UNIVERSITY PARK — Morgan McIntosh put both of his hands together and glanced down to find his right one nearly black and blue — a side effect of the tape and bandage wrap around his right elbow.
“It’s a little tight,” McIntosh said with a shrug.
No big deal. At this point, it’s a precautionary measure, really. The hyper extension McIntosh suffered at the beginning of the season is practically healed. It never really fazed him in the first place.
Not much does. The laid back Santa Ana, California native is pretty much unflappable. See his most recent match against the country’s best 197-pounder for proof.
McIntosh handed Minnesota’s Scott Schiller — formerly unbeaten and the top-ranked wrestler at the weight — an 8-4 loss. It was McIntosh’s eighth straight win, dating back to New Years Day’s Southern Scuffle when he lost to No. 2 J’Den Cox of Missouri twice and wound up fourth.
He’s done plenty since that tournament to prove to himself and his coaches that he’s ready to contend for an NCAA championship this season as a sophomore.
“Morgan did a great job and kind of gave you a good idea that he is in the mix,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “I think after the Scuffle people were like, ‘Ah man, maybe he’s not quite ready?’ But he is, obviously, and that’s good for our team.”
It’s not just that McIntosh is winning matches going away. He’s winning in all areas. On his feet, he’s controlled tie-ups with opponents once too heavy for him to do so. He’s finishing takedowns with precision — high singles, low doubles, ankle picks. You name the attack and McIntosh has hit it this season.
He’s tossing opponents around like ragdolls on his feet, too. But as McIntosh tells it, he’s not much that much different of a wrestler than when he competed for Penn State at the same weight as a true freshman two years ago.
“I’ve always had a pretty good repertoire of moves, even in high school,” McIntosh said. “I was always pretty decent on my feet and I’ve got a lot of different attacks I can do. I think last year and this year what’s made a lot of difference is the size and the strength that I’ve gained in the last couple of years.”
Indeed, he’s on much level ground.
McIntosh, who isn’t the tallest 197-pounder, makes up for his lack of length with his strength. While he’s always been strong, he admitted he wasn’t as well equipped to handle the stresses of wrestling collegiately in the second-heaviest weight class as a freshman.
Then, in the 2011-12 season, McIntosh performed admirably, often weighing in closer to 184 than 197. He posted an 18-10 record with an 8-2 mark in duals before qualifying for the NCAA tournament. But by March, the rigors of wrestling much bigger opponents had taken their toll.
McIntosh bowed out of the NCAA tournament with a bummed knee among other ailments after going just 1-2.
He yielded his spot in the lineup at 197 last season to Quentin Wright, who moved up from 184. McIntosh redshirted. Wright won his second NCAA title and in storybook fashion, clinched Penn State’s third-straight team title.
Over his redshirt season, McIntosh went 12-2 wrestling unattached in open tournaments. For the most part, McIntosh worked on his technique inside the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex and hit the weight room. The results have paid off.
This year, McIntosh is fourth on the team with 46 dual-meet takedowns. He leads Penn State with 15 of his attacks coming in the third period. Two years ago, McIntosh managed just five third-period takedowns all season.
“I just feel a lot more confident tying up with guys, getting in on their legs, being able to finish, whereas a couple of years ago I was smaller and I wasn’t as confident getting under there,” McIntosh said. “I was thinking guys were going to sprawl on me and get their hips on me. But I feel a little bit stronger now and I’ve been working on a lot of more technical stuff over the past year.”
A lot of his work has come with Wright circling.
Wright — who trains with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club — is accessible to McIntosh and the two work out together from time to time. McIntosh said he’s picked up a lot from the former four-time All-American.
“He’s just a real funky guy to wrestle with,” McIntosh said. “You never know what he’s going to hit you with. He can toss you, blast double-leg you, or turn you. So he’s a good guy to give you a different feel from a typical 197-pounder. He’s not like the rest of them.”
Schiller isn’t either. McIntosh knows that and is anticipating a rematch at some point down the road.
Unlike two years ago, McIntosh is prepared for what lies ahead.
“It was a good match obviously and a lot of fun,” McIntosh said. “I think I’ve known all along that I should be there, I should be at the top but it’s just taken a little while for me to get there and things I’ve needed to sharpen up on. It definitely feels good to finally be kind of at the top of the weight class right now. Obviously there’s still guys I need to beat, but it feels good.”
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.