Welcome back to Tiger Style Explored, a weekly Mizzou Wrestling interview series that will take you inside the program in the coming months from the regular season to the NCAA Championships and beyond.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start by going over last weekend. What were your key takeaways from the two meets?
Tyrel Todd: If you don’t mind me backing up to Stanford really quick. That was such a fantastic performance by our team top to bottom. Afterwards. Coach Smith had a great word about we can still improve, but (we) shut out a really good top-20 team winning all 10 matches. Then rolling the clock forward to West Virginia, traveling out east and West Virginia is a top 20 program as well.
Top to bottom, I mean it’s always super helpful when you have your lightweight in Noah Surtin going out there and getting everybody going and having a good match and a win. And he did that in both dual meets, so he had a great weekend. I can’t say enough about the positive energy that he brings to the team, and he’s that guy who’s always very vocal and very passionate, and all about the right things. Then we had Kade Moore, who’s been a huge standout crowd favorite, (he) had two really, really challenging matches that he was tested in. You know, he almost took out Vito Arujau, who’s a world champion and NCAA champion, and one of the best guys in the country (at) any weight. So he wrestled great in that match. And I mean, he had a great challenging match with West Virginia, but he’s just fun. Again, he’s a guy that people will come out to see because he’s always putting on a show and he loves to wrestle and he loves to get in those positions. He’s comfortable and just so, so talented.
Going through, Josh Edmond had a really hard weekend. Two really tough opponents, and he’s just building that confidence right now. And so, (I’m) really looking forward to him having a great weekend here against Oklahoma State on Sunday. And (at) 149 Logan Gioffre was injured in the first dual. He had a really tough opponent that he ended up dropping a match to, a guy that is very similar to him, very flexible and can wrestle through positions and so that was an exciting match. Unfortunately, (he) got (his) rib popped pretty good, so we weren’t able to win that match, but he did a good job toughing it out and finishing the match.
And then things really went our way against West Virginia, the big guys competed well. Colton Hawks jumping in the lineup as Rocky Elam was not wrestling. I mean, can’t say enough about his improvement. He wrestled that guy last year and lost to him in a close match, and this year he flipped that around by riding him. You know, he got in and then Austin Cooley is a big, strong 197 pounder and we couldn’t finish the shot, but we didn’t give up any attacks. We didn’t give up position, and then we rode really hard and got the win, so that was awesome.
Zach Elam dominating up top, the young guy Clayton Whiting had a pretty good match, beating a pretty solid guy. And Peyton Mocco has as consistent as anyone all year but he had a little bit of a slow start, he’s had a little bit of just health issues. And so he’s really hitting his stride right now, but he got the job done and gutted out tough wins. And then finishing up with Keegan O’Toole, I just can’t say enough about Keegan’s heart and guts. I mean, how he competes consistently and how he trains consistently and what I see of him in the room, he’s always asking questions. His workload is just massive. And I mean, he spends it every day.
He had super, super tough opponents. I think he had (the) number four (wrestler) in the country (at 165) with Cornell and he had Peyton Hall, who we wrestled in the Big 12 championships two years ago. I mean, that kid is good. And you know, Keegan was not feeling great. His health was not great coming through cold season and just, you know, (the) normal wear and tear of the season. My man had to go get two takedowns to win a match against a very, very good opponent and he did, and then turned around at Cornell and got a major decision against one of the best guys in the country. So I mean, as far as leadership and influence, and then just doing the right things and being about the right things, I can’t say enough positive about Keegan O’Toole. (I’m) just really, really happy with him and proud of him.
Keegan O’Toole has had some times this year where he’s started a little slow out of the gate. What does he need to do in order to get started faster?
TT: Yeah, I think some of it is, you know, the peaking aspect as we get closer to the end of the season. He’s going to be you peaking and firing on all cylinders, and I think that is what we want and what we as coaches try to facilitate and prepare for. I mean, a lot of it is he’s got a target on his back, and every guy he’s wrestling is like, I’m gonna try and take out Keegan O’Toole. And so one guys are always in his face, which is against the rules. You know, they’re always palm in the face as he’s trying to get to his attacks right away. That’s one of the drawbacks of being a really offensive wrestler. When you are a really offensive wrestler, you’re coming at your opponent from the get go and it does open you up a little bit more to counter attacks and to wrestlers sitting back and then playing that defense, defense to offense. And so that’s definitely a factor for Keegan.
