From the time Michael McClelland started wrestling when he was 8 years old, he has been trying to keep up with his older brothers, Peter and Billy.
All three worked under the tutelage of longtime Charlotte Latin assistant David Paige.
While Michael says it wasn’t always easy being the youngest of three brothers in a wrestling-crazed household, he admits it made him stronger.
“I had to be tough growing up because Billy would come at me a lot, and try put a (wrestling) move on me, but Peter was usually there to protect me,” said Michael. “I learned a lot from watching both of them work really hard. I saw everything it took and how hard I would need to work to be as good as Billy and Peter (a former Charlotte Latin wrestler). At the same time, I’m just try to be the best wrestler I can be. With all the success my brothers had, I have a lot to live up to.”
Michael McClelland, now a sophomore at Charlotte Latin, has been busy making a name for himself. He went 33-7 as a freshman, was the CISAA conference runner-up and finished third at the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament.
This season, the youngest McClelland has been even better, going 39-5 in his 106-pound weight class despite standing about 5-foot-3 and 103 pounds “dripping wet,” according to Charlotte Latin coach Richard Fletcher.
Fletcher, in his 25th season in charge of the program, says Billy and Michael are always together and both benefit from their tight-knit relationship.
“I remember often times at practice when they were younger, we’d have to tell Billy to stop picking on Michael,” said Fletcher, who has guided Charlotte Latin to 10 state team championships. “Growing up in a wrestling family and being the youngest of three brothers had to be tough. But you can see that Michael is a lot better off because of that.”
While he is usually smallest guy in the wrestling room, McClelland doesn’t let his size hold him back.
“I see myself as about 120 pounds, even though I’m about 103 to 105 at best,” McClelland said. “But I’ve been small all my life, so I’ve come to terms with it. I’d like to be a little bigger. But at the end of the day, it’s all about just going out and beating the guy in front of you.”
While Billy, a Latin senior, pursues his fourth straight individual NCISAA state championship Feb. 20-21 at Charlotte Latin, Michael will be vying for his first state title at 106 pounds.
Fletcher says Michael, 16, has shown he can handle the physical demands of wrestling and now just needs to strengthen his mental edge.
“A lot of times, I think Michael goes into matches thinking he’s the weakest wrestler, when he’s really not,” Fletcher said. “It’s a mental thing that he needs to work on right now and that is the last piece to the puzzle for him. I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.”
“Being around Billy so much, I know the mental focus you have to have (to be great) and I believe I will get there,” Michael said.
Michael, who wrestles year round with Darkhorse Wrestling, has worked extensively for the past eight years with Paige, whom he credits with helping him become the wrestler he is today.
Michael hopes to win the next three CISAA conference titles (this season’s tournament was scheduled for Feb. 12 at Providence Day) as well as the next three state championships.
Michael also wants to earn All-American status at the Prep National Wrestling Championships on Feb. 27-28 at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, where he would have to finish in the top eight in the country in his weight class.
To do that, Michael knows he will have to get stronger. He can bench 180 pounds and do 35-40 pull-ups.
While both McClelland brothers are wrestling to win individual state crowns, they also hope to help Latin win its fourth consecutive state team title. The longest streak in school history is five straight state championships, from 1987-1991.
Next season, Michael will be wrestling without Billy by his side for the first time. Billy won’t be far away; he signed to wrestle at Davidson.
Michael said it might be “weird” at first, but he is looking forward to the challenges ahead.
“My ultimate goal is to be the best wrestler that I can be,” said Michael. “I’ve always been known as Billy’s little brother and that’s fine but I want to show people that I can hang (with the best), too.”
Billy has no doubts his younger brother will excel.
“Michael has been around us so long that he’s bought into the whole culture in our household of wanting to be the best,” Billy said. “I know I always wanted to be as good as Pete, and Michael wanted to be as good me.
“I’ve watched him grow up, commit himself to wrestling, and it’s really started to pay off. It will be exciting to see what he can do.”