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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Big Ten Leaders and Legends: Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin)

    Leaders and Legends was the name of the Divisions that the B1G chose to represent the two halves of their football conference. With teams being added, and conference expansion being a big thing, it appears these two Divisions are about to be shuffled around and we have the risk of losing the names of the Divisions. I aim to have them live on in my coverage of the B1G. 

    First of all, with emerging Badger leader Dean Hamiti. I remember Dean Hamiti immediately jumping onto the scene two years ago for the Badgers at 165. It was interesting because he appeared to be the brown-haired version of the tall, thin, 165 that they had previously. This is not meant to be a negative comment towards either of those athletes so please don’t read it with any hidden agenda. Simply remarking on their physical resemblance and that they both wrestled for the University of Wisconsin. That being said, Dean quickly had everyone learn his name, and distinguish himself as his own person and a presence on the National scene at that weight.

    Another place where Dean had a quick and lasting impact, was within his own wrestling room. After placing sixth in the country at 165 as a freshman, Dean was named one of the captains in just his sophomore season with Wisconsin. Dean backed that preseason honor up by winning a B1G Title and getting back on the podium at 165 in what was arguably the deepest weight class in the country. With Dean entering this third season with the Badgers, and transitioning into those “upperclassmen” years, I wanted the chance to talk with Dean about what being a leader means to him. We also talk about who has had an impact on him in his career, as a coach and a teammate. Also, I wasn’t going to finish this conversation without talking about competing in the B1G and his style.

    I was a captain of my high school team as a senior (one of three captains, nbd), and I remember talking with my coach and co-captains about what that meant. I was always a lead-by-example sort of a guy, and I was going to go to all of the optional workouts, pick people up to make it to those workouts and drop them off if they needed rides. It was just how I lead. I had never considered other ways to have an impact on my team and to help everyone get better. So since then, I’ve always enjoyed learning about how other people can have impacts (positively or negatively in some cases) on the people they’re around. Having and cultivating leadership skills is not as common as I would have thought growing up, so I feel there’s a responsibility to use them for good. It turns out Spider-Man’s uncle was right. With great power comes great responsibility.

    So back to Dean. After introducing him to why I wanted to do this, I got right into it and asked him about the best leader he has been around in his career. “Definitely Coach (Jon) Reader. He’s awesome, has a great attitude, he’s always there when you need him, and he brings his full effort every day. He supports us through anything, not just wrestling. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve had throughout my career.” This is no surprise to me, based on his frequency of inspirational tweets every day. Not to mention having interviewed him in the past, he’s just as consistent as they come. Let’s play two truths and a lie. One of these things isn’t true regarding Jon Reader:

    1. He once ran a 50-mile race.

    2. His High School team had 3 eventual NCAA Champions on the same team at one point.

    3. He went base jumping, despite a fear of heights.

    The lie was 1, because he has once run a 50-mile race, and another time run a 100-mile race (so I guess technically that’s three 50-mile races, but one of them back-to-back). Fortunately for us, in my attempt to confirm these details, I was able to get a quote from Coach Reader on Dean Hamiti as a leader. “He’s an incredible leader that leads by example EVERY SINGLE DAY! His passion and relentless pursuit of becoming the very best version of HIMSELF are both contagious and inspiring to his teammates. I’m very proud of him and honored to be in his corner.” The quote was in a text, so I kept the all caps in. Regarding #2 above, the NCAA Champions were Brent Metcalf (Iowa), and Paul Donahoe (Nebraska), to go along with Jon when he won at Iowa State.

    Anyway, back to Dean. Next, I wanted to know which of his teammates has displayed strong leadership skills. “Eric Barnett has been an awesome teammate for me through everything. Wrestling-wise, advice-wise, and just as a friend. He is always there supporting us, motivating us before workouts, after workouts, telling us to do the right things and keeping us accountable throughout our season and off season.”

    That is a nice transition to the accountability piece. That’s a piece that routinely comes up whenever I speak to college coaches, and certainly something that has such a lasting impact, depending on the degree to which athletes are remaining accountable. So we are in agreement on the fact that accountability is a key component of being a strong leader, but I wanted to know which other characteristics are important for strong leaders to have and display. “Discipline for sure, because if you say you are a leader, but you aren’t disciplined then that one’s really hard to listen to. Motivation, being able to stand up there and talk and motivate your teammates is a really good one. Being open-minded also. Someone might not do things the same way as you, so you kind of have to adapt to their style and make sure that you can still help them in their own way. Those three are discipline, motivation, and having an open mind.”

    At the risk of sounding redundant, Dean has had a strong impact right away with his B1G Freshman of the Year award, and being named a captain as a sophomore, and winning a B1G title. Other than that though, I wanted to learn from Dean what he wanted his lasting impact to be on the team with how he leads. “When I first got there it was really, led by example, through hard work and having the other guys see me. I want to start to be more vocal during practice. So right now we are really working on technique and perfecting areas with our wrestling. So I want to step up and show my teammates my style, so they can pick and choose things that I can offer and have them use in their styles also.” I’m tall and thin and 165. I feel like I could pick up a thing or two from Dean’s technique. It’s a fun style not just to watch, but to wrestle I’d imagine.

    Now onto the competition discussion. It’s easy to say “The B1G is tough” at any weight, but in particular, 165 was very tough this season. You had returning All Americans in Hamiti along with Amine (Michigan), and Kharchla (Ohio State). Additionally, you had highly regarded newcomers Patrick Kennedy (Iowa), and Alex Facundo (Penn State), entering their lineups. That’s without even bringing up a guy like Caleb Fish (MSU) who finished in the Bloodround at NCAAs. It’s safe to say anyone seeking out competition like this is excited to have such a tough schedule, but I wanted to know who he really gets up to compete against. “Iowa matches for sure. Kennedy this year, Marinelli last year, those are ones that people like to show up to because they know it’s going to be a grind match every single time. Every single match is always hard also. This year in particular our Field House was basically full, and a couple upsets and tough matches, but that’s always fun to wrestle.”

    Are you wondering if Dean is working on anything specific in these technique sessions? Me too! So I asked him. “For me, mat strategy is a big one. I am the kind of guy who goes out there and tries to throw everything at you right away. I just do weird stuff and try to scramble around, so breaking down when I wrestle the top guys, to pick and choose where I want to attack more. Being a little less careless when I go out there.” Natural follow-up question, because I love watching Dean wrestle (successfully I might add) with this whole approach that he has seven minutes to score more points than the other guy. He’s constantly looking for turns and ways to break the match open, which is just a blast to watch. I wanted to know when he started to approach the sport with that philosophy. “As far back as I can remember. I’ve always been focused on cardio and conditioning. I don’t want to just go out and hold onto a guy for seven minutes, I want to have fun while I wrestle. I think that's always been part of my style to just have fun. Just wanting to move around and do flashy things.”

    It’s a funny thing having the opportunity to talk with people I admire so much. Leadership is interesting like that. Strong leaders can be older than you, younger than you, friends of yours, or simply someone you’re aware of. In speaking with Dean, it was clear to me that not only is this responsibility something that he takes seriously, but something he’s put a lot of time into thinking about how to get better at it. I found myself relistening to our conversation and taking a lot of great things away from it myself. He’s clearly a leader in the Wisconsin Badgers wrestling room, and now will have an impact as a leader on a 37-year-old in West Michigan. Here's hoping that the ripple effect continues.


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