By Taylor Miller
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
After five years of working his way to the top of one of the best wrestling programs in the nation, senior Chris McNeil is finally Oklahoma State's 174-pound starter.
McNeil grew up in a military family led by his father, who served 23 years in the military as a physician's assistant. McNeil was born on an American military base in Germany and traveled all over Europe before settling down in Lawton, Okla.
He began wrestling at the age of 12 when his football coach encouraged him to use it as a tool to become a better football player. Because of his football coach, McNeil said he found a new passion.
"I was all for it once I got a hold of it," he said. "I just found where I needed to be."
McNeil has always been an ambitious wrestler. In high school, he wanted to win multiple state championships as well as a few national titles.
Although those goals weren't achieved, he was named an All-American, and he never stopped working for big goals. McNeil said the atmosphere surrounding the OSU wrestling program made him want it all.
"You get immersed in it and you see the guys around you," he said. "You're working out with Olympic champions and national champions. So, you want it all from the start."
Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith's great past combined with his ability to keep his spiritual life first is an inspiration as well to McNeil.
Participating in open tournaments and some duals his first four years, he compiled a 49-23 overall record and recorded 13 major decisions and two technical falls. During his sophomore and junior years, he was slowed down by two knee injuries.
In addition to the injuries, being a Division I wrestler while pursing a degree in biology pre-med was a tough mix for him, McNeil said.
Smith said he admires McNeil's leadership off the mat.
"He shows everybody that there's no excuses. He's getting one of the toughest degrees at Oklahoma State," Smith said. "On top of that, he's making every practice and making great grades. He works at what he earns. He's probably one of the greatest influences on our younger people and the program."
Powering through the adversity he faced in previous seasons, McNeil found himself as the 174 guy at the start of the 2011-12 season, his senior season. He learned that getting to the top means more hard work.
"When I was looking up and trying to work for the spot, I would think that once I'm there everything would be clicking and I would be the man," he said. "It's not like that at all. I'm still in the grind every day. Pain is my friend. I have to be able to go through it day in and day out."
McNeil proved he deserved the starting spot after a first-place finish at the University of Central Missouri Open.
So far this season, McNeil is 7-1 overall and has recorded three major decisions and one pin.
The Cowboys are 3-0 after facing Iowa State, Minnesota and Oklahoma. McNeil said he's excited for the rest of the season and thinks about a NCAA title for himself and his teammates every day.
"Now, we feel like it's our time to bring the dynasty back to where it needs to be," McNeil said. "It's a fun place to be right now, especially, when all the other OSU sports are giving that same vibe. It's a good time to wear orange."
Outside of wrestling, McNeil enjoys music, dancing and most of all, helping others. He believes his experiences allow him to help others overcome their fears and make the most out of their lives.
"I have a big heart. I really like to help people enjoy and see the brighter side of things in life because someone always has it rougher than we do," McNeil said. "On top of that, just bringing Christ through everything I do because I would not be anywhere close to where I am right now without him."
As his wrestling career at OSU comes to an end, McNeil doesn't let his accolades define him, and he is most proud of his ability to maintain his identity through his college years.
"If I were to go back to four or five years ago and look back to now, I would admire myself," McNeil said. "I don't have all the accolades that I planned to get at this point, but the story is not done yet. It's not all the way written, and the dream never changed. When I look in the mirror, I think, ‘I'm proud to be here.'"
After he graduates in May, McNeil plans to attend medical school and feels that he has a lot to offer during his lifetime.
"I love the hospital, and I love inspiring people to live for something more than themselves," McNeil said. "There's something bigger out there and if you can make the small sacrifices every day, you might live another day to see your grandchildren or inspire for years and years to leave a legacy. Those are the things I think about and would like to give to the world after wrestling."