Micky Phillippi laid awake on many restless nights contemplating if he should sever his commitments to University of Virginia wrestling coach Steve Garland and Robby Patrick, who verbally committed to wrestle at Virginia on Monday.
Phillippi spawned a tight bond with Garland during his redshirt freshman campaign last season, and he long considered Patrick, a recent Ligonier Valley graduate, a valued friend and training partner before ever aiding in his recruiting process this year.
But when faced with the most complicated and difficult decision of his life, the three-time PIAA champion wisely put the interests of Garland, Patrick and many loved ones aside and followed his instincts, something he didn’t do when he signed with Virginia in 2015.
Phillippi relinquished his full scholarship at Virginia to accept a similar offer from former Cavaliers assistant coaches Keith Gavin and Jordan Leen at Pitt on Saturday. The Derry graduate will lose eligibility for the 2017-18 season due to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s intra-conference transfer rules.
Patrick, a two-time PIAA runner-up, couldn’t specify the offer he accepted from Virginia, but expressed his satisfaction with the deal by saying, “It’s a great deal. They made it affordable.”
Gavin was hired by Pitt in April, nine years after he won their most recent NCAA title in the 2008 tournament at 174 pounds. A month after his hiring, he convinced Leen, who won the 157-pound NCAA title in 2008 for Cornell, to leave Charlottesville, Va., for Pittsburgh.
“The biggest thing for me is just being closer and more comfortable, because when I’m comfortable, I just feel so much more confident,” Phillippi said. “I had a decent year at Virginia, and I can 100 percent see why everyone loves it in Charlottesville and why so many good kids are committing to UVA. You can’t go to a more beautiful or historic campus, and Coach Garland is an amazing person, one of the best people I’ve ever met, which is why this decision was so tough.”
Phillippi said he overlooked Pitt during his recruiting process in high school, but once he arrived in Virginia last summer, he immediately began daydreaming about transferring to Pitt, a school that’s just 45 minutes from his home in Derry Township.
“Every freshman is nervous coming in, but my nerves just never left me,” Phillippi said. “The thought of transferring to Pitt was always in the back of my mind, almost haunting me, but I wouldn’t let anyone see it. I was in the room working my butt off all the time, trying to win every go, every sprint. I tried to make it home, but it just never felt like home to me. It’s hard to achieve your goals when your mind is somewhere else, and the last thing I wanted to do was look back on my career in the future and think, Man, did I put myself in a position to do the best I could?
“I don’t want to sound cocky, but if I’m where I want to be, there’s no one stopping me. You have to be confident, and I haven’t felt as good as I do now in a long time, and I’m really excited for it.”
Phillippi plans to use the story of former Iowa stalwart Brent Metcalf as an inspirational blueprint for his future. Metcalf spent his redshirt freshman season at Virginia Tech before deciding to transfer the following year to Iowa, where he lost a year of eligibility because Virginia Tech refused to release him.
Metcalf then became a three-time All-American and two-time NCAA and Big Ten champion in his final three years of eligibility.
“Metcalf transferred and then came back and destroyed, and I don’t see why I can’t do that because I feel like I’m right there,” Phillippi said. “I’m going to have some of the best coaches and training partners beside me in the room at Pitt. The program is in for a huge change because the want to be good and the want to have a good program is just ridiculous. We want to get to the point where we’re beating Penn State, and bringing in guys like me and (Penn State transfer Kellan Stout) is the way we’re going to do that.”
Patrick sounded off on Phillippi’s decision to transfer.
“It’s disappointing because we lost a really good wrestler and a good friend of mine, but he has to do what’s best for him,” he said. “Whatever he wants to do to be happy, I support him. He’s my friend first, so I support him no matter what.”
Garland discovered Patrick through Phillippi, and three months after traveling to Hershey to watch Patrick compete in the PIAA tournament in March, he offered the Ligonier Valley standout an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Garland has also already made it clear that he plans on inserting Patrick into the starting lineup at 174 as a freshman.
“It’s exciting,” Patrick said. “Virginia is ranked the second-best public school in academics in the nation, plus they have phenomenal athletics. It’s a place where I can achieve all my goals, and that’s really what made it. I really do believe I can achieve all my goals at the University of Virginia.”
If all goes as planned, Patrick will become the fourth member of his family to garner an NCAA Division I athletic scholarship. He’ll also join fellow Westmoreland County wrestlers Cameron Coy of Penn-Trafford, Sam Krivus of Hempfield and Robert Scherer of Burrell on the Cavaliers’ wrestling team, which competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Patrick’s oldest brother, Joshua, just graduated from Rutgers, where he wrestled four years; his other older brother, Justin, is a redshirt sophomore on the Buffalo wrestling team; and his older sister, Hannah, is entering her sophomore year on the Lehigh track and field team.