Mitch McKee wrestling Joey McKenna at the NCAAs (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
Mitch McKee can see it from his house.
The bright purple lights that glow at night from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
It's the place where his beloved Minnesota Vikings play.
And the place where he hopes to cap his collegiate career with an NCAA wrestling championship.
"Having the 2020 NCAA tournament there is going to be amazing," McKee said. "I will have a lot of family and friends there, and it's going to be incredible having nationals in that stadium. It's going to be awesome to finish my career there."
Mitch McKee gets his hand raised after win at the Big Ten Championships in Minneapolis (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
McKee starts his senior season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers ranked No. 4 by InterMat at 141 pounds.
McKee placed sixth nationally at 141 pounds last season after bumping up a weight class from 133 pounds. He compiled a 24-8 record as a junior.
"My career has definitely gone by fast," McKee said. "It doesn't feel like it's been that long. It's been amazing, being a part of this wrestling program and this university. I like the way it has turned out so far."
McKee has found the perfect fit at the University of Minnesota during an emotional time for the close-knit McKee family.
Mitch McKee hugs his father Steve after claiming a state title in 2014 (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)McKee's father, Steve, lost his battle with cancer in 2014. A few months before Steve died, he shared one final magical, heartfelt moment with his son when Mitch won a Minnesota state high school title.
Mitch hugged his father following the win before the wrestler he pinned in the finals, Malik Stewart, also came over to hug McKee's father.
The sellout crowd at the Xcel Energy Center stood and rewarded both wrestlers with a standing ovation.
The inspirational story drew national attention.
When Mitch became an NCAA All-American for the first time in 2019, his thoughts immediately flashed to one person.
"Every time I think about wrestling, I think about my father," Mitch said. "When I became an All-American, I thought about all of the sacrifices my parents made for me and my brother (Patrick). They took us all over the country to compete. If there was a big tournament, we were going. They invested a lot of time and money in us. You don't realize that when you're a little kid, but looking back I really appreciate what they did for us."
Mitch (top right) and Patrick with mother Nina and father SteveMcKee said his father is never far from his thoughts.
"Everything I do reminds me of our relationship," Mitch said. "Wrestling, going hunting, going fishing -- those were all things we enjoyed doing together. My father brought a lot of inspiration and motivation to my life. He showed great character. He was a great person and the way he treated others was impressive."
McKee's mother, Nina, continues to provide stability for their family.
"My mom, she's our rock," Mitch said. "Her support has been awesome. She kept us going after everything that happened with my dad. She's done a lot for us. I can't thank her enough. My mom's always been there for us."
McKee has continued to thrive on the mat. His wrestling style is entertaining. He can score points in bunches with an aggressive style.
He has recorded 25 career falls, leading his team in that category each of the past three seasons.
"That's my mindset when I go out there," he said. "I want to score as many points for my team as I can. I work hard and try to go for a pin. That's the mentality I've always had."
McKee is part of a strong Minnesota team that is ranked in the top ten.
"We really like the team we have," he said. "We have some veterans and we have some good young guys in our lineup. We think this team has the potential to win a trophy at the NCAA tournament this season."
McKee's brother, Patrick, also is expected to contend for a starting spot for the Gophers this winter. He is a freshman who competes at 125 pounds.
"I'm very excited to have my brother in the lineup," Mitch said. "I had some good mentors when I came to Minnesota and I will help him and mentor Patrick as much as I can. He lives in the same house with me and we're very close. It's great having him on the team with me."
Mitch McKee has thrived in the classroom as well, being honored by the National Wrestling Coaches Association and the Big Ten for his academic achievements.
Mitch McKee won a silver medal in freestyle at the 2017 Junior World Championships (Photo/Marion Stein, UWW)
McKee also has excelled in the international style of freestyle. He was a silver medalist at the Junior World Championships in 2017.
"I definitely plan on continuing to wrestle freestyle after college," he said. "I have had some good success and freestyle is my best style. I'm excited about pursuing it full-time after college."
Before he pursues his freestyle aspirations, McKee has one final goal he wants to achieve in college.
And with the 2020 NCAA Championships being held at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the stage will be set for him to finish in style.
"I'm really looking forward to the opportunity," McKee said. "Going out and winning it would be the perfect way to end my career. Being at home, would make it that much more special.
Mitch McKee gets in on a shot against Peter Lipari of Rutgers (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
No matter how he finishes, Mitch McKee knows one member of his family who will always be in his corner.
"My dad was always there to support us in everything we did and that will always stay with me," McKee said. "He always wanted the best for me and our family. He always told us to work hard and follow our dreams. I wish he could be there, but I know he would be proud of me."
This story also appears in the Oct. 25 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.