Hall of Famer, NCAA Champ takes over Florida Gulf Coast Wrestling
By Ron Lee
When the Florida Gulf Coast University wresting program hits the mats this year, they will have one of the greatest college wrestlers of all time on the sidelines.
Pat Milkovich, a two-time NCAA champion, has agreed to coach the club this season.
Milkovich won his two national championships at Michigan State in 1972 and '74. He joined the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2000.
The four-time All-American comes from a family of wrestling greats. According to wrestlingusa.com, his father, Mike Milkovich, is one of the top 10 greatest wrestling coaches ever.
His brother, Tom, also won a national title at Michigan State, and was a head coach at Auburn.
A former assistant at his alma mater, Milkovich moved to Fort Myers in 2003, but remained passionate about wrestling. He was originally unaware of the program at FGCU.
"I was helping South Fort Myers High School, but I was looking for a place to land," Milkovich said. "The college level is so much different because you can't convince these guys to quit. I see myself in these kids. They want to work hard and wrestle. I am glad to have the chance to give back."
Getting down to work is what these guys are all about.
Without a proper place to practice or equipment to use, the club had fallen on bad times. That changed this summer.
"We were kind of stuck," said FGCU wrestler Kenny Hird. "This year we are stepping up. There is a team effort, and we have a new facility. Everybody is pitching in."
The players and the university have combined to spend about \$10,000 this year on new equipment. The team also has a new home. They train at the Lion's Den gym, just a few minutes off campus.
With the recent addition of Milkovich, the wrestlers are excited about their prospects.
"He's the reason I know we will be national champions," Hird said. "I am looking forward to living the dream. I know myself and others always wanted to wrestle in college. Having a place to compete means something."
Younger guys such as freshman James Dellecove might not have had a chance before the big changes.
Dellecove has been wrestling since he was 5, but came to FGCU because he likes the campus and it was close to home.
"I wasn't considering wrestling, but after getting together with friends we decided it was really taking off here," he said. "Our goal is to make a big name for ourselves and go to the NCAA."
FGCU competes in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association along with other big programs in the South, including schools in the Southeastern Conference.
Because of Title IV issues, which deals with gender equality in sports, many bigger schools lost funding in the 1980s and decided to never return. It is a competitive league, and Milkovich is looking forward to the challenge.
He is passionate about the sport he loves, but more than anything he wants to impart the lessons he's learned in life onto the young men he is coaching. He is also aware of what's going on at FGCU.
"This is a fine university to be affiliated with," Milkovich said. "It's a great sports program. I want to see FGCU win at everything. It's not always about winning, though, it's about the lessons you learn, who you become. Someday that ‘no quit' will pay off for these kids."
Using words such as discipline, commitment and integrity, Milkovich is confident about the next phase of his career.
"Once you get involved with a group of people you're family," Milkovich said. "I think it's a great opportunity here at FGCU. We will see where it goes."
FGCU opens up with a preseason match at the University of Florida this weekend.
Students interested in joining can contact the club through the Campus Recreation website.