So, you know, we would like to see him having a little bit more motion and ability to move his opponent’s head and break their position a little bit more, maybe taking a little less risk in getting in on the legs. But as a coach, you love to see a wrestler who is not afraid to go out there and get in a fight right away, and get to their positions and get to the legs. I mean, the best wrestlers in the United States and the best wrestlers in the world are able to go do that against high-level competition, and they’re not afraid. And that’s one thing that you know, Keegan O’Toole is not afraid to go out there and get in a battle and attack an opponent. And I as a coach would not want to say, ‘hey, let’s play this a little more defensively early on,’ just because then he doesn’t have as high (a) rate of attrition.
When he’s continually faking and challenging his opponent’s head and in on his legs, and continually moving through positions, that’s exhausting. And you see him wearing on guys and breaking guys so much of the time. This last weekend, he just didn’t quite have his legs underneath with health, you know, and not feeling good. But that’s what we train guys for, is you’re not going to feel good all the time and you’ve got to be able to execute, even when you don’t feel good. And that’s what’s so awesome about Keegan, that’s just an amazing testament to his work ethic and what he’s about. Even when things were going sideways, down six to one, just focusing on the next point and going (and) getting the next point and winning the match, just hats off to him, you know.
Speaking of guys who aren’t afraid of anybody, Kade Moore nearly took down Vito Arujau this weekend. What are your thoughts on that match, and what does Moore have to do in order to take the next step facing another top-ranked wrestler in Daton Fix on Sunday?
TT: He’s building his belief, and I think that was a really key match to build his belief. He’s seeing the top guys at his weight class here and going up big, scoring back points, and really battling toe to toe with Arujau. I think he’s proving to himself that yes, I can wrestle with these guys, I can beat these guys, I belong in this circle. And at the end of that match he got ridden out, you know, all he had to do is get out to tie the score and then it’s in overtime. I mean, he had a tremendous opportunity there.
There was a really frustrating call, the other wrestler was injured and they stopped the match but then the rest of the officials said it was their time and they didn’t count it as the injury time, which would have put us down so we would have an opportunity to score another point. Be that as it may, you know, you’re not gonna always get the calls you want.
Kade Moore just didn’t get out at the end of the match, whether he ran out of gas or whatever the the excuse is, he needs to be able to get out to win that match (or) give himself an opportunity to win that match. So now (he) is coming up against Daton Fix, I think he’s won a world championship as well (he won silver at the 2021 senior world championships). He’s been (at) the top of the NCAA, and Kade knows that he can battle with this guy. But he’s got to stay in the moment, and he’s got to battle every second of the match and give himself some opportunities to beat a really quality opponent.
Earlier this week I went on the radio and predicted that Moore would win a national championship before the end of his career at Mizzou. Do you see him winning a national title during his time as a Tiger, or coming close?
TT: From a talent standpoint, Kade Moore has the talent to win at the highest level. He has the talent to be an NCAA champion. So you know what, whether that comes to fruition or not, is entirely up to him and his body of work, and his consistency over time. And I do think that a lot of wrestlers sometimes don’t have the opportunity to battle so closely with top ranked opponents at such a young age. So he does have a very unique sense of, he’s had a taste of it, but now it’s about that consistent work. And you know what, what I want to see as a coach is him consistently pursuing that excellence in his day-to-day life, which will continue to affect his wrestling in a positive way and that consistency through the course of matches.
And if he does that, if he’s completely bought in, the beauty of it is, just watch your friend in the room. Watch the guy who’s doing it, Keegan O’Toole. You know, that is so invaluable to have a guy in the room that’s doing it at the highest level. I remember when I was wrestling in Michigan and Ryan Bertin was a national champion, I learned so much watching him and I just tried to mirror what he was doing in the ways that I could. And so that’s what Kade Moore has going for him. I’m extremely excited for what he can do this year, and then down the line, absolutely, he has every opportunity and every ability to be a national champion. And that’s exciting.
