As the COVID-19 sports shutdown continues and “What If” week at Rock M has come and gone, that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about the “little guys”— the smaller, non-revenue sports like wrestling, which has built such a great foundation for its program under head coach Brian Smith, and continually sees success because of it. This past week, I attended another MIZ-ZOOM event for Tiger Scholarship Fund donors, and had a chance to hear from one of our mat sports’ coaches.
Brian Smith’s season was abruptly cut short just days before one of the top wrestling events in the world each year— the NCAA Championships, and he was understandably upset for his team. They were in the middle of practice when he found out, and everything just... stopped. Season over. The end.
Having never heard Smith speak before, I came away so impressed by him. The emotion in his voice when talking about the aforementioned shutdown and when talking about Tiger Style and his team and all that he’s put into it since coming on board in 1998... Hell, I think I wanna be a wrestler now (kidding, kind of). It’s no wonder he’s got the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation coming in. He’s built Mizzou Wrestling into such a powerhouse for the past 10+ years that he doesn’t even have to recruit all that much. Wrestling families know about Smith and they know about Tiger Style and their continuous success, and the kids just grow up wanting to be a part of it.
It seems like everyone knows someone with a connection to Tiger Style at this point. Take incoming freshman and #1 high school recruit, Keegan O’Toole, for example. Keegan grew up being coached by Mizzou great Ben Askren, who has talked to him about the Tigers’ philosophy, and has a great relationship with Smith. Because of this familiarity and the program’s success, he’s always wanted to be a Missouri Tiger. Rocky Elam, another #1 high school recruit, has a brother (Zach) on the team. Trey Crawford is the son of All-American Ben Crawford. The list just goes on and on.
So, what IS #Tigerstyle? You see it hash-tagged to oblivion on social media (and on this site, you’re welcome) and referenced constantly, but what does it mean? In short, Smith said, it’s the culture of the program. It’s their beliefs, competitiveness, knowing what they can do to get better all the time. It’s exuding confidence on the mat, in the classroom, and outside of school. Tiger Style comes with an expectation that they are going to win, no matter what they’re doing in life.
How do they keep this consistency going as they are all over the country right now? Smith said that strangely enough, COVID has actually brought them closer together. They’re holding weekly meetings on ZOOM, oftentimes joined by former Tiger wrestlers like Askren, J’den Cox, and many others, who talk with them about adversity in their own lives and how #Tigerstyle has helped them in all aspects. The team is also broken up into smaller groups who meet and text without the presence of coaches. Because they’ve continued meeting and never lost focus, they’ve kept the same mentality.
“That mindset now, coming into when we do get the opportunity to work out, they’re gonna appreciate it. They’re gonna really appreciate the moments of practice, to get back and live on campus...”
The newcomers, so he’s heard and seen in text conversations, have already started to bond with their teammates, and come in with high expectations to win a national title. They also come in to battle alongside 12 returners who were NCAA qualifiers, so the bar is pretty high. Remember, only 10 can go to NCAAs each season.
But they must remember to do the little things right to get to the big stuff, Smith said. The end goal may be to win a national title, but there are so many small steps along the way, including staying on top of their studies so they are ready to focus on their matches that weekend, knowing that they’re putting in your ‘one mores’ after practice, and that they are cognizant of what they’re putting in their bodies. Every minute detail will help (or hinder) their progress to that ultimate goal.
Because, Smith said, their room will sometimes be tougher than the competition they meet outside the walls for the 4th floor of Hearnes, they have to constantly think about how they will be better the next day, as there are going to be days of bad takedowns in practice with that much talent. How they come back from adversity will truly show what they’re made of.
With a phenomenal incoming class coming in to join the already battle-tested vets, there is so much talent on this team both on the mat and on the sidelines with the coaching staff. So, all I want to know, where can I sign up?