Wilpses are first family of Pitt wrestling
Matt Wilps pauses long enough that you wonder whether the phone call disconnected.
Asked what makes his family unique, he struggles to find the words.
“Not sure,” Wilps said.
Maybe he's tongue-tied because there are so many options to consider.
Wilps thinks there's nothing different about his family. He would be wrong.
The Wilpses are Pitt's first family of wrestling. They're talented, loyal and hardly conventional.
Jeff Wilps wrestled at Pitt from 1979-82, and he was followed by his oldest son, Matt. Then his middle son, Tyler.
Soon it will be his youngest son, Noah, a senior at Chartiers Valley and a Pitt recruit.
“My plan was always to help my kids get a scholarship to college so I didn't have to pay for it,” the eldest Wilps joked. “I knew how to wrestle, so I thought I would get them into wrestling.”
The Wilps boys, along with sister Claire, the youngest of the siblings, grew up in Collier in a house that didn't have cable TV.
“Having it on in the room, it takes your attention away,” said Matt, now an assistant coach at Pitt. “It definitely kills brain cells.”
Tyler never was enamored with sports, at least not the kind he watched. In four years, the redshirt junior can count on one hand the number of Pitt football games he has attended.
“I don't think we were raised to idolize any one particular thing,” said Tyler, a finance major with a minor in chemistry. “It was more like, ‘If you want it, go get it yourself.' ”
Which he will this week at the NCAA Division I Championships in Oklahoma City. Fresh off an ACC title, Tyler (28-5) is seeded No. 8 in the 174-pound weight class. He opens with Bradley Wukie of Pennsylvania in the first round Thursday morning.
Jeff Wilps owns the family's house in Collier. He also owns a second one — that Tyler lives in — on Iowa Street in Oakland.
“Now that I have two kids (at Pitt) … and three with Noah going, it seemed logical,” Jeff said. “Instead of having to pay for room and board, we have them stay there.
“I guess my daughter now is forced to go to Pitt. She has no choice now. I just have to figure out what I can get her a scholarship in.”
In the basement of the Wilps' Collier home sits a bench and squat rack the family bought from Chartiers Valley. There also is a wrestling mat.
“If anything got out of hand,” Matt said, “we'd go downstairs and settle it on the mat.”
Matt remembers activities he and his brothers used to do, at Jeff's behest, when they were younger. Many of them involved yard work.
About a decade ago, the boys set out to gather as many boulders as possible to build a gigantic rock well. And, mostly, to see who could find the biggest, best one.
“We have a real nice setup, stairs going up about 15 feet,” Matt said. “We found a couple diamonds in the rough.”
Tyler's favorite match of his career isn't when he almost upset defending national champion Chris Perry of Oklahoma State in January.
It was a match at the Southern Scuffle. He fell behind Scott Reilly of Air Force, 5-0, but rallied to score a 17-9 major decision.
“I actually got kind of excited,” Tyler said. “I knew I would have to open up, and it would be a fun challenge.”
That attitude might explain his starting to play guitar out of nowhere about a year ago, then learning Eagles and Neil Young songs, to which his brothers and dad sing along.
Tyler enjoys a challenge, something that makes him think.
“It's hard for me to pinpoint what I like sometimes,” he said. “I think what I like most is the process of getting good at something. I've never had a moment where I was like, ‘Wow, I really love this activity.'
“Wrestling is a process. To get better at wrestling, I had to trust that process.”
Noah insisted he was free to wrestle wherever he wanted. Still, with a family that has become synonymous with Pitt wrestling and practically considers former coach Rande Stottlemyer an uncle, why go elsewhere?
“You want to hold on to your family's history,” Noah said. “I know that's something I would like to do.”
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