Gomez writing own ticket on long journey to success

Franklin Gomez's life -- and wrestling career -- has taken him from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico to Michigan State … with stops along the way in New Jersey and Florida.

Franklin Gomez
The Spartan freshman 125-pounder was born in the Dominican Republic … grew up in Puerto Rico … went to high school for one year in New Jersey before transferring to Brandon High School outside Tampa … and now lives off-campus in a house in East Lansing.

Along the way, Franklin Gomez has managed to build an impressive wrestling career, winning the "triple crown" of high school wrestling in 2005 (along with a Florida state title) … and has made a positive impression in competition for Michigan State, with a 20-3 record as a redshirt freshman last year, and, as of this writing, a 18-1 start this year.

Introduced to wrestling in Puerto Rico

Franklin took up wrestling as a twelve-year-old in Puerto Rico, introduced to the sport by a friend who invited him to his wrestling club, named, ironically, the Spartan Club.

"I always liked sports to entertain myself," says Franklin. "I started to take wrestling seriously… The coach, Pedro Rojas, had a lot of rules. One was that you had to show your report card to stay in the club… He's like my second dad." (Franklin was raised by a single mother; his father died when Franklin was only five.)

"We learned only freestyle. I didn't know folkstyle until I moved to the U.S … If you learn freestyle, Greco and folkstyle, what you learn from each style helps you in whatever style you're wrestling at the time. It's really helpful with positioning."

Franklin's mom, Magarita Matos, was concerned about the quality of education he was receiving in Puerto Rico. Coach Rojas suggested that Franklin move to the United States for his high school studies.

Imagine leaving your mom, your friends and all that you've known as a sixteen-year-old and moving to New Jersey to live with someone you don't even know. That's what Franklin Gomez did in pursuit of a better education. He went to St. Augustine Prep as a sophomore, and lived there for one year … but didn't like the cold weather, so moved back to Puerto Rico.

Mat career really takes off at Brandon

Coach Rojas was aware of Brandon High School in Florida, and recommended it to Franklin, who left his home and mother for a second time to live with a family he didn't know, in a place he only knew as a dot on the map.

"I didn't know anything about the school," says Franklin. "I didn't realize how good the program is."

Most wrestlers and wrestling fans recognize Brandon as being one of the top prep programs in the U.S. Led by longtime head coach Russ Cozart (who owns the record for the longest dual-meet win streak at over 400 matches), Brandon has seventeen Florida state team titles. In addition to Franklin Gomez, the suburban Tampa school has produced a number of name-brand wrestlers, including Josh Lambrecht (a three-time All-American and 2002 NCAA finalist for the Oklahoma Sooners), as well as current collegians Rocky Cozart (a teammate of Franklin's at Michigan State), Cesar Grajales (University of Pennsylvania), and David Craig (Lehigh).

When asked what it was like to work with coach Cozart, Franklin had an emphatic, one-word response: "Awesome!" He then continued, "He's like one of us, wrestled with us. Practice was hard, lots of one-on-one drilling, which was a great experience… He taught me everything I know about folkstyle."

Franklin achieved great things in his two years at Brandon High. In his junior year in 2004, he placed third at Junior Nationals in freestyle and Greco-Roman. As a senior, he won the Florida high school state title with a perfect 44-0 record, and brought home titles from the Ironman and Beast of the East tournaments that attract top prep wrestlers from across the country. Franklin also earned "triple crown" honors by winning the NHSCA Senior Nationals, the Junior Nationals in freestyle, and the Junior Nationals in Greco-Roman. All these accomplishments did not go unnoticed by the national wrestling media; in 2005, Franklin was ranked as the top high school senior at 119 pounds by both Amateur Wrestling News and Wrestling USA magazines.

Despite all these successes on the mat, it was a challenge for Franklin to be away from the life he knew in Puerto Rico. "There were days I wanted to go home, especially when I was in New Jersey," Franklin discloses. "But it was worth the sacrifices to get a better education."

"Mike Joyce, my guardian in Tampa, was like another father to me. Without the support of Mike and his wife Debbie, I wouldn't have gotten so far. I stay in touch with them; I feel part of their family."

Attracting attention of college coaches

With all his wrestling accomplishments -- and being part of a high-profile prep program -- Franklin Gomez attracted the attention of a number of college coaches. "I tried to be straightforward in my looking at schools," says Franklin. "I wanted to go to a place where I could get a good education, and trust the coach."

"Michigan State has great coaches who really know wrestling," according to Franklin.

