St. Charles friends Chumbley, Benjamin ready to make a difference for NU wrestling
In college wrestling, being "unattached" has nothing to do with your love life. It's a common designation for freshmen who redshirt.
Trevor Chumbley and Justin Benjamin, good friends from St. Charles and in their second season of wrestling together at Northwestern, were listed as "unattached" wrestlers last year for the Wildcats.
But instead of sitting idly for a year of lost competition -- like redshirt freshmen in most other sports -- Chumbley and Benjamin, along with the other redshirt freshmen, got to compete in more than 20 sanctioned open tournaments, not as Wildcats but as simply themselves.
The "unattacheds" made their own way to matches and paid for hotels, meals and entry fees. They even communicated via their own group text separate from their Northwestern teammates. It was titled "Team Unattached."
"The transition from high school to college is a lot different in wrestling than in other sports. There's a lot more maturing and learning that you have to do," said Chumbley, a two-time state champion at Marmion.
"Most freshmen redshirt. An 18-year-old old kid trying to wrestle a 23-year-old man isn't a great situation. But you still need that mat time.
"This is what happens in the NCAA with redshirt freshmen in wrestling. That first year is a commitment to learning and maturing."
It was also quite a financial commitment by the "unattached" and their parents.
But the experiences were priceless in the eyes of Benjamin and Chumbley, who felt a little déjà vu during their "unattached" excursions to open tournaments last year.
The two grew up wrestling for the same kids club team, St. Charles North, where Chumbley's dad Jeff, a former wrestler at NIU, was a coach. The team, which serves second graders to eighth graders, competed every weekend and traveled all over the state and occasionally out of state, kind of like the "unattached" wrestlers at Northwestern do.
"Last year, we were going to Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and one of our parents would usually rent a big van, and we'd all travel together and share hotel rooms. It was a fun year, and it was a good investment for our future selves," said Benjamin, a state champion at St. Charles East.
"I definitely benefited from it. The only thing I missed was being able to compete for Northwestern. But I still got to compete."
Now, one year later, Chumbley, who competes in the 149-pound weight class, and Benjamin, who competes at 141 pounds, are ready to vie for starting spots as part of the Wildcats who are considered "attached."
No. 21 Northwestern began its COVID-19 delayed 2021 season last Friday at No. 16 Purdue, a 28-8 loss.
Chumbley got a win in one of the nonstarting matches, while Benjamin did not make the trip but is ready for the next one.
"I learned a lot from last year," Chumbley said. "Competing in open tournaments, you learn the differences between high school and college. And at practice, it was great being around a team with older guys. We got to pick their brains and see their approach."
Benjamin calls that "unattached" year a "year of absorption."
"Last year was a lot of witnessing," Benjamin said. "We got to learn what it takes to be a starter for your team, a Big Ten champion and a national champion."
At those open tournaments last year, Chumbley and Benjamin often met up in the bracket against starters from Top 10 programs. Sometimes, they faced their starting teammates at Northwestern.
Northwestern, a nationally-ranked team, has produced Big Ten champions and All-Americans, such as Sebastian Rivera, Ryan Deakin and Yahya Thomas, who is currently ranked nationally.
Chumbley and Benjamin are behind the likes of Deakin and Thomas on the depth chart, but both believe they can be just as successful soon.
"I don't know when it will happen, but it will happen," Benjamin said of the potential of winning a national championship. "I have the confidence and faith and optimism in myself to think like that. Wrestling is a very mental sport. If you don't think like that, you'll have no chance, and you have to give yourself a chance."
And with possibly six years of college wrestling to work with (thanks to an added year all wrestlers will get from the NCAA due to COVID-19), Benjamin and Chumbley will have plenty of chances.
"My goal is get into the starting lineup this year and then I'll still have four years left," Chumbley said. "Then the goal is to be a national champion. There's a lot of steps in between, but I think it's realistic. I want to have no regrets."