Chris Mecate didn’t come from a wrestling family. In fact, he was “into baseball and basketball and stuff” when he was younger. But one morning while sitting at the family breakfast table, his father Perry pointed out a story in the Orange County Register about a kid who was about Chris’ age and how he was excelling at wrestling.
“My dad said, ‘Look at this kid!’ ” Mecate said. “And I said, ‘I’d like to try that.’ ”
So he did. And a couple of months later the Mecates learned that a summer wrestling camp was going to be held at a nearby college, some camp called The Granby School of Wrestling. And some guy named Steve Martin would be running the camp.
That Steve Martin wasn’t the same Steve Martin who’d made a name for himself in Hollywood, just an hour or so up the road from the Mecate’s home. This was a guy named Steve Martin who was from the other coast and came from a family legacy that decades prior had made Granby a household name in wrestling under the watchful eye of his father, Billy Martin.
“I think Chris Mecate was about 7 years old when I first met him,” said Martin, who at the time was having a stellar career as the head coach at national powerhouse Great Bridge High in Chesapeake. “I didn’t know then what Chris was going to turn into.”
Mecate ended up turning into a national-caliber wrestler. He kept going to camps and kept learning from Martin whenever Martin made the trip to the West Coast. Eventually, Martin became the head wrestling coach at Old Dominion University. And eventually, Martin really started taking notice of Mecate.
“When Chris won the Super 32s as a junior, that’s when I decided I needed to really start recruiting this kid,” Martin said.
As it came to pass, Mecate would have to choose between Cal-Poly, Arizona State and Old Dominion. Luckily for Martin and the Monarchs, there was a nearly 12-year relationship already in place; Mecate chose ODU.
The way things are looking, it was a good match. Coming off a pair of victories over the weekend at the CAA Duals in Fairfax, Mecate is quickly climbing up the national rankings and Martin is beginning to believe his Southern California Kid could be a national title contender.
Mecate, a redshirt freshman, is 29-7 this season as the Monarchs prepare to host Binghamton Friday night at the Ted Constant Center at 7:30, followed by a match against visiting Rider on Sunday at 1:00 p.m., also at The Ted.
Mecate might be the most shocked of anyone at his success, for about this time a year ago he was getting schooled at practice almost every day.
“I was a state champion and thought I was pretty good coming out of high school and I remember going an entire week at one point without getting even one takedown in practice,” Mecate said. “But I think that happens to a lot of freshmen when they get to the college level. They get shown how it’s done. Some quit. Sticking it out is the only way to get through it.”
In other words, to quote The Shirelles, “Momma said there’d be days like this.”
Mecate could probably tell you that it actually was The Shirelles who sang that. He’s somewhat of a music buff.
“If I wasn’t wrestling, I’d probably be trying to get into the music industry somehow,” Mecate said. “I just love music. When I was growing up, my dad made our garage into a gym and there was always music playing. He liked listening to Al Greene, Otis Redding, Black Sabbath.
“It rubbed off on me.”
Mecate didn’t go with his dad’s favorites, but allowed his father to affect what he listened to. Eventually, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors were his personal favorites, although you can also find a lot of ‘90s rap bouncing around on his personal tunes list.
“My iPod is a little strange,” Mecate said. “People are shocked when the find out I’m listening to Hendrix, then Ice Cube, then some reggae.”
Mecate has emerged as ODU’s top 141-pounder, but he’s not the Monarchs’ only threat at that weight. Junior Justin LaValle has a 13-7 record at 141 and the battles between the two in practice have only helped make Mecate better. That and dropping to the 141 weight class.
The 5-foot-8 Mecate was a 149-pounder during his first year at ODU, but quickly learned that might not be his collegiate weight of success.
“I wrestled 137 in high school, and then did a lot of weight training the summer before coming to ODU, so I thought 149 would be good for me,” Mecate said. “But I soon learned that I was kind of small for a 149-pounder. The good thing was that last year I didn’t worry so much about winning, or cutting weight to make it to 141, as I did about working on my technique.”
Mecate wrestled as an unaffiliated, his scores never counting for ODU, thus maintaining his redshirt status.
“Chris was an ideal kid to have redshirt,” Martin said. “He’s a kid who concentrates hard on his grades and didn’t need the competition to keep him focused.”
Now that he has the competition, everything seems to be falling into place. And his confidence is growing by the day, as is his national ranking. A week ago, he was named the CAA’s rookie of the week. This week, he could conceivably pop up ranked in the top 15 in the nation in his weight class.
“My ultimate goal is to be on the podium in March,” Mecate said, referring to the NCAA Championships, to be held in Des Moines, Iowa, March 21-23. “If I don’t get there, then I didn’t get it done in March, when it really counts.”