Kellan Stout is transferring from Penn State to Pitt, as originally reported on May 25th. Kellan wrestled 184 during his redshirt year at PSU and 197 this past year as a redshirt freshman. Unfortunately for the state champion from Mt. Lebanon, he could not break into the starting lineup and lost out on a year of eligibility. Matt McCutcheon, another WPIAL product (Kiski), held the starting position for the Nittany Lions in the 2016-2017 season. He capped off the year losing to Aaron Studebaker of Nebraska in the Round of 12 at the NCAA tournament, one win shy of All American honors. With McCutcheon still having another year remaining and Anthony Cassar’s fate unknown, it made sense for Stout to look for other opportunities. He will have three years of eligibility left at Pitt, and will look to become a full-time collegiate starter for the first time in his career. I asked Kellan about some of these topics, among others, and I think you’ll enjoy his responses.
*This interview has been slightly edited:
Steve Patrick: What was it like working in the PSU room, not only with Cael [Sanderson] and Casey Cunningham as your coaches, but with practice partners including McCutcheon, Nick Nevills, and Bo Nickal?
Kellan Stout: It was a cool thing because there were a lot of guys on a mission at the same time. Even guys like (Jake) Varner who my first year at least was still competing, so there was a lot of guys in that room with a similar mission and so I think we grew. I wouldn’t say linearly, cause some guys benefited more, other guys were left behind, but overall it was a great room and there were a lot of different techniques and a lot of different people.
SP: Did you work with any senior level athletes?
KS: Yeah, absolutely. I tried to get with Varner and Cael. Even starting my sophomore year they somehow worked out a visa for a 2012 66kg Gold Medalist, his name was Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu, and he brought a whole different kind of wrestling. He’s super flexible but just a different style and different intensity. That senior level intensity that you look for, and I tried to get with him as much as I could. You know Cael still has that, whatever you want to say, he has it. Guys would come in and take turns trying to takedown Cael and just couldn’t do it. But it was really cool; that part of my experience was probably my favorite. Just being in the same room as those senior level guys; (Kyle) Snyder’s been in the room, David Taylor’s always there; it’s just a collaboration of different minds who have all been ultra successful at the collegiate level and trying to translate that (to the senior level) so that was really cool.
SP: Cael Sanderson is the greatest collegiate wrestler of all time. 159-0. What is biggest lesson you bring from spending two years with him?
KS: That mindset. He’s super creative. If you ask him about a move he’ll be like “it’s just kind of a feel”. He has this “feel” thing. Every wrestler benefits from that. He can’t really describe to you what he’s doing, he can show you it, and there’s times and there’s places for it, but learning that feel for the sport is really important and that’s my biggest takeaway from Cael. He’s a really great wrestling mind.
SP: You’ve said before that getting into the starting lineup was a big reason for your decision to transfer, but was there anything else? Did coming closer to home or Keith Gavin’s hire have any influence on your decision?
KS: Yeah absolutely. I was really excited when Gavin got hired. The transfer was brought to my attention a little earlier, around December, and when the coaching change happened, and there was a search for a little bit, but I was really happy when Gavin got hired. I’m familiar with him from my time in the sport; when my dad was a coach Gavin was on the team. He’s a very laid back guy, super easy to talk to. He’s good at some techniques that I’ve wanted to become familiar with so it’s been beneficial to me so far and I imagine it will continue to be.
SP: You were recruited by other colleges coming out of Mt. Lebanon. Did you consider any others once you made up your mind to transfer, or was Pitt it?
KS: There’s a few different ways you do the release. There’s a general one which is a free for all basically, or you can get released to specific schools. So basically all I went off of was schools that have contacted my dad, and that was Virginia, UNC, Lehigh, and Pitt. I got the release, I think Friday, and I came home and met coach Leen and Gavin and the whole staff. We had lunch with my parents and that day I called them and said ‘Alright I’m ready to go’. I wanted Pitt to work out is what I’m trying to say.
SP: Keith Gavin won his NCAA title at 174 and competed on the senior level at 86kg (189 pounds). Surely he’ll be one of your main training partners and individual coaches. He is known as a top tier technician. What do you hope to learn from Gavin and what specific areas of your game do you need to improve?
KS: He’s known personally, and that translates to the mat I guess, he’s very calm, very collected, very calculated too. Something I’ve talked about specifically with Jordan Leen is [Gavin’s] not known for his athleticism so he’s had to make up for that in different techniques and had to be super precise and super on point with his technique. That really speaks volumes when you talk with him, so if he’s teaching you something he can break it down really well. When you’re wrestling he smokes you with an arm drag and you’re like ‘oh crap’ and he’s hit that on guys like Ed Ruth and Jon Reader, total studs. So I would say that calmness that he brings to the mat, I would like to incorporate that more because in a match setting you can lose your cool pretty easily.
SP: Most people in the wrestling community are familiar with your dad’s resume (4x All American). Do you ever feel the pressure to live up to his accomplishments, or are you more focused on forging your own path?
