Raised to Takedown

Coming from a family of two legendary wrestlers, Heffernan makes a name for himself at CMU

Colin Heffernan could have done what everyone expected him to do. He made his own path instead.

Now he is one of Central Michigan’s top wrestlers. He sits at 23-5 this season, and is ranked No. 7 nationally and No. 2 in the Mid-American Conference in the 157-pound weight class.

Heffernan’s father, John, and uncle, Jim, were both standout wrestlers at Iowa.

The Heffernan’s connection with the sport began in Cleveland, where John, Jim and their oldest brother, Matt, were state champions at St. Edwards High School.

Matt went on to play football at Syracuse, Jim and John became stars for the Hawkeyes.

Jim wrestled from 1982-87, earning a record of 131-18-2. He won four Big Ten titles — all at 150 pounds — and was an All-American four times. He finished fourth in the nation in 1983, runner-up in 1985 and 1987 and NCAA champion in 1986.

He is currently in his eighth season as the head coach at Illinois and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006.

John wrestled at Iowa from 1984-89 where he was a Big Ten champion and a two-time All-American. He is currently an assistant coach on the St. Edwards staff.

As Colin grew up, John knew it was time to introduce his son to wrestling, but also left the door open for other sports.

“I never forced (Colin) to wrestle,” John said. “He played football, basketball and soccer when he was younger. I let him pick a sport. He wound up being good at wrestling, so he chose wrestling.”

Jim said because Colin was never pressured into the sport as a child, it allowed him to develop his own love for wrestling.

“I think (John) was really smart on how he raised Colin around the sport,” Jim said. “He had Colin come into high school practices when he was younger. Colin would wrestle around with the older guys and learn the sport that way. He didn’t get a lot of pressure from his dad.”

By junior high, Colin had traveled around the United States. By the time high school came around, the pressure ultimately began to build for him at St. Edwards because of his last name.

“There was pressure on him,” Jim said. “People assumed automatically he would have success.”

Colin had a successful wrestling career in high school, finishing fourth in the state tournament as a junior and third as a senior.

Colleges showed interest after his high school career. Jim wanted to bring his nephew to Illinois, but knew it wouldn’t be best for Colin.

“It was really difficult for me,” Jim said. “This sport gets very personal. Sometimes family and business don’t mix well. I don’t know if Colin coming to Illinois and being known as my nephew (would’ve be) the best thing."

Although his son didn't follow his or his brother's path, John said Colin made the right choice coming to CMU.

“I think it was a good thing for him starting his legacy somewhere else,” John said. “I would have loved for him to wrestle for my brother, but he needed to go out and do things on his own.”

Colin wanted to be a Chippewa.

“I thought it was the right fit for me,” Colin said. “I like the program. I love (CMU coach Tom) Borrelli. I thought it was the best situation wrestling wise and academic wise. It was the right-size school. The moment I stepped onto campus, I knew I wanted to come here.”

Borrelli said recruiting Colin was a humbling experience.

“The biggest thing was his dad’s reputation as a coach in the state of Ohio,” Borrelli said. “It was an honor to recruit his son and have him interested in our program.”

Jim said he was proud of Colin’s choice to become a Chippewa and create his own legacy.

“He can make a name for himself,” he said. “He can be out on his own, which I think is an important part of the educational process. He’s a great athlete, a great kid. Colin has made me a proud uncle.”

Having coached Colin for three years, Borrelli said that CMU was the right fit for "the kid from Cleveland."

“He’s getting a lot of attention here,” Borrelli said. “He’s one of the major guys in our program. Sometimes big schools aren’t for everyone. He’s become one of the leaders on our team. Central Michigan fits him well.”

More than 60 wins later, Colin has begun to focus on becoming a leader for the Chippewas on and off the mat.

“It’s a pretty big deal to me,” Colin said. “I try to lead by example in the (wrestling) room, be the hardest worker and push my teammates in the right direction. (Borrelli) talked to me this summer about taking that kind of role to be a leader. I think I have responded to that well.”