The University of Pittsburgh wrestling program went from unheralded to nationally ranked last season, and now the Panthers are looking to upgrade into a national powerhouse.
The school will be adding one of the nation’s top talents next year as Elyria senior Mick Burnett orally committed Monday in somewhat of a coup as the program wasn’t even on Burnett’s list of finalists a few months ago.
“Before (the nationals in) Fargo, one of their coaches, Conor Youtsey, was at our training camp and we started talking,” Burnett said Tuesday night. “They didn’t see me as a 141 (pounder) at the beginning of the process, then when he saw me they kind of figured out that I was going to be a 141. So he got ahold of the head coach (Keith Gavin) and they contacted my dad and I and wanted to set up a visit.
“What really attracted me to them was that coach worked with me throughout Fargo and he sat in my corner during every match. Once I got to Pitt, it was a big family there and people gravitate toward the coaches, and the teammates are super cool. I get to be with (Elyria grad Brendon) Fenton more. It was that bond that the kids on the team had with each other. It’s just a great school.”
It also checked off all the boxes on Burnett’s wish list. Several other schools were attractive, but Pitt seemed to have everything he was looking for.
“He was high on Kent (State) and Cleveland State and UVA (Virginia), but Pitt just had that really good mix of everything he needed,” said Elyria coach Erik Burnett, Mick’s father. “In the end, there wouldn’t have been a bad choice. The coaches at Cleveland State and at Kent State and the University of Virginia -- all the places we visited -- Lehigh, these are all guys that were going to take care of your kid. So we feel pretty fortunate about that. It was a lot of fun.”
Another big plus for Pitt was the campus location.
“It’s perfect, because some of the other schools I talked to were just too far,” Mick said. “I think 2½ hours (away) is perfect -- I won’t be having anybody breathing down my neck or showing up at my front door, but when matches come around they’ll be able to make that drive and be able to come and watch me compete. It’s pretty cool to be able to still have that in college.”
Pitt won its first eight dual meets last season -- including upset wins over Northern Iowa and North Dakota State -- to cement itself in the top 25 rankings. The Panthers ultimately rose to No. 13 and finished the season at No. 16. Fenton, as a true freshman, was the starter at 125 pounds.
“I think they’re on the up right now,” Erik said. “The thing we liked about Pitt was the culture. The way most of the kids are, their coaching staff … they’re just doing so many things right. It’s just one of the things that grabbed on to you when we were there, just to see how things are going. The coaching staff is impressive, the kids’ attitudes are impressive, so I just really think they are doing a heck of a job building right now.”
Mick said he’s also excited about the program’s strong following and the attached Regional Training Center.
“The RTC has the ability to get me high-level partners -- that’s huge,” Mick said. “Having a Regional Training Center and being able to wrestle freestyle in the summer, and not having to travel to find workouts … those were all factors in my decision.”
While Burnett will be getting a lot from Pitt, the relationship should be reciprocal. He is a three-time high school state-placer and two-time state finalist, winning the Division I 132-pound state championship last season. He’s also a three-time freestyle All-American and two-time national runner-up -- finishing second at 132 pounds in the Junior Division earlier this month.
“It’s been a great run and I’ve been really fortunate to just be matside … best seat in the house,” Erik said. “His mother and I have just tried to enjoy this ride through the years. It’s surreal to know your kid is going to graduate and a year from now he’s not going to be here, he’s going to be at Pitt. It’s just kind of crazy when you think about it.”
Before that happens, Mick has to take care of some final high school business.
“It is a relief to have the recruiting process done,” he said. “It’s going to be super nice to just focus on wrestling, to focus on getting better, to focus on getting stronger and focus on winning another state title.”
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