Casa Grande graduate Donovan Halpin worked to make college dream come true

By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Casa Grande graduate Donovan Halpin recently wrapped up a distinguished collegiate wrestling career at Stanford, a school he thought he was a longshot to get into. (Photo by Hector Garcia-Molina)

Casa Grande graduate Donovan Halpin recently wrapped up a distinguished collegiate wrestling career at Stanford, a school he thought he was a longshot to get into. (Photo by Hector Garcia-Molina)

It turns out that Casa Grande High graduate Donovan Halpin found a fool-proof play for making life’s dreams come true.

First, you work and work and work some more to make the dream come true.

“I didn’t really have a social life in high school,” the current Stanford student remembers. “I’d come home and do my homework first thing. I did it first thing on Fridays before I did anything else. All that I really did was focus on academics, work out and wrestle.”

Halpin, an outstanding student, applied to a variety of top colleges. He didn’t have much hope to get into the school he most wanted to attend.

“Stanford was my dream school,” he said. “I hadn’t been recruited by any college coaches. I went to a wrestling camp before my senior year, but that’s really all that I could do to get noticed.”

Second, you prepare and plan in the event that the dream doesn’t come true.

The California Interscholastic Federation wrestling tournament led Halpin to believe the wrestling career he’d worked so hard at had come to an end after his senior year at Casa. The only college with a wrestling team that he’d not heard from was Stanford, so he prepared for life without the sport.

“It was bittersweet to have the state meet end. I thought that was it for wrestling,” Halpin said. “I’d gotten to state, but I’d gotten turned down by the colleges I applied for that had wrestling. So, I was ready to go to UCLA. And, UCLA doesn’t even have a wrestling team. I was figuring I’d go to Los Angeles and, maybe, try to find a high school where I could help coach wrestling while I was at UCLA.”

That’s when Halpin was confronted with the opportunity to make his dream come true.

Stanford accepted him.

“I don’t know what Stanford saw in me. Stanford wants people who can do great things,” Halpin said. “I don’t know what they saw in me. I’m not that guy with the highest grades or the highest of the highest college entrance exam test scores. I’m a guy who knows that, if I put my mind to something, I can accomplish it. But, I didn’t think I had what it takes to get accepted by Stanford.”

One obstacle remained and it was, arguably, the one most difficult to clear.

Stanford had a wrestling program, but the coaches had no interest in Halpin. He was outstanding at Casa Grande, but that didn’t impress head coach Jason Borelli.

“Donovan contacted us and we tried to talk him out of walking on and trying to wrestle here,” Borelli told Stanfordgo.com. “We saw him on video from high school and didn’t feel he was anything special. But, he insisted he was going to be part of our program.”

Halpin persisted and became a much-respected Stanford co-captain to highlight a brilliant four-year wrestling career at Stanford.

He and his Stanford teammates hosted the Pac-12 Conference tournament Sunday at Maples Pavilion. Halpin, wrestling at 149 pounds, lost to Oregon State’s Scott Sakaguchi in the conference quarterfinals, 10-1. Halpin fell to Arizona’s Preston McCalmon, 2-0, in overtime to finish in fourth place overall.

Once Halpin was on campus, he was faced with the academic challenge that Stanford presents every freshman.

“The transition from high school to college is huge. The transition for freshmen at Stanford is huge,” Halpin said. “Math is my best subject. It just came easily in high school. I never had to ask for help. I remember taking Math 51 as a freshman and getting a C. That was the first C I’d ever gotten. I was blown away. But, I realized, I wasn’t a big fish in a small pond. Every kid on campus was as smart and probably smarter than I was. I just had to have faith in the admissions people. They thought I belonged at Stanford.”

Halpin faced one more major obstacle that nearly derailed his dream. Just days into his freshman wrestling season, the dream of wrestling in any Pac-12 tournament seemed to die.

Halpin broke his ankle when wrestling practice started that first season and spent the first 2½ months trying to make a place for himself without being able to get on the mat.

“There aren’t cuts in wrestling. The practices are just so incredibly grueling that guys cut themselves,” Halpin said. “If you’re out there getting beat up and thrown around every single day, what’s the point? That’s when guys give up and quit. So, I actually think the injury helped me.”

I would watch and listen while coaches taught technique,” Halpin said. “There were lots of guys out injured on the sidelines, for different reasons. When the guys on the mat started wrestling, I’d do push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, bench push-ups and anything else I could do. Then, I started organizing the other injured wrestlers to go through the same workout I was doing. The guys on the mat were working so hard. We should’ve been working hard, too.”

Halpin knew he had to get bigger and stronger to succeed as a freshman. He knew he needed to adapt to college wrestling.

“The moves are the same as in high school. They just come faster and more sharply,” he said. “I realized really quick that I needed to get way bigger and stronger. The injury allowed me to understand college wrestling and to get stronger. If I’d been on the mat getting thrown around for 2½ months, who knows? I might’ve quit.”

Two weeks after Halpin was cleared to wrestle in his freshman year, he was in the lineup and won a major decision against Arizona State at 149 pounds.

“I can’t imagine my life without having come to Stanford,” said Halpin, who starts weight training at 6 a.m. daily and doesn’t get to bed until after he finishes his homework 14 hours later. “I have no idea what would have happened if I had gotten accepted and had this wrestling experience.”

You can reach Ted Sillanpaa at 526-8623 or ted.sillanpaa@pressdemocrat.com.

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