By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - Being a student-athlete isn't easy. Often days begin before the sun rises for early-morning lifts followed by a few hours of classes. Once class is over, student-athletes head straight to practice before finishing the evening doing schoolwork during their study hall time.
If that isn't difficult enough, imagine using whatever free time that's left over to practice and condition for a second sport at Penn State. For freshman wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer and senior wrestler Matt McCutcheon, this is a reality.
"Especially for being a division I athlete, I think it's extremely tough [to balance multiple sports]," outfielder Jordan Bowersox said. "They're missing a lot of what we do because their main focus is football or wrestling, whatever it is. It's extremely tough. I can't imagine any free time they have, which they probably don't. For me, I'm busy all the time and I only play one sport. I can't even imagine what it's like for them."
Hippenhammer joined the Penn State baseball roster at the beginning of the spring semester after the conclusion of the 2017 football season.
McCutcheon, the 197-pound wrestler from Apollo, Pennsylvania played baseball and wrestled while growing up, but stopped playing baseball after his sophomore year of high school to solely focus on wrestling. Now as a senior in college, McCutcheon is returning to the diamond as a catcher. With returning starter Ryan Sloniger and transfer Shea Sbranti listed as the only other catchers on the roster, McCutcheon could easily see some time behind the plate.
Being a dual athlete means having to work equally as hard at two separate sports. With McCutcheon also in the middle of wrestling season, his schedules are slightly overlapping. After he completes a day of wrestling practice, workouts and classes, McCutcheon texts Sloniger, who seems to be taking the newly-acquired catcher under his wing, to meet to go through baseball workouts and drills to better prepare him for the upcoming baseball season.
"That obviously makes for long days for him because we have study hours and everything that we have to go to after practice," Sloniger said. "We'll come in [to practice] for a couple hours after everything else, after he's done with his wrestling practice and I'm done with my lifting and baseball practice. I could not imagine juggling two sports."
"[Mc]Cutch[eon]'s first responsibility here is wrestling. Mac's first responsibility is football, but both of them are valued members of our program," Cooper said. "Being a student-athlete is hard if you play one sport, but playing two sports and balancing that and then also being really good students like both Mac and Matt are, then you know you're talking about some people who are really going to have to balance their time and have to sacrifice a lot."
Sacrificing time is not the only challenge these multi-sport athletes will have to face. The team has already completed an entire fall season where all of the returning Nittany Lions met and got to know all of the newcomers.
At this time of the year, the team is starting to build a chemistry with all its new members. For both Hippenhammer and McCutcheon, it's not as simple. With their other sports causing them to be dedicated to another team throughout the fall season, they have to work harder at getting to know and establish relationships with their new teammates in their spare time.
"I haven't really seen him [Hippenhammer] much, he's not in my individual group or anything so I haven't gotten to know him too well," Bowersox said. "Matt, he's a good guy. He's always bringing stories over from wrestling that helps us out with the mental game. He's an awesome guy. They are both awesome guys. I am excited to get to know them better."
It may be difficult to balance both sports, but both Hippenhammer and McCutcheon seem to be up for the challenge. The athleticism that will be brought to the team in these two student-athletes can only be an advantage for the Nittany Lions.
Plus, Cooper has stressed that this year the team is focusing on building a better mindset, values and culture for this program and he thinks having athletes from two other very successful programs can only help his team this season.
"They both come from really great cultures on our campus," Cooper said. "The culture that coach Franklin's building there in football, the way they handle things, the way they compete on a day in and day out basis and obviously the culture that Cael Sanderson and the wrestling program has. Having those two guys who can really add to [the culture of this program] and can really talk from an experience of having to be successful at the highest level, that really brings a lot of value to our team."