The other wrestler I want to focus on from this weekend is Josh Edmond. Last week I talked to coach Maple and he said Edmond was up against one of his biggest walls, he just needed to push through it. It looked like he got really close to breaking through that wall this past weekend, he just couldn’t quite get there. What does he need to do to break down that wall?
TT: I agree 100% with what Coach Maple is saying. Josh’s natural raw talent, much like Kade Moore he has a tremendously high ceiling. I mean, he is as fast as anyone in the country with his double leg, and he’s powerful. He just needs to break through, it’s a confidence thing. He had an opportunity with (Jordan) Titus, I mean, literally there (were) probably 10 times that kid rolled on him when we were going to secure takedown. Even in overtime, it was just a hair’s difference from us getting the takedown call and then them not calling it, and us losing the points to lose the match.
So, I mean, that’s a guy that we need to have a big match and have a breakthrough. And he’s prepared. He is always in here doing extra work, and his mindset is strong. And you know, it’s just a matter of when. We all as a staff, we see the direction, we see the possibility, we see the capability. But now it’s just a matter of, alright, let’s make this happen now. We can’t wait around to let it come to us, we need to go forward and we need to claim this victory, and then I think that success can compound on itself. And Josh has that kind of capability. I mean, he was one of the top guys at 149, (now) at 141. It’s a matter of executing with confidence, and he can win a match against everyone that steps out in front of him.
There were several uncharacteristic results on Sunday. With it being the first time wrestling two duals on the same weekend this season, was that a factor in the outcome of the meet?
TT: I would say we haven’t competed in two high-caliber dual meets. You don’t ever want to make excuses because the the expectation is the expectation, and in training, you know, guys are expected to perform at their best every day. But, you know, there are those factors of traveling out (east). I mean, we tried to do everything we could as a staff going out there early, having a day to acclimate. And then we had a charter flight which was awesome, after the first West Virginia dual we flew up to Ithaca, New York. We got in that night and had another day to acclimate there, so we tried to balance as much of that as we could.
But at the end of the day, we were put in tough environments. West Virginia, I feel like we we handled pretty well. Would have really liked to have a couple better performances. But then with Cornell that’s a quality team. They were at home and, you know, we looked like an away team. We looked like a team that we haven’t been this whole year. And taking a hard loss, I mean, it sucks, call it what it is, but it’s such an opportunity for us to respond. I would way rather have this, you know, some adversity and then we go out and we wrestle a dual meet.
I can’t evaluate it as a whole because there (were) some awesome individual performances. I mean, Noah Surtin, Keegan O’Toole, those guys were right on task, wrestling heads up and did a great job. But as a whole, we could have been more aggressive, we could have competed at a higher level. And now, you know, it’s a great chance for us to see how we respond to this, it’s in our guys’ hands. And these guys are very capable, they’re very resilient, and they’ve got great mindset. So I’m excited to see how they respond.
You mentioned wanting to be more aggressive, and offense was a struggle for a large part of the meet Sunday. Mauller, Whiting, and the Elam brothers had unusually low scoring matches on their end, not necessarily having as much success on the attack as usual. Do you think Cornell was placing an emphasis on defense, or was it a issue with stamina or another factor?
TT: I would probably parse them up a little bit differently. You know, Brock Mauller and Rocky Elam, those guys are experienced, they’ve won big matches. I think both of them just wrestled really flat. Brock was not moving his feet, he was squeezing and he was not getting to his attacks like he normally does. And again, we’re talking quality opponents here too, so that is absolutely a factor. Rocky Elam, I really think he has a lot more ability than he showed in that match. He was not physical. And that’s been a big part of my notes, you know, coming back to him is really being more aggressive and physical and moving his opponent, especially his opponent’s head and opening up the attacks that he can. So when he does that, that’s an entirely different match.
And then, you know, Clayton Whiting is young, and that was the worst loss he’s taken. So, recovering from that. Every young guy goes through some level of that and so now, it’s faith over fear, believing in what you’re capable of, believing in your attacks. Believing in what you can go out there and do consistently and not focusing on, ‘well, what if this, what if that, and what if the guy does this.’ And I think he didn’t finish the first takedown he was in on and his opponent sensed like, okay, I can really open up now because this guy can’t finish on me. You know, that’s an experienced wrestler who’s an upperclassman and he’s won a lot, and so he was able to really open things up against us.
