COOS BAY — In the end, Oklahoma State University just felt right to Marshfield wrestling standout Travis “Junior” Wittlake.
The senior, one of the top recruits in the nation, flipped his commitment from Penn State to the Cowboys last week in a decision that was huge news in the national wrestling community and made it official Monday, signing a letter of intent to join Oklahoma State next fall.
Wittlake had verbally committed to Penn State last October, but started to get a better vibe about Oklahoma State after meeting the coaches. Visits to the two campuses and a lot of prayer and long discussions with his father, Marshfield wrestling coach Travis Wittlake Sr., sealed the deal.
“On my visit to Oklahoma State, I had a better feeling,” he said. “I felt I would fit in better with the people around me. At Penn State, I felt a little homesick. I had a different feeling.”
Both are elite programs with stellar histories and coaching staffs. Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson is one of the best known of all American wrestlers and had a perfect record of 159-0 for Iowa State when he was in college, while Oklahoma State head coach John Smith is a two-time Olympic champion, two-time NCAA champion and four-time world champion.
“I took the wrestling out of it and the coaches out of it,” Wittlake said. “Oklahoma State was where I was going to be happy and be home.”
He said Oklahoma State will give him a great opportunity to continue to pursue his wrestling career and his ultimate goal, competing for the United States in the Olympics — he hopes to compete in the Olympic Trials in two years, but said it’s more likely he would be on the team in 2024.
“I’m so excited,” he said of joining Oklahoma State’s program. “I can’t wait.”
Wittlake signed his letter of intent in front of a big group of family, friends, teachers and Marshfield supporters Monday.
Marshfield athletic director Greg Mulkey praised Wittlake for his abilities, but also for being a humble and standout individual off the mat, which he said is a tribute to his family and upbringing.
Mulkey left little question about Wittlake’s reputation on a statewide level, though, saying he often hears comments about the wrestler.
“There is no doubt in my time as athletic director this is the most decorated athlete to come out of Marshfield High School,” he said.
Wittlake is a five-time national triple crown winner — taking the national age-group titles for folkstyle, freestyle and greco Roman wrestling. Each of the past two summers, he won the United States team trials for the Cadet World Championships, but a broken ankle this summer kept him from competing in that event or having a chance to win his sixth triple crown
He looks at that injury as a kind of blessing, though.
“It was nice to step away from wrestling,” he said. “I had been wrestling for two years straight.”
The wrestler Wittlake beat at the team trials ended up easily winning the world title.
“That was hard,” Wittlake said. “But it let me know where I stand. I beat him twice the same day.”
Wittlake’s signing ceremony fittingly came on the first day of practice for his senior season. In February, he hopes to become the first four-time state champion for Marshfield High School, perhaps at 182 pounds so the titles will come at four different weight classes (152, 160, 170 and 182).
“I’m excited for that opportunity,” he said.
Having made his college plans official takes a weight off his shoulders heading into the high school season.
“I’m happy to be done with it and be able to focus on my senior year,” he said.
Travis Wittlake Sr. also said he was thrilled for the start of practice.
“I’m really excited for his season,” he said. “We have four returning state champs and six returning placers. It should be fun.”
He said he was comfortable with his son’s decision.
“They’re one of the top programs in the country and have been historically since wrestling has been around,” he said.
“I feel a little guilty for Penn State. Oklahoma State is a great group of guys. He’s in a great spot coaching wise. It came down to whatever he was most comfortable with.”
Liz Wittlake, Junior’s stepmom, said she is thrilled for his choice.
“We really liked (the coaches) when they came to visit,” she said. “It’s like we knew them our whole lives.”
Chrstie Wittlake, Junior’s mom, has watched him grow up as a standout wrestlers since his earliest days in elementary school, and said she is equally proud about the person he has become.
“He’s turned into an amazing young man,” she said. “I’m extremely proud of him.”