Wrestling’s Big 3 to usher out winning legacy together


The Kent State sidelines react as redshirt freshman Devin Nye attempts to pin his Central Michigan University opponent on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016 at the M.A.C. Center.

Dan Armelli

After 2012-13 wrestling season, Kent State suffered the departures of guys like national champion Dustin Kilgore and national qualifiers Stevie Mitcheff, Casey Newburg and Keith Witt.

However, head coach Jim Andrassy knew they would have a future star in redshirt freshman Ian Miller, who won the MAC title in his first year.

Freshman Mack McGuire, a Pennsylvania state champion in high school, would become a national qualifier in his first three years at Kent State. 

More help was on the way. 

“That was the first time I wrestled him,” Miller said. “I beat the snot out of him, really bad. He was shocked. Afterward he was freaking out. He was like, ‘That’s the worst I’ve ever been beaten.’”

Mike DePalma, then a redshirt freshman who transferred from Edinboro, happened to be the wrestler who Miller got the best of at Kent State’s wrestling camp that day.

Kent State seedings at MAC Wrestling Tournament

125 Del Vinas- No. 8/9

133 Mack McGuire- No. 1

141 Anthony Tutolo- No. 6

149 Mike DePalma- No. 4

157 Ian Miller- No. 1

165 Tyler Buckwalter- No. 4

174 Jairod James- No. 6

184 Cole Baxter- No. 5

197 Kyle Conel- No. 2

HWT Devin Nye- No. 7

“We hung out the rest of that week, and he fits in here.”

Forming the trio 

Now seniors, Miller, McGuire and DePalma are all set to enter their last postseason as Kent State wrestlers together. When and where they finish their careers will likely be the same: March 5-6 at the NCAA Tournament at Madison Square Garden. How they started their careers was completely different.

Miller’s recruitment, while important, may have been the easiest.

“That was one of those things where we were at his house,” Andrassy said. “We were with him on July 1. We offered him a full ride and that was pretty much a done deal.”

Lineage helped streamline Miller into a Flashes singlet, as his uncle, Zeb Miller, had wrestled at Kent State before him.

McGuire joined the team the year after. Andrassy said McGuire being able to come into the program early helped make his choice of Kent State clearer.

“Coach Josh Moore (now at Cleveland State) recruited him,” Andrassy said. “He was a three-time place winner in Pennsylvania, and we liked that. He was a state champ his senior year.”

McGuire said the immediate comfort he felt from current wrestlers in the program helped him feel comfortable.

“When I came here, all the guys were just super nice to me and supportive,” McGuire said. “Nic Bedelyon, I stayed over his house over the summer for a few days. He didn’t even know who I was. He just opened the doors to me and gave me food… Just to have that kind of comfort when you come in, it really makes you feel like home.”

A year later, DePalma decided he wanted to move on from Edinboro after he couldn’t grab the starting 149-pounder position over 2014 All-American Dave Habat. 

DePalma sent out a letter to eight or nine teams who were looking for a 149-pounder.

Before Kent State offered DePalma, he got his first exposure to Ian Miller.

“I knew (Miller) was good (before Kent State’s camp),” DePalma said. “I came in ready to brawl with him. Then he whooped me the first time wrestling. I didn’t know what to think. I’m like, ‘I can’t believe they’re even recruiting me still.’”

However, they still did. Andrassy said they needed the weight class and knew as soon as DePalma wanted to transfer that he would be a good addition. From there, Andrassy talked to coach Matt Hill, who collected 105 wins at Edinboro as a wrestler. Hill then talked to his Fighting Scots connections.

“Kent just felt right,” DePalma said. “Everything just kind of fit together really well. It’s one of those things you can’t really explain.”


Since the beginning of each of their Kent State careers, Miller, McGuire and DePalma have been racking up multiple achievements.

Miller is a two-time All-American and fifth on Kent State’s all-time career wins list with 124, ahead of guys like Nick Nemeth (WWE’s Dolph Ziggler), former NFL player Jermail Porter, and his coach, Andrassy.