KS: I did at first. And it’s in the back of my mind but I’m not really worried about it anymore. With this transfer it’s a new start in a way, and I’m just trying to do my own thing. But I would be lying if I said I’ve never thought about it, because I did.
SP: Staying with your dad, he ran a club out of Mt. Lebanon High School, Iron Horse, that had a lot of great wrestlers train there. Tyler Wilps, Nick Carr, Mack McGuire, Anthony Zanetta, Nick Bonaccorsi, to name a few. Sometimes the Pitt heavyweights would come up to roll around with your dad as well. Speak to what it’s like having your dad as a coach, because I feel a lot of young wrestlers, probably more than other sports, have to deal with this, and sometimes it can be very difficult?
KS: Yeah, I agree with you. That’s definitely a big theme in wrestling in general, the whole like crazy dad… and even moms, it doesn’t discriminate between parents (laughter). But it’s been great having him as a resource especially in the recruiting process because he’s been there. And also as far as people. He’s a pretty good judge of character so having that in my back pocket because it’s not always easy to see what people are trying to say, there are some mixed messages, especially with someone like Cael. You can have a conversation with him and not exactly know what transpired. He’s kind of cryptic and a little hard to understand so sometimes my dad would talk to him and he would have a better view on it. But you know it’s good and it’s bad. We butt heads sometimes but at the end of the day we all have an aligned goal and that’s to just be the best wrestler I can be. Whether that’s a national champ or couple time All American. He’s really good to have but at the same time I like to figure stuff out on my own too.
SP: You know Nino Bonaccorsi going way back. Also an Iron Horse product, as well as someone you’ve trained with during Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park joint workouts. What’s Nino going to provide for the Pitt Panthers as a team and to you personally as a practice partner?
KS: Nino’s really tough. We’ve been wrestling a bunch lately, he’s really tough. I think he’s going to be a really good resource. I think he’s going to make an immediate impact, he’s that type of guy. And for me personally, he’s an opposing style. I like to get in there and hand fight and he kind of stays away stays away and is very calculated with his attacks and I think we’re growing even through a couple of workouts, I think we’re already getting better and trying to figure some stuff out and get creative with scoring points. I think we’re learning from each other so I think it’s really good. It’ll probably be 84 and 97 so I think that’ll be a good upper weight combination over the next few years.
SP: I think I can safely assume your goal is to be a national champ. In your junior year in high school you were “stuck” behind Zack Zavatsky. Then your senior year you were the top dog and everyone expected you to win. In fact, you didn’t even give up a point during the state tournament. Talk about the experience of breaking through and winning your state title and how that’s prepared you to train for a national title?
KS: It definitely has, especially the mental part. I’d say more so the mental part. Just being able to forge ahead cause it’s not always a straight path, there’s a lot of hardships and things you have to get over. So mentally for sure but physically I’d say it’s a lot different. You learn wrestling in high school and up to college, but college is a whole different animal. It’s much more mental in college. People are so much better and everyone is kind of at the same level in general, there’s obviously some guys but it’s pretty rare for someone to be able to make an immediate impact coming straight from high school to college. There’s a lot of things you have to do first, the top of which, is that toughness, that grit part of it. So mentally I’ve done it. I’ve been able to forge through; I was there my junior year, lost, and was able to win my senior year, but these last two years at Penn State have prepared me more for what it takes to be a successful college wrestler.
SP: Your high school coaches, Bill Lewis and Marc Allemang, helped you get on top of that podium in Hershey. What was the most important thing they taught you about wrestling?
KS: I think initially at Penn State I underestimated the feeling of being supported. They were really great at recognizing what I needed to do because I didn’t always have the best practice partners at Mt Lebanon. So they were really supportive of me leaving a couple minutes early so I could make a Pitt practice, get an extra lift in here or there, so I really can’t say enough about them. They were really great. And Allemang, especially my senior year he had to roll around with me a lot and they were super, super supportive. The biggest thing they taught me was that I can’t do it alone, you really can’t do it alone.
SP: You have two younger brothers, Luke and Mac. Luke’s going into his sophomore year and Mac into eighth grade. How often do you get home and coach them and work with them?
KS: I try to wrestle with Luke as much as I can. He’s tough, he’s going to be really good I think. Even when I learn a new technique I try and go show Luke, just run it by him. Mac’s still younger, he’s still figuring stuff out, so when he starts to get a little bigger I can start showing him stuff but he’s not big enough for me to actually wrestle with. But Luke is, he weighs like 160-165 so we can roll around but when we go live I’m still too big for him. He’s going to be really tough. And actually for me it’s almost new territory because we have a different style. He’s a lefty for one, he’s very offensive, he’s constantly shooting, he’s always attacking, and I wouldn’t say that’s part of my style. I’m more calculated and more defensive. But I’m really excited to watch both of them in the future.
SP: What’s your favorite thing about Pitt’s campus so far?
KS: I actually like the city part of it, I like that it’s like bustling and active. Penn State got boring. Especially this time of year Penn State was really stagnant. It’s like strictly athletes so it’s kind of boring.
KS: I was Kinesiology at Penn State and it’s going to be something similar here.