Clayton has a huge opportunity here this weekend with the Oklahoma State kid, Dustin Plott, (he’s the) second-ranked (wrestler) in the country. He’s (a) very, very good wrestler and he’s going to bring a lot of offense. If we are not up for that battle and getting in there and getting to our attacks early on and meeting the challenge, then it’s going to be tough for us. So (it’s) just getting him in the right mindset. And I know he’s capable, he knows he’s capable, so we’re just really excited to see how this plays out and and support him as much as I can to go out there and claim this.
Moving forward, what are the main things you’re going to be looking for from the team on Sunday as you try to bounce back?
TT: I mean, this is our last home dual. We’ve got seniors, I call it the wave goodbye or the kiss goodbye. When you invested like Zach Elam, Peyton Mocco and Brock Mauller, I mean, these guys are All-Americans. They’re just tremendous, tremendous individuals that have overcome so much, and they’re just hardworking, tough kids. And so for them, you want to go out on a great note, just performing well and focused on the excitement and the joy of being able to compete (in front of) your home crowd (for) the last time. That’s what I would expect there.
I would expect our lighter weights to really go out and, top to bottom, we need to wrestle aggressively, we need to close space. We need to pressure with our head and hands and then creating those scoring opportunities, but wrestling with confidence and with authority and with pressure moving forward. Peyton Mocco specifically, I’ve seen him the last couple of days in practice, I think he’s really starting to sense, like, I’ve got to pick my level up. You know, he’s had a little bit of ankle stuff, but it doesn’t matter, that stuff doesn’t matter now.
Now, it’s just a matter of getting in and executing what you can do. And so I’m expecting some great individual performances, but also (for) us to compete in every match. We should have some some really strong performances at a lot of weight classes, and it’s a great dual meet. I mean, that Oklahoma State team was not projected to be a top team, and they’ve shown otherwise this year.
Moving beyond the Oklahoma State meet, what are the main goals, in your eyes, for the rest of the season?
TT: (We’ve) got the Dakotas trip, which is always a always a fun one going back a little closer to my stomping grounds where I grew up. It’s a long drive, a tough trip, so (some) adversity there. But we should be able to put some exclamation points on a lot of matches wrestling out there, and we should be performing really, really close to our maximum potential. And then we’ve got Iowa State that is always a solid team, (we’ve) got Northern Iowa, two really good teams. We’re going to be prepared going into those, confident, and then ultimately, you know, the Big 12 Championships is such a big focus for our team.
So we’re going to be ready for these competitions, and the guys are responding in practice. But the expectation is to do what we’ve been able to do the last two years and win a conference championship, and (be) prepared to be in the hunt for a national title at the NCAA tournament. Really focusing on what we can control and really just building that positive excitement, positive energy. I’m really excited. We’ve got a few more trips to really solidify some things and get our young guys a little bit more competition experience, and have our guys that are more mature really stepping into the swing of things and feeling comfortable and confident.
When you have big competition sometimes it feels like you have all this weight on you. And I think for these older guys specifically, when you look behind, you look at this massive work, this trench. If you’re digging a trench, look at this enormous trench that you’ve made behind you and that momentum you’ve created, and let that carry you and carry that positivity forward into the next challenge. You have all of these great things and this immense strength that you have behind you, and focusing on that is so much more life-giving and energizing than focusing on the weight of the moment.
Moving to your background, you came very closing to reaching the Olympics in 2008. What was your experience like, and how does that help you prepare Keegan O’Toole as he has qualified for the Olympic trials with a chance to represent Team USA?
TT: I made my best run at the Olympic trials in 2008 when I was just coming off of competing my junior year. I had a good year, didn’t do everything I wanted to do and that was placing third that year. I had beaten that eventual national champ earlier in the year and I’d beaten him in the year before as well, and the year before I’d also beaten the guy that placed second, so just really was in a great place. To not have the national tournament you want, that’s part of wrestling, but I had a lot of momentum going into the trials qualifying. Went to the trials and, you know, my coach and training partner was Andy Hrovat. And that was tremendously helpful to me because I knew that he was one of the top guys, and I knew if I was competing with him in the room consistently then I was right there.