Miller, McGuire and DePalma have each been able to qualify for NCAA Tournament multiple times during their Kent State careers: Miller is a three-time MAC Champion, giving him three automatic bids to the big dance; McGuire is a two-time automatic qualifier with one at-large bid; and DePalma is also a two-time automatic qualifier.

Miller finished fifth at last year’s NCAAs after a scoring gaffe cost him a chance to go to the semifinals. He will once again look to capture the title he desires, but his two teammates also seek to reach the top of the podium.

“Anything can happen at nationals,” McGuire said. “I just have to keep a good mindset and leave it all out there.”


While each of the three have been to the national tournament multiple times, they are unique in their own ways, on and off the mat.

McGuire is as calm a person as can be found off the mat, and that demeanor mirrors what he’s like on the mat. The opposite is true for DePalma, who is arguably the most energetic wrestler on the team.

“Mike’s a firecracker,” McGuire said. “He doesn’t care who he’s wrestling or where he’s wrestling. He’ll take anybody out… He might lose his temper, which we love and hate at the same time.”

DePalma, who is a nice guy away from wrestling, is equally as fierce against his opponents.

“Once you’re out there, it’s not that you hate the guy or dislike him,” DePalma said. “I love everybody. You go into a competitive mode. You’re out there to score points and to win the match. You can’t go out there and be nice.”

Miller seems to be somewhere in the middle of his two teammates.

“On the mat I’m intense,” he said. “I’ll joke around, but when I’m in the middle of a match, I’m focused. Off the mat, I’m loose and just hanging out.”

The Future 

After two seasons of .500 in-conference performances, Kent State was able to rattle off seven of eight wins in the MAC this year with a 15-3 overall record, their best since they sported the same record in 2006-07.

Andrassy said that while his 2008-09 team, who had a 5-0 MAC record, sent six wrestlers to the national tournament and had two All-Americans, is the best team he’s coached, this year’s team could end up there with them.

“The way it works out is if you get two guys to place, (the team) can place pretty high,”

“You’ve got to place some guys and have some of your other guys win matches. I think that team will probably take more guys to the national tournament than this team will. But I think this team has more potential to do better at the national tournament” Andrassy said.

Even with seven seniors set to leave with five of them nationally ranked, the cycle of success looks to be back in play for Kent State. Among others, Andrassy mentioned guys like Anthony Tutolo, Chance Driscoll and Isaac Bast as younger guys the team will look for to step up in the future.

Miller also notices younger teammates that will be able to take over once he’s gone.

“My partner (Casey Sparkman), he’s already stepped up this year and won big duels,” Miller said. “He’s a guy that’s going to step up. (Jairod James), he’s going to step up. He’s won two out of the three of his MAC starts. Our heavyweight, (Devin Nye), he’s gotten some big wins when we needed them.” 

Kyle Conel, who went undefeated in dual meets as a redshirt freshman this year, has been such a big help that Miller almost didn’t even mention him when talking about young guys that will help the program in the future. 

“Definitely Conel,” he said. “I don’t even consider him a young guy. He came in at 197 and just started dominating the weight class.”

Conel, ranked No. 12 in the country, is one of six nationally ranked Kent State wrestlers, along with: No. 3 Miller, No. 8 McGuire, No. 19 McGuire, No. 27 Baxter, and No. 30 Tyler Buckwalter, all of whom are seniors.

This is their last chance to do something special as a Kent State wrestler in the postseason, and The Big Three is prepared for what’s ahead. 

“It’s been (a goal to win a national title) since I was a freshman here,” Miller said. “Even in high school, I knew I was coming to college to wrestle.”

McGuire said he’s going to keep his same calm demeanor, even if and when he gets in front of that massive crowd at Madison Square Garden.

“You’ve got to kind of stay backstage and just stay in your own little world because when you go out there,” McGuire said. You start looking around and see all the people, that’s when you get wrapped up in everything.”

As for DePalma, he’s as fired up as ever to get the postseason started.

“I’m ready to roll.”

Dan Armeli is a sports reporter for the Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected] for more information.