BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – For the third time in two years, a Howard County student-athlete has signed a National Letter of Intent to continue a sports career in the Big Ten Conference at Indiana University. On the early national signing day, Kokomo High School multi-sport standout Fletcher Miller signed to wrestle for the Hoosiers next year, joining the Neeley twins from Eastern as IU athletes. But to get to Bloomington, Miller needed to grow up fast – literally.
“A lot of him being a smaller guy growing up has played into his success,” said Wildkat wrestling coach Ryan Wells of Miller, who wrestled at 140-pounds as a freshman. “He learned how to wrestle like a smaller guy. Now he wrestles in the higher weight classes and a lot of those guys don’t move like he does. He still wrestles and gets in on legs like a smaller wrestler does, and those guys don’t know how to react to it. He moves so incredibly well, and I think that is a large part of his success.”
Miller said he agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“I was a little guy growing up,” he said. “It did help my wrestling. A lot of bigger guys are just strong, but I learned to wrestle like a little guy; learning to turn into them. Yes, it helped.”
Like most athletes who accept scholarships to Division I programs, Miller receiving an offer from IU is a dream come true. While he might not have been an early bloomer size wise, his current 6-2, 220-pound stature allowed him to finish as the IHSAA state runner-up at 220-pounds last year while cruising through the regular season undefeated. He is the first Wildkat to sign with a Big Ten school since Dondre Johnson danced on the Purdue gridiron in 1996.
“This is something I never could have imagined doing even a year ago,” said Miller, who has a varsity record of 141-13 as of Nov. 25. He is on pace to break the schools all-time win record of 163 in January. “I was just hoping to go somewhere, and it really came together for me this summer. It will be an amazing experience. I am on cloud nine. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
With 141-plus wins at Kokomo and a state runner-up finish, Miller is one of the best to ever come out of the program. In his first three seasons, Miller is a two-time North Central Conference champion, three-time sectional champ, two-time regional winner and last year earned his first semi-state title. And last summer, he earned All-American status in freestyle from USA Wrestling. He currently is ranked No. 11 in the nation at 220-pounds, but he said he may wrestle as a heavyweight at IU.
But as good as Miller is on the football field and wrestling mats, he might be an even better person away from athletics. Wells said his star pupil is a young man that all student-athletes at Kokomo should try and model themselves after.
“He is the epitome of a student-athlete; he does all the right things,” said Wells. “He is exactly the right kid who we want representing our school – he goes to church every Sunday, does community service, gets straight A’s, and he is student body class president. He is just a nice kid to have around. Being a great wrestler is not his best attribute; being an awesome young man is. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Miller credits a good work ethic and strong family values for his activities outside of athletics. He also said it takes a lot of time and hard work to maintain solid grades while playing sports. How much time?
“A lot more than anyone sees,” said Miller, a member of the Academic All-NCC squad. “It is non-stop all the time – whether it is church or school or wrestling. It is pretty busy, but I love it.”
Last February, Miller entered the IHSAA 220-pound state championship match with a perfect 50-0 record. His win streak was snapped by Gelen Robinson (49-0) of Lake Central, who took a 7-2 decision victory over the Wildkat. Both have now signed to play at a Big Ten school; Robinson will hit the gridiron at Purdue next fall. As they both begin their final high school campaigns, Miller wants nothing more than a rematch with his mat rival.
“The goal is obviously to get the state championship I missed out on last year,” said Miller. “I definitely want to see Glen again. I hope he wrestles 220 again because I want another crack at it. “
And once he accomplishes his prep career – which will hopefully end on the top step of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse podium – Miller will look towards the next four years in Bloomington.
“The intensity level will pick up a lot,” he said. “Much like the transition from middle school to high school, it is going to be a big transition from high school to college. I am ready for it, but it will be an adjustment. Hopefully, I will make an impact. The current heavyweight is a senior, so I hope to be able to step in.”
But before he roams the grounds of Indiana University, Miller has his eyes set on a superior senior season. He just finished leading the Kats to an NCC runner-up finish in football, now he wants to lead them to the top of the conference – and a date in Indianapolis next February.