And so that was massive for my confidence, both in folkstyle and in freestyle. So, you know, that was a catalyst for me, growing my confidence and having a good Olympic trials. It was cool because my coach ended up making the Olympic team and going to Beijing. Being so close, (I) just had, you know, massive excitement. And then coming into my senior year, I had the misfortune of tearing my ACL. So I was able to have some new adversity to battle through, and that challenge prepared me in so many ways for life after competing.
And so coming to a guy like Keegan O’Toole, Keegan O’Toole is a kid that every coach dreams of coaching, right? He embodies the work ethic and the coachability, he’s going to take advice and he’s going to listen to what you’re saying. For me, I’m bigger than him and I’m not in the fighting form that I once was, so it’s a little less showing him the way and more affirming his confidence and how great he is, and the things that he can do well. And then coach Maple works hands-on with him a lot more so that my role in that is, I would say, more of just encouraging and some tactical advice, but just really fostering that belief.
I know he’s capable of making that Olympic team, and his weight class specifically is probably the toughest weight class. I mean, you’ve got a guy like Jordan Burroughs, arguably one of the best wrestlers ever from the United States. You know, you got Kyle Dake, you got Jason Nolf. You’ve got these guys that are phenomenal wrestlers, but Keegan O’Toole is the young challenger, and he’s got nothing to lose going up against those wrestling greats. So that was my story, when I was in 2008 it was before my senior year and I’m young. I knew that no one was training at the level that I was training at, no one was working as hard as I was consistently, and so I knew that I was capable of overcoming and doing way more than everyone thought I could do.
Was coaching always the plan for you, and how did you enter the profession?
TT: Coaching was always something I aspired to do. My dad was a coach, he started a club when my brothers and I were were young. I’m the oldest of three boys. And so coaching was always kind of out there as something that like, man, I would love to be able to do that. And especially as my career took shape, and college wrestling, my coaches had such a huge impact on my life and my development, and the man that I was becoming and became. So that was just something that I latched on to and I was like, man, I can really see see myself doing this and leading young men to achieve high goals on the wrestling mat. To be amazing citizens, to do great great in the classroom, and learn to manage all of those tasks and balance those things. And you know, I just really believe in that student-athlete model as a great way to build young men to be leaders, that can go on and lead and do really well in whatever capacity they choose.
So coaching is something that I really always wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure the avenue of how that would happen. And then as I was around great coaches, you know, Joe McFarland who was my coach at Michigan, I was at Cal Poly for a year, at Arizona State for a year working with some great guys that I learned a lot from. And then, you know, Tony Ersland at Purdue, bringing me in and taking a chance on me to help build his program and learn so much for him, especially being a first-time head coach. And then working with Brian, who’s one of the most proven and best in the game (and) just continues to teach me. And, you know, hopefully preparing me for that next opportunity, because I love coaching and I know I want to have an opportunity to build my own program and lead a program to achieve great things, and be a consistent powerhouse in the country.
With the team’s final home dual coming up on Sunday, what do you want to say to Mizzou fans and people who are interested in wrestling but haven’t watched it yet?
TT: Come out and watch. You know, we’re one of the most explosive, exciting teams to watch. What our wrestlers can do, whether it be standing on their heads or, I mean, I think of Kade Moore and Peyton Mocco, those guys can do truly unbelievable things. And we just have such amazing, talented wrestlers. So I want people to come out and see it. Just see what this college wrestling is like, how amazing it is, what these kids can do. Battling against a great team, there’s going to be a ton of energy in the Hearnes, and that place when it’s rockin’ is so much fun.
I would just say, come watch one of the best teams in the country competing against, you know, it’s a huge rival for us. In my experience here the last five years, that’s the number one rival for us, we get up for Oklahoma State. I mean, we have some other rivalries, but that Oklahoma State rivalry is special and our guys know it. And there’s a history there of guys showing out and doing exciting things. So my expectation is a lot of guys showing up and having awesome individual performances to put us in a great situation to win the dual.