Feelings for Pitt never wavered
For more than a year, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Glendale High School senior and two-time PIAA Class 2A wrestling champion Brock McMillen would further his wrestling career on the NCAA Division I level at the University of Pittsburgh.
McMillen, a three-time PIAA finalist with a 120-10 three-year high school varsity record, had verbally committed to the Panthers in September 2019.
He made things official with Pitt on Nov. 11, signing his NCAA letter of intent at Glendale.
Like a lot of other things in this crazy COVID-19 pandemic-plagued year of 2020, the signing was done over the internet on FaceTime.
But that did little to lessen the experience for McMillen, who has recorded 51 varsity true falls and 18 technical falls.
“It was different this year because of COVID — I signed online,” McMillen said. “I expected to go (to Pitt) all along. I planned to end up at Pitt after I had verbally committed.
“I feel like their program has improved a lot over the years,” McMillen added. “They’re building a pretty good program. They were ranked in the Top 10 in the country nationally last year, and I want to become a part of that, and help the team.”
McMillen also drew interest from top-notch NCAA Big Ten Conference wrestling programs Iowa and Purdue, as well as Northern Iowa. He made a visit to Purdue, but had his mind set on Pitt.
McMillen was pleased with the personal commitment that Pitt head coach Keith Gavin and his staff made in following McMillen’s high school career.
“I felt like the coaches there actually watched me wrestle and knew my style,” said McMillen, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average in high school and plans to major in either business or engineering at Pitt. “I just felt like I had a connection and a rapport with them.”
According to coaches who know McMilllen best, his work ethic is unmatched.
For the past decade, McMillen has been a member of the esteemed Young Guns Wrestling Club, which is run by former PIAA state champion Jody Strittmatter, a Cambria Heights product who went on to become an NCAA Division II champion at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and a two-time NCAA All-American on the Division I level at the University of Iowa.
Strittmatter has observed and admired McMillen’s work ethic and perseverance first-hand since McMillen was a very young wrestler.
“Brock McMillen is an incredible young man and role model,” Strittmatter wrote in a text message to the Mirror. “He lives his life with an amazing passion toward his goals. He does things right, and he strives for perfection both on and off the mat.
“He comes from such a hard-working and tight-knit family and community,” Strittmatter added. “I first got to meet Brock when he was a very young wrestler in our novice camp, and now to see him in his senior year as one of the top kids in the country is a tribute to how hard he works.”
McMillen’s hard work has made him a role model for teammates, and rendered him a natural leader.
“Brock is a true leader by his daily actions and consistent work ethic,” Strittmatter said.
McMillen won PIAA Class 2A state championships at 132 pounds last year as a junior and at 126 pounds in 2019 as a sophomore. In 2018 as a freshman, he reached the 113-pound state championship match before losing and finishing second.
McMillen shared the Altoona Mirror’s Wrestler of the Year award with fellow state champions Jared McGill of Chestnut Ridge in 2019 and Bedford’s Kaden Cassidy last March.
Billy Dubler was Glendale’s head coach in each of McMillen’s first three seasons. Citing family commitments, Dubler stepped aside from the head coaching role this fall and accepted a position as a volunteer coach on the Glendale staff.
Dubler, like Strittmatter, also cited McMillen’s work ethic as being crucial to his wrestling success.
“Brock is a great wrestler because of all the extra work that he puts in,” said Dubler, who shared the Mirror’s 2019-20 Wrestling Coach of the Year honors with Chestnut Ridge’s Josh Deputy last season. “Brock is also evolving his technique, and he never stops getting better.
“He gets better in all phases – neutral, top, bottom, strength, conditioning, and mental toughness,” Dubler added. “Pitt is a great choice for Brock. The coach there (Gavin) really believes in Brock, and when Brock is confident and feels comfortable with the people around him, he can do special things.”
Brian Storm, who was a varsity assistant coach under Dubler last season but became Glendale’s head coach when Dubler vacated the position, has also known and coached McMillen for a long time.
“He’s dedicated, he’s really committed, he knows what he’s doing, what he wants, and he works very hard,” said Storm, who has coached McMillen on both the varsity and junior high levels. “He’s really a good student, and that shows in his wrestling.
“He has a good feel for everything, and he doesn’t make mistakes,” Storm added. “He has his matches planned out before he ever goes out on the mat. He disciplines himself, and he’s really smart.”
Last season, McMillen struggled with a heart arrhythmia (rapid heart beat) for which he was taking medication. But the side effects of the medication caused him to lose a considerable amount of stamina out on the wrestling mat, and he discontinued the medicine, has since been monitoring his condition with the help of his physician, and feels as good as ever now.
“I have a higher heart rate now, but it really doesn’t affect me that much any more,” McMillen said. “I feel a lot better now.”
Whether McMillen can win a third straight PIAAtitle this year with COVID-19 as one of the biggest roadblocks remains to be seen. Like many high schools around the state, Glendale is currently shut down, students are taking classes virtually, and the Vikings’ wrestling season cannot begin until the first week of January at the earliest.
McMillen is simply rolling with the punches, working out several times a week with the Young Guns Wrestling Club, and lifting weights and running on his own to stay in shape.
“I’m really approaching things the same way,” McMillen said. “I’m still training, and even though we’re not competing, I’ll be ready if and when we do compete.”