July 25, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Trent Paulson entered this world 20 minutes before his brother, Travis. “I won the first wrestling match,” Trent said last week, smiling.
Travis Paulson, however, made it to the University of Virginia first.
In late April, Travis agreed to leave Iowa State — he and his twin were assistants at their alma mater — to become part of head wrestling coach Steve Garland‘s staff at UVA. About a month later, after the unexpected departure of another Virginia assistant coach, Trent joined Travis in Charlottesville, and their offices in the wrestling suite at Onesty Hall are about 10 yards apart.
“This was a perfect situation,” Garland recalled, “because these guys wanted to stay together, and typically two jobs never open up on the same staff that quickly. For that to happen like that, we just felt like, `This is a no-brainer.’ “
Before they became coaches, the Paulsons, now 34, were exceptional wrestlers. In 2007, when Iowa State finished second at the NCAA championships, Trent won the 157-pound title and Travis placed fifth at 165 pounds.
Like UVA head baseball coach Brian O’Connor, the Paulsons grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska. (O’Connor graduated from Saint Albert High, the Paulsons from Lewis Central High.)
“Growing up, we accomplished a lot, and I don’t think we would have accomplished as much if we didn’t have each other,” Travis said. “Having a twin, [nearly the] same weight, same mindset, you’re always trying to one-up the other one, and when we wrestled each other, it was a war every time.”
During training sessions, Travis added, if “one of us thought the other one was slacking on sprints or something, we weren’t afraid to call each other out. So we didn’t accept anything but the other one’s best. Sometimes it was tough love, but it was love, and you knew deep down he wanted what was best for you.”
In their three seasons together as Iowa State assistants, the twins shared an office. Their competitive fires continued to blaze.
“If we were recruiting, Trent would be like, `Yeah, I talked to this recruit for an hour last night. I talked to his parents, this is his GPA, this is what he’s about. What the hell have you done lately?’ ” Travis said, laughing. “We keep pushing each other to do more. It’s just a great situation right now. I love working for Garland, and he represents all the right things. I’m already familiar with my brother.”
Trent said: “We’re brothers, so we’ll always knock heads every once in a while, but we feed off each other in the right way, and I feel like God blessed us with different strengths for reasons. Because when we combine them, it’s a pretty good chemistry.”
Garland, a UVA alumnus, is a twin, too. When the Paulsons first heard their future boss speak, in March at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast in Saint Louis, Garland talked at length about his personal struggles and those of his brother, Dan.
In the audience, Trent and Travis listened, rapt, to Garland’s message.
“It was memorable,” Trent said. “You go to a lot of those things, and you’re kind of looking at the clock and wondering, `When am I going to get out of here?’ But we were eating up every word and we could relate to it, and it was honest and it was pure and it was genuine, and his words were used to help others. It wasn’t just to make Steve Garland look like a cool dude, and we really liked that.
“We thought he’d be a hell of a guy to work for and win for, because he wants to win the right way, and he’s a genuine Christian, and he’s trying to build more than studs on the mat. He wants them to be champions in all areas of life.”
That Garland showed such vulnerability in public impressed the Paulsons.
“He had had a tough upbringing, and sometimes people wouldn’t want to talk about it,” Travis said. “He’ll go there, and he even got emotional on the stage a little bit. He’ll go there because he knows it can help somebody else. And it was motivational for me. I agreed with everything he said, and it reinforced some things I already thought, so it was really good.”
Garland, for his part, didn’t know the brothers personally, but he was aware of their exploits in the sport.
“They were huge prospects coming out of high school,” Garland said.
The twins’ personalities are not identical. “Travis is a little bit more reserved,” Trent said. “He’s a little bit more OCD in terms of organization, liking things a certain way.”
Travis said: “You never have to question what’s on my brother’s mind. It’s like if he thinks something, boom, he’s saying it. I’ll evaluate. I’m a little more calculating and [focused on] organization and planning. Trent’s more social.”
“They’re both really funny,” he said. “They’re both really smart. They’re both really, really good at their jobs. I’ve been around a lot of great wrestling guys, guys that are really good at the sport, but not all those guys can actually teach what they know.
“These guys are not just really accomplished guys — their rÃƒÆ’Â©sumÃƒÆ’Â© is a mile long — they actually can communicate what they know and [teach it] to the athlete so that the athlete gets it, and in a way that the athlete feels built up and encouraged, and not talked down to or confused.”
“Watching them, the way they break it down, the way they spend time with everybody in the [wrestling] room, that’s been huge for me. That’s their gift. For as good as they are, they’re some of the most humble guys I’ve met in a long time. They really enjoy their jobs.”
The Paulsons also have leading roles in the Cavalier Wrestling Club, which includes a USA Wrestling-sanctioned Regional Training Center where Olympic hopefuls will train while living in Charlottesville. Trent is the head coach, and Travis also coaches with the RTC.
“Right now we have one athlete,” Trent said, referring to Shelton Mack, a former Pitt standout who’s also a volunteer assistant at UVA. “The goal is to have seven: one for each weight.”
Both brothers still get out on the mat to drill with wrestlers, working with virtually every weight class.
“Some coaches are competitive, and I think sometimes when they’re wrestling someone lighter than them, they’ll use their weight [to dominate] in some positions,” Travis said. “When I wrestle someone lighter, if they do it correctly, I try to let them get it in and reinforce that they did it right, they can score. Because I’m retired. I don’t care if I give up points. I want to help these guys get to the next level.”
The Cavaliers are coming off a season in which they finished 15th at the NCAA championships and had two semifinalists for the first time ever. George DiCamillo was NCAA runner-up at 141 pounds, and Jack Mueller placed sixth at 125.
DiCamillo is now a graduate assistant at John Carroll University, where he’s pursuing an MBA, but Mueller, a rising sophomore, is back to lead the Wahoos.
Asked his impression of the UVA wrestlers he’s met this summer, Trent said, “It’s been a delightful change in culture, I’ll say that. Appreciation. Guys showing up on time. Seeking you out. You’re not talking guys into coming to extra [workouts]. They’re saying, `When can I work out again? When can you put me through this?’ They’re hungry, and they want to learn, and they seem to have the attitudes and desires of champions.”
Travis said: “Everyone on this team has a great head on their shoulders. When you shake their hand, they look you in the eye. They have great gratitude after every workout and say, `Thanks, Coach.’ The type of guys that are a part of this program are the type of guys that you can be proud of, and that’s a product that UVA wrestling is producing, and that’s something you can respect.”
He had the option of joining the new staff at Iowa State, Travis said, but he chose to come to UVA, in part because he felt so strongly about Garland’s core values.
“I love how he rewards academic excellence, accountability, work ethic,” Travis said. “He rewards all the right things.”
Travis knew little about the University before meeting Garland, but he learned quickly.
“Once I told people I was going to be checking out Virginia, they were like, `Whoa, that’s a great academic school,’ ” Travis recalled. “So I started doing research, and when I came [to visit] I was blown away.”
He said as much to his brother, who was initially skeptical when Travis raved about UVA and Charlottesville.
“I thought he was just blowing smoke when he was saying how beautiful the campus is,” Trent said, “but when I actually came for the interview process, I was like, `For once he wasn’t pulling my leg.’ “