InterMat Reads: Giant Killer: The Carlton Haselrig Story

The nation's first -- and only -- six-time NCAA wrestling champion. Pennsylvania high school state champ (despite being from a school without a wrestling program). NFL All-Pro offensive guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. One of just fifteen named to the NCAA 75th Anniversary team as one of the greatest college wrestlers since 1928.

All of these accomplishments just scratch the surface of the life and career of Carlton Haselrig. Now the all-time great amateur wrestler/pro football star shares his story -- the good and the bad -- in the new book, "Giant Killer: The Carlton Haselrig Story" by Haselrig and Kevin Emily, now available from

Meet the authors

Carlton Haselrig is one of the most accomplished wrestlers-turned-pro football players. Born in Johnstown, Pa. in 1966, Haselrig played football as a kid in his uncle's backyard then at Greater Johnstown High School, where he also took up wrestling and participated in various wrestling tournaments on his own, as there was no official wrestling team at the school. Despite those challenges, Haselrig won a state title at the 1984 PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) wrestling championships.

To continue his mat career, Haselrig stayed close to home. As a student-athlete at NCAA Division II University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, he finished in third place in the heavyweight bracket as a freshman at the 1986 NCAA D2 championships. As a sophomore, Haselrig started his title drive, going on to win both the Division I and Division II titles in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, for a total of six championships.

How did Haselrig become the only wrestler to win more than four NCAA titles? Before 1990, individual champs of the Division II and Division III wrestling championships automatically qualified for the Division I championships. This made it possible for Haselrig to win two titles in one year. After Haselrig earned his six NCAA titles, the Division I Wrestling Committee voted to change the rules, no longer allowing Division II and III champions to compete at the D1 championships.

After graduating from UPJ, Carlton Haselrig launched his pro football career as an offensive guard with the Pittsburgh Steelers ... despite never having played the sport while in college. After four seasons at the Steelers -- and one with the New York Jets -- Haselrig retired from the NFL because of off-field issues (which he has since overcome).

Kevin Emily was born in South Carolina ... but he grew up in one of the hottest of the nation's amateur wrestling hotbeds, Waterloo, Iowa ... hometown of the one and only Dan Gable. Emily wrestled in Waterloo, then at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, before launching his own teaching and coaching career in his native South Carolina. His passion for the sport continues beyond coaching to include sharing the stories about highly accomplished wrestlers ... like Carlton Haselrig.

What's with the title?

The title "Giant Killer" did not come from Kevin Emily. Nor is it the result of a focus group, or a brainstorming session at a publishing house or advertising agency. Instead, it is the product of Carlton Haselrig himself.

"I like 'Giant Killer' because my whole life I've had to slay the bigger opponents, ya know," Haselrig disclosed in the book of the same name. "When I was in high school, it was winning State without a high school team; in college, I was going up against bigger guys, and then I had to win the D1s coming from a smaller school. Even with the Steelers, I was going against guys bigger than me. Plus not playing college football and all."

How "Giant Killer" came together

Author Kevin Emily shared the story of how the new book about Carlton Haselrig came together.

Carlton Haselrig and Kevin Emily at a book signing in Pittsburgh
"It started with Pathfinder Vol. 1, the journey and struggles of African-American wrestlers," Emily told InterMat. "I interviewed Carlton for that book. Funniest thing -- I sent that chapter to Carlton for his review, but instead heard back from his wife Michelle. She really liked it."

"Carlton asked her to ask me to write his entire life story."

"Michelle asked me, 'Would you like to come to Johnstown, meet with him and his friends?'"

"I drove up two years ago," Emily continued. "Spent eight days there. Walked all over town, talked to his high school coach, his college coach (Pat Pecora at University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown), even interviewed writers at the local newspaper."

"I started letting it all soak in, and the story came together in my mind."

"I wrote from the perspective of being there."

"Carlton had said, 'The book needs to tell all of the story -- the good, the bad and the ugly.'"

"I decided I should work to get it ready for the 2019 NCAAs in Pittsburgh," Kevin Emily continued. "It was presented at the WIN Fan Fest."

"When people read this book, they'll see how he had it all and then threw it away. His life was a rollercoaster. Then, finally, he put his life back together. He kept fighting for himself, his wife, his family."

The whole process -- gathering information, and the actual writing of "Giant Killer" -- took one year, eight months to complete, according to Kevin Emily, describing it as a "long-time, long-term investment."

"There are things in this book that have never been told before," Emily continued. "Carlton waited until he thought it was time to tell his story. I never thought in a million years I'd have this opportunity."

"It was a tremendous honor to help tell Carlton Haselrig's story."

"The book is about being a successful human being."

Kevin Emily's latest book "Giant Killer: The Carlton Haselrig Story" continues the coach/author's career of sharing the stories of successful, ground-breaking individuals in amateur wrestling ... as demonstrated in his first two books, "Pathfinder I" and "Pathfinder II" which told the stories of pioneering African-Americans in the sport. As with those earlier books, "Giant Killer" does a great job of telling a story about a notable individual in an informative, honest, truly compelling way. Emily has a strong ability to share Haselrig's story -- not just the successes, but past troubles as well -- in a way that is appropriate for readers of any age, whether they are in grade school ... or last stepped onto a mat decades ago.

What's next

It's not surprising to learn that Kevin Emily is already at work on his fourth book.

"My next book is 'King of the Mat'" the high school coach/author told InterMat. "It'll tell the stories of great high school wrestling coaches such as Russ Cozart (Brandon High in Florida) and Bob Siddens (late, legendary coach at Waterloo West in Iowa where Emily himself wrestled and later coached).

"I plan to have the book available by the beginning of the 2019 high school wrestling season -- Thanksgiving time," said Emily.

"I want to keep sharing knowledge," coach Emily continued. "I try to inform people. I want to let people know what's so great about wrestling and the people who are involved in it."

"I want to give back to the sport that did so much for me."

To order "Giant Killer: The Carlton Haselrig Story" -- along with Kevin Emily's earlier books "Pathfinder: Vol. I" and "Pathfinder: Vol. II" -- visit coach Emily's official website,


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