NCAA Champ Craig Becker Working for Success
The 2010-2011 wrestling season is under way at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and Craig Becker is still part of the team. The difference is, last year's NCAA Division II national champion at 149 pounds is now an assistant coach, helping the current Rangers succeed.
"A big difference between coaching and competing is that I now have to worry about getting 25 guys ready to compete instead of just one," Craig said. "Also, I did not realize how many details coaches have to take care of. Things such as setting up practice schedules, recruiting, making sure that our guys are taking care of their academics, trip preparations and many other things. I do enjoy the challenge of trying to bring out the best in each of our wrestlers."
Craig grew up in a wrestling family in Hartford, Wis. "My dad (Scott) started wrestling in high school. He just loved the sport and got all of his kids into it," Craig said. "And my mom was always there in the corner with the video camera."
Back in 1975, Scott Becker placed fourth in the Wisconsin state wrestling tournament. Craig's older brothers, Brad and Kyle, also wrestled for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and head coach Jim Koch. Brad earned an NCAA Division II national championship as a junior and Kyle was an All-American. His younger brother, Nick, is a junior at Hartford High School and one of the top wrestlers in the state. Nick placed third in the state tournament as a freshman and fourth as a sophomore. Craig's sister, Andrea, is a junior at UW-Whitewater. While she may not have had aspirations to be a wrestler, Craig said she was often involved in the family scuffles.
"Growing up we did a lot of wrestling around in the living room, and then dad got us the mat in the basement." Craig recalled. The family matches could, at times, get a bit out of hand. That usually meant the kids were sent outside to do chores. "One of the life lessons I learned," Craig said, "is you have to work for what you get."
The wrestling caravan that brought the Becker family to UW-Parkside can be traced to Craig's cousin Kelly Becker who wrestled for Koch in the early 1990s. "My oldest brother, Brad, found out about Parkside from Kelly. Then it trickled down to the rest of us," Craig said. "I already knew the coaches and most of the guys on the team so I decided to come here, and I'm glad I did."
Craig is a fifth-year senior pursuing a communication major. "I'm graduating this semester but I think I'll stick around because I want to stay with the sport," he said. Craig's long-term goal is to coach wrestling at the collegiate level.
"I think the athletes at the college level are more dedicated," Craig said. "And you don't have a lot of the hassle of trying to get kids motivated or dealing with the parents who want their kids in certain positions."
As an assistant coach, Craig helps freshmen wrestlers make the transition from high school to collegiate competition. "Wrestling in college, you're going to be wrestling a lot of state champs," Craig said. "If you want to be one of the top guys?90 percent is up to you. Your coaches are going to help out and your teammates will help push you, but if you don't have the right mindset and you don't want to work hard and accomplish goals, then I don't think you're going to be successful."
Craig knows that a little motivation helps on the road to success. Each day at practice, he would see his brother Brad's picture on the wall as an NCAA national champion. "I wanted to be right up there next to him," Craig said. "But I think it didn't really hit home until my junior year when I really believed in myself, I didn't see any doubts come into my mind."
During his junior year, Craig went undefeated until his semifinal match at the NCAA nationals. He lost a close contest to Esai Dominguez of the University of Nebraska-Omaha. "It's hard when you're ranked number one," Craig said of that match, "there's a little more pressure on you."
That pressure didn't go away as a senior when the last person standing in the way of a national championship turned out to be, once again, Dominguez. "My finals match was a nail-biter," Craig recalled. "I didn't enjoy wrestling him because I knew it was going to be a grind."
Craig beat Dominguez during the regional competition and had watched him for what seemed like endless hours on tape. "I knew what shots he was going to take and that helped," Craig said. "My coaches were always showing me different angles to take."
In the end, Craig scored a 4-3 decision and realized his goal of putting a second Becker picture on the Rangers' national-championship wall. Craig's accomplishment came as little surprise to Koch, who calls his most recent national champ one of the most focused and hard-working athletes he has ever coached.
"What ultimately made Craig a champion and separated him from most other athletes I've coached is that he did not take any shortcuts or allow distractions to get in his way," Koch said. "Craig was totally focused last year on winning a national championship. He probably should have won the title as a junior, so he didn't want to let his last opportunity get away. He set a great example for what it takes to be a champion. I think he has the ability to be just as good a coach as he was a competitor - he's been a great addition to our coaching staff."
Wrestling may be an individual sport, but Craig is quick to credit his success to others, especially Koch, who has led the Rangers wrestling program since 1970. Koch is the only head wrestling coach the Rangers have ever had.
"Coach Koch puts a lot of work into building a winning program," Craig said. "He's just as much a friend of yours as he is your coach. I plan on being his friend for a long time to come.
"I've said it before but what makes this program so successful is the coaches. Coach Koch and assistant coach (Gregg) Lewis both make a huge impact."
And then there's the support of Craig's family. "I don't think my mom and dad, or brothers have missed a single college match," Craig said. "If I didn't have that, none of this success would have meant nearly as much."