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1,995 miles: Travis Wittlake’s Journey from Coos Bay to Stillwater

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OSU's Travis Whittlake wrestles Northern Iowa's Austin Yant during the Big 12 Wrestling Tournament on Mar. 7, 2020 at the BOK Center in Tulsa.

Coos Bay, Oregon. Population 16,615

One of those residents? Redshirt sophomore wrestler Travis Wittlake Jr.

Wittlake, 20, is a native of the small coastal city in Oregon, a city that is more well-known for fishing than producing wrestling talent, but Wittlake is helping turn that narrative around.

“Oregon, they don’t really care about it too much,” Wittlake said. “They’re not very fond of it. There’s just not a ton of high-level wrestlers coming out of Oregon, but there’s always a few individuals.”

Wittlake was one of those few individuals, as his wrestling journey began at the age of 4 after his father, Travis Wittlake Sr., who was the head coach at the local mat club, started to have him wrestle.

He picked up concepts of wrestling quickly and was able to take off with it, getting more and more serious with each year. His early career culminated when he won his first big national tournament at the age of 8.

While the wrestling might have been unorthodox in Coos Bay, Wittlake still enjoyed the more common pastimes in his city, citing that he enjoys bow hunting elk and deer, as well as salmon and tuna fishing on the Pacific Ocean when he is back in Oregon.

“I also grew up on a ranch so we were always doing something with cattle, the animals, just taking care of the ranch,” Wittlake said.

Once he entered high school, Wittlake was able to strengthen his resume amassing a 196-2 record, being named the Oregon Nike Athlete of the Year, as well as winning four Oregon state championships.

Add to the fact that he swept first-place victories in Fargo in Greco, freestyle and folkstyle in 2016, and Wittlake was being contacted by schools all around the country, which led him to originally commit to wrestle for Penn State.

“I committed early to Penn State, but Oklahoma State didn’t really stop recruiting me,” Wittlake said. “I really had no interest, but I ended up coming on a visit to Stillwater and fell in love with it.”

A sales pitch by coach John Smith was able to sell Wittlake on the idea of joining the Cowboys, which led to him eventually flipping his decision of State College to Stillwater.

“There’s a different respect for wrestling (in Oklahoma),” Wittlake said. “It was just a place I needed to be and an atmosphere I needed to be around.”

Smith said that the several times he traveled up to Coos Bay on recruiting trips were some of the most interesting trips he had ever been on.

“When I went to his house, he literally has a driveway that is about two miles long up into the mountains,” Smith said. “Probably one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.”

Wittlake’s OSU career started with a redshirt season that saw him amass a 16-2 record while only competing in open tournaments.

“Wittlake was tough,” Kaid Brock said. “He would come in and have the same consistent battles every day. He was mentally tough.”

The 2019-20 season saw Wittlake take on a bigger role, getting the start at 165 pounds and compiling a 28-2 record. He would go on to win his first Big 12 title and earn the No. 4 seed in his first NCAA Championships before the season was cut short by COVID-19.

“He’s really athletic,” Smith said. “If he uses his speed, his agility, he is a great wrestler with a really good future ahead of him.”

A highlight of last season was Wittlake first start at Gallagher-Iba Arena that his father made the trip halfway across the country to be in attendance for.

“When his wrestling career first started, our dream was to wrestle at Oregon State,” Wittlake Sr. told the Stillwater News Press. “It was pretty important for me (to be here). I’m sure he loved me being here.”

From Oregon State to Penn State to now Oklahoma State, Wittlake has been on a journey to find his fit at college. But he thinks that he has found it here in Stillwater.

As for this season, Wittlake wants to pick up where he left things off last year and summarized his goal for this year in four simple words.

“Win a national title.”