With a 15-member roster encompassing all 10 collegiate weight classes, coach Mike Miller has Life on the verge of making some serious noise at the NAIA level. In three meets so far this season, several wrestlers are proving the time is now for Life to embrace one of its newest teams.
“We have guys that have come from all over to be a part of this program,” Miller said. “Most are from south Georgia and metro Atlanta, but we have a guy from Ohio, one from New Jersey and a wrestler from New York on the team as well.
“It’s a really great mix of classes, with no seniors, and the rest are juniors, sophomores and freshmen. I’ve been really happy with the way the team has competed each weekend since the season started. There’s still some more work that needs to be done, but I feel like we have some guys that will get to nationals and get all-American honors. I believe in setting our goals high, and this group believes in that too.”
Life crowned its first individual champion right out of the gate when junior Trey Hicks won the 197-pound title at the Citadel Open in Charleston, S.C. — the Running Eagles’ first event of the year.
That success carried over to the following week at the Patriot Open in Williamsburg, Ky., as Hicks placed second and Oliver Brukardt, Jason Fraser, Jeff Drever and Dillan Schouw each placed fifth.
In Life’s most recent competition, the King College Open in Bristol, Tenn., Hicks was third at 184 pounds, while Schouw placed second at 141 pounds after beating Newberry’s B.J. Young — a two-time NCAA Division II national runner-up — with a pin in the semifinals.
Hicks, a junior from Georgia, along with Brukardt (157 pounds), a sophomore from New Jersey, and Fraser (165), a junior from New York, are the captains at Life.
“These guys set the tone,” Miller said. “Hicks is beating (NCAA) Division I guys sometimes, and Oliver and is one of the hardest workers. He’s made big strides in technique and mindset and drives people in practice.”
Fraser has also worked hard, according to Miller, and while Schouw had a rough start in the beginning, he also has hit his stride. Drever a sophomore from Georgia, is a wrestler that surprised Miller early in the season and “could do something special” for the team by the end of the year.
Miller’s wrestlers all had high school wrestling experience before they came to Life. When he was hired in June to lead the Running Eagles’ program, Miller quickly jumped on the recruiting trail and made some contacts to build the team.
“I got as many guys as I could from my previous junior college to join me here,” he said, “and I talked to some local coaches and worked with Team Georgia to find talent and build relationships.”
Life practices every weekday, working on technique, weight-training and running. The most difficult part of what Miller has gone through has been starting the team. Getting wrestling mats and recruits was the top priority, but now that the season has started, and Life is showing signs of success, Miller’s is looking forward to what the future holds.
“It’s about growing the program,” he said. “I’m thinking about a roster with 45 to 50 wrestlers. I have to go out there and get more recruits, expand the schedule and get the team to be the best it can be. Dealing with these guys is probably the easiest part of the job. They have a great attitude and want to get better every day.”
Life will hold its first home meet of the season Dec. 8 against Shorter University.