Tom Minkel
Here's how Tom Minkel, head coach of the Spartans, describes the recruiting process: "We signed Rocky Cozart, and were recruiting David Craig at the time. While we were at the Florida state tourney, Coach Cozart said, 'Keep your eye on Franklin Gomez.' We were impressed. When we met in person, we really hit it off."

"I had lived in Venezuela and Guatemala, and speak some Spanish, which helped us bond."

"Franklin came up for a visit in April," continues coach Minkel. "The timing was perfect -- it was a beautiful weekend, after having bad weather the weekend before."

"I wanted a place where I knew I could stay," says Franklin. "Michigan State is a nice campus. The people are really nice."

"We think it's a good fit in many ways," according to Spartans' head coach. "He's got great training partners, (as well as) his relationship with me. We even found a church for him."

Soaring to new heights as a Spartan

Franklin Gomez was a redshirt freshman at Michigan State during the 2005-06 season. For a Division I wrestler who admits that "the first time I saw college wrestling was on my first recruiting trip," Franklin achieved much in his first year at East Lansing, compiling a 20-3 record in unattached competition … with two of those losses being to Spartan teammate Nick Simmons (two-time 125-pound Big Ten champ and three-time NCAA All-American) in tournament events.

During that redshirt year, Franklin won championships at the Cleveland State Open, the Edinboro Open, and Kent State Open… and placed second at the Michigan State Open, Nittany Lion Open, and Eastern Michigan Open. Of the twenty victories, eleven were by major decision.

After a summer spent in the practice room and in action (competing in various events, including the U.S. World Team Trials), Franklin Gomez started his first official year of competition for Michigan State at 125 pounds … while the veteran Nick Simmons moved up to 133 for his senior year.

As of early December, Franklin is off to a great start, with only one loss in nineteen matches. At the Eastern Michigan Open, he won the championship by getting a 9-1 major decision in the finals over Navy's Alex Usztics. In fact, at the EMU Open, Franklin had only three points scored on him in five matches, winning two of them by major decision and one by technical fall.

On his home turf, Franklin was equally impressive, winning the 125-pound crown at the MSU Open by defeating Lock Haven's Obe Blank, 5-1, in the finals. During the tournament, he got a tech fall and a major decision.

In dual-meet competition in his freshman season, Franklin got a 4-1 victory over Tyler Shinn of Oklahoma State … then, a 12-2 major decision over Edinboro's Eric Morrill.

At the Penn State Open the first weekend in December, Franklin won his first five matches before suffering his first loss of the season, a 5-3 sudden-victory defeat to Penn State's Mark McKnight in the finals. (McKnight and Nick Simmons are the only two wrestlers to beat Franklin in NCAA competition; the Nittany Lion 125-pounder also defeated the Spartan in the finals of the PSU Open last year. Franklin Gomez and Mark McKnight will most likely square off again later this season at the Michigan State-Penn State dual February 18 at East Lansing.)

Striving to Succeed

When asked to compare prep competition to what he's experienced at Michigan State, Franklin says, "In high school, in a tournament of thirty-six wrestlers, maybe six are really good. In college, everyone is good. The level of competition is way up."

Franklin Gomez describes his style as being "quick, moving all the time, maintaining position, sometimes exploding." He adds, "I don't look at the ranking of an opponent. I don't even care about my ranking. (He's currently ranked fifth at 125 by I respect every opponent the same. I wrestle each guy equally hard."

"He's very hard-working, with an excellent work ethic," according to Michigan State coach Tom Minkel. "He's always evaluating his performance, always asking questions, always seeking better ways to do things … He's joy to have in the program."

Franklin Gomez won by technical fall (16-0) over John Olanowski of Missouri on Dec. 10.
Coach Minkel continues, "(Franklin) studies hard, is a good student. He is very committed to his church … He's just become a U.S. citizen."

Where will his time at Michigan State take Franklin Gomez? "I'm working towards becoming a sports administrator, perhaps an athletic director someday," says the Spartan freshman who is seeking a minor in coaching. "I'm studying sports and exercise science. That's what my coach in Puerto Rico did. He has a lot of knowledge not just about coaching, but the human body and how it works."

As for wrestling goals, Franklin Gomez sets his sights beyond successful seasons and NCAA titles. "My ultimate goal is to win world titles and the Olympics. I wrestled at the U.S. Team Trials this summer, winning three matches and losing two, but those losses were close. I think I'm right in there with others at my weight."

It would seem Franklin Gomez is well on his way.


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