High School Sports

How BEA’s Gage McClenahan went from a season-ending injury to committing to Cornell wrestling

Bald Eagle Area’s Gage McClenahan celebrates defeating Mifflin County’s Trey Kibe in the 152 pounds final during the PIAA Regional Wrestling Finals Saturday, March, 3, 2018 at Altoona Area High School.
Bald Eagle Area’s Gage McClenahan celebrates defeating Mifflin County’s Trey Kibe in the 152 pounds final during the PIAA Regional Wrestling Finals Saturday, March, 3, 2018 at Altoona Area High School. psheehan@centredaily.com

It was a basic play, a simple sweep to the right against the Clearfield defense. But it ended before it really got started, ended with Gage McClenahan crumbling to the ground, untouched and immobile.

For the BEA tailback the season, perhaps even his career, was over. His knee had exploded.

“I tore my ACL, MCL, PCL, meniscus and fractured my femur,’’ he recalled. “I had hurt my knee before. I had knee surgery before the season. But when this happened I knew it was different. It was heartbreaking.

“My stepmom works at the hospital as an X-ray technician. She said a lot of the doctors there said they hadn’t seen an injury like that, without any contact, in a long time.’’

But there was more at stake for McClenahan than being able to return to the football field, which he intends to do this fall. He was a PIAA wrestling runnerup as a sophomore and was looking forward to getting back on the mat last winter for his junior season.

“I had a couple of options,’’ he said. “I had thought about just fixing my meniscus and wrestling throughout the season. But I really wouldn’t have been able to do what I do. But what really scared me was one of the doctors who looked at my knee said I might never play sports again.’’

So he had the surgery and returned to the sidelines, on crutches, to watch his teammates win BEA’s first District 6 football title since 1988. And while he was on the sidelines at Jersey Shore, a familiar face showed up.

It was Gabe Dean, an two-time NCAA wrestling champion from Cornell. That conversation led to several more, not only with Dean but with head coach Rob Koll, a State College grad. They both called McClenahan the day after he had his surgery.

“The were just checking in, wanting to see if everything was all right,’’ McClenahan noted. “And they came up here for the district championship game even though I wasn’t playing.

Contact with the coaches became more frequent in the ensuing months until finally, last weekend, McClenahan committed to Cornell where he plans to major in pre-med and then go to on to become a chiropractor.

He had also been in touch with Bucknell, Lehigh and North Carolina State. But not Penn State, as close as he lives to the school.

“I would have been interested for sure,’’ he said. “But I wasn’t on their radar. I had heard rumors that they were going to contact me but they never did.’’

So he’s off to Cornell, following the footsteps of former Centre County wrestlers Nate Rupp of P-O, Steve Bosak of State College, and Jake Taylor of BEA.

“The program is outstanding,’’ he said. “I’ll get to be around some of the best wrestlers in the world. ‘’

But first there is football season.

“Everyone says there is a risk of getting hurt,’’ he said. “But Gabe told me to do what makes me happy and everyone knows my answer to that. I’ve been doing everything I can to get healthy.’’

And once he’s finished with football he’s planning to get back on the mat at Wingate.

“I can’t wait to compete again,’’ he said. “It’s going to be special to get back on the mat in front of our fans. They’re the best in the county.’’

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