerged victorious in the match with a decision.
His win meant the Campbell wrestling team not only won the dual 17-15, but they also won the regular season SoCon Championship.
The Path to Successful Upper Weights
How did these upper weights improve so significantly from the beginning of the season to the end? To get wrestlers to reach their true potential takes a great coach. Associate Head Coach Wynn Michalak joined the Campbell wrestling coaching staff in 2020 and really began to develop the upper weight wrestlers.
Coach Wynn was a successful upper weight himself. In fact, he was a US Senior Nationals Champion, NCAA finalist, and 3X All-American. He has coached 21 NCAA qualifiers, including multiple All-Americans, and he is surely on his way to coaching more at Campbell. Wynn has 11 years of coaching experience in the Big Ten, MAC, and SoCon, and all of that experience helps him with development in the room.
Since being at Campbell, Coach Wynn has worked to evolve and change the upper weight training and culture, further demonstrating why Campbell should be known as “Big Man U.”
Incoming Recruiting Class of 2021
Sure, Murphy, Hopkins, Kober, and Ghadiali are all talented, but what happens after they graduate from Campbell? Will the Fighting Camels be left with “unknowns” again? Absolutely not!
For the second time in program history, Campbell wrestling earned a top 25 recruiting class in 2021, which means there are plenty of notable wrestlers entering the program for the upcoming season. In the lineup are five nationally ranked recruits from IL, NH, FL, PA, and AK. Three of these freshmen are “big guys.”
- Brandon Hoselton (IL) [Projected 197 lbs] – multiple time IL state champ, #86 in class of 2021 (MatScouts)
- Cole Rees (PA) [Projected 184 lbs] – National Prep finalist, #96 in class of 2021 (MatScouts)
- Conor Maslanek (NH) [Projected 197 lbs] – multiple time NH state champ, NHSCA All-American, #102 in class of 2021 (MatScouts)
- Colin Nation (FL/Japan) [Projected 184 lbs] – top 100 recruit before moving to Japan, FL state champ, NHSCA All-American
With the additions of Hoselton, Rees, Maslanek, and Nation, the “Big Man U” culture seems to be permeating throughout the upper weights. On top of those ranked recruits, add in other new upper weight wrestlers like Jackson Rosado, Domonic Baker, Kevin Muschel, and Conner Miller, and you have a tough training room.
Even More Depth
Even with a tough lineup from last season, there could still be upper weight changes for the 2021-2022 season. Of course, the lineup will be set at Campbell’s annual Orange & Black Wrestle off on October 23, but there is always room for change.
At 197 lbs for instance, Levi Hopkins also started in 2021. Although Kober ultimately earned the spot at the end of the year, Levi defeated the #2 seed from SoCons, Tyler Mousaw (VMI), in the regular season. Who knows, maybe he could have also won a SoCon title last year? That’s depth!
Speaking of depth, look at Campbell’s heavyweights. Taye Ghadiali bumped up to heavyweight last year, but that was because incoming freshman and Florida State Champion, Chad Nix, was injured. Ghadiali is now filling in the weight, but Nix could give some serious competition.
With these now nationally-known names in the upper weights, a changed big-man culture from Coach Wynn Michalak, incoming recruits, and increasing lineup depth, this“Big Man U” program is really set up for future success. Fortunately, their success should continue this year, even with a tough D1 schedule.
Ranked at #1 in Fanco’s SoCon preseason rankings, Campbell wrestling is poised to win another conference title and set to put a big man on the podium at NCAAs in 2022.