Bring up the term, "reflection," and Ashland University freshman wrestler Dan McNulty (Highland Heights, Ohio/Mayfield) will talk about the image he saw in the mirror that morning.
With McNulty there's no talk about what might have been, what could have been, what he should have done. The rookie wrestler lives in the moment and goes by the motto, "Think long, think wrong."
"That's just the way I wrestle," said McNulty. "I don't want to close it down and have a boring one- or two-point match. Sometimes I'll think afterwards, 'What if I didn't do that?' Sometimes I get caught on my back because I do stupid stuff. I try to go out there and not think and just wrestle."
That philosophy served McNulty well on the opening weekend of his collegiate career. At last Saturday's (Nov. 12) Michigan State Open, McNulty finished fourth at 133 pounds in the freshman-sophomore division.
"It was tough, really tough," remarked McNulty. "Having a freshman-sophomore division was a nice blessing. I didn't have to wrestle grown men. It was nice to get some wins under my belt."
From what McNulty has shown this fall, more wins could be coming his way. McNulty has been impressive in the wrestling room during practice and his style has caught the attention of head wrestling coach Tim Dernlan. Some would suggest that McNulty isn't aggressive, he's reckless. Dernlan will have none of that.
"He wrestles without inhibitions," explained Dernlan. "Sometimes guys get in their own way, they think too much. He just wants to keep scoring points from the first second to the end. He never gives up in any position. We talk to our guys about wrestling for every second in seven minutes. He does that. He uses every second, builds his lead and doesn't give up points."
Because he's a freshman, McNulty still has a lot to learn. That on-the-job training will not include a complete makeover.
"I don't think so," replied Dernlan when asked if McNulty will have to tone down his act. "I hope not. As long as he continues to improve his technique, that will help him be more successful. I don't want to change his attitude toward matches."
Because McNulty doesn't fit any mold, he could be considered a dangerous foe. How do you prepare for a guy who admits he's not sure what he's going to do from minute to minute?
"I had a couple of coaches in high school and they told us to keep the pressure up, wrestle on the edge. I guess I picked that up from them. I don't want to close up. I'm a little weird, a little funky on the mat. My shot is definitely weird. I just grab ankles and roll around."
"I think Dan might be a guy who wrestles better in competition than he does in the room," Dernlan said. "He's not bad in the room either. He's really funky and he'll make stuff up. He makes up moves on the fly and is successful with them."
Whatever McNulty imagined at Michigan State, it worked. His day included a pin of Findlay's Victor Vettese in 1:44. He also took a major decision from Garret Garness of Ohio University, 8-0 and defeated Brandon Fifield (unattached, Michigan), 9-7. In the consolation final, McNulty lost by technical fall to Travis Barroquillo of Indiana Tech. Barroquillo is 8-2.
"I knew he was good, but after watching him, he's better than I thought," said Dernlan. "I try to withhold any thoughts until I see them in competition. It's hard being a freshman and going up against guys who are five years older or are from bigger universities."
McNulty was a four-time state qualifier at Mayfield High School. At the state championships he finished fourth, fifth and seventh. His sophomore season Mayfield placed fifth at the state championships.
"I had friends in Division I, guys who wrestle at Ohio State," said McNulty, when asked how he arrived at Ashland. "It's hard, you really don't have a life. Division II is a lot different. You're a lot more relaxed, you're not sick of it or burnt out with pressure. But you still have to keep your focus. This was my best option. I liked the campus, it's a private school and Coach Dernlan is one of the best coaches in the nation."
This season is a long way from playing out, which means McNulty's season could go in any number of directions. AU has some depth at 133 pounds. One of AU's top returners, Dan Mandara (Canandaigua, N.Y.), resides there. Canandaigua was the regional runner-up last year and advanced to nationals. He is ranked seventh in the country.
But as Dernlan has made plain throughout his four-year tenure, if a wrestler is good enough, he'll find a way to get him on the mat.
"My thought process is, 'Go out and wrestle as hard as you can," said McNulty. "If you do that, you can't be mad. You might take it on the chin, but you can't be mad."
This week presents another challenge for McNulty. AU hosts the Harris Open on Saturday (Nov. 19) and this tournament will bring over 200 wrestlers to Kates Gymnasium.
"I want to at least place as high as last week and hopefully win it," offered McNulty. "I want to go out and wrestle as hard as I can."