The FAMU wrestling team is currently ranked 23rd in the latest National Collegiate Wrestling Association coaches poll. In the NCWA Regional Tournament in Gainesville, the Rattlers finished eighth out of a pool of 22 programs.
FAMU posted a top-10 finish behind the standout performance of four wrestlers. Coach Thomas C. White said most squads bring 20 wrestlers to major competitions.
Pensacola Christian College, University of Central Florida, Georgia Tech and the University of South Florida were among the schools that participated.
Wrestlers that place at regionals have the opportunity to compete in the NCWA National Tournament. All four of the wrestlers that FAMU sent to regionals qualified for nationals.
Senior Hubert Poulard, team captain, who wrestled in the 197-pound weight class, was pleased with the team’s performance.
“We only sent four guys to compete and all four guys placed,” said the Miami native.
FAMU entered the competition with something to prove. In qualifying all four wrestlers for nationals, the Rattlers may shed the ‘underdog’ label.
Sophomore Abdul Sharif finished third in the 157-pound weight class. Also, junior Jude Moreau placed fifth in the 149-pound weight class.
Freshman Ruben Felder entered regionals unknown to many of the teams present. After a seventh-place finish, Felder may have left an impression on the other wrestlers in the 125-pound weight class.
Poulard finished second at the Gainesville event. With the finish, he became an All-American for the second straight year.
Poulard said the team is prepared to excel at the National Tournament.
“I definitely think we’ll do a lot better. We wrestle in the biggest region and it’s also the most competitive,” said the captain.
White said that the team deserves the accolades they have received.
“We earned our position. It wasn’t just a cakewalk,” White said.
The Rattlers’ concern goes past their individual achievement. The wrestling program wants to build a legacy that goes beyond Tallahassee.
“We’re now creating a home for wrestling in Florida,” White said. The team is currently the only team from a historically black college or university that competes in the NCWA.
White has also helped cultivate in-state talent at FAMU. Poulard and Sharif are from Miami, Moreau is from Orlando and Felder is from Miramar.
White was recently named Southeastern Conference development coordinator for the NCWA. White’s new responsibilities include increasing the number of teams in the area and improving competition in the area.
FAMU has built relationships with Tallahassee Community College, Lake City Community College and North Florida Community College among others. These relationships with neighboring schools may later prove invaluable in the recruitment process.
“We’re doing things that folks don’t have to tell us to do. We’re hoping that wrestlers from the junior colleges look to us when they look for a four-year university,” White said.
Financial struggles have been a constant concern for the team. The club could only afford to take four wrestlers to regionals because of budget constraints. With nationals a week away, the team was still unsure if all four wrestlers would be able to attend.
Last year, seven wrestlers qualified for nationals. Of the seven, only Poulard was able to make the trip. “The last two years we’ve been making it off $400. Budget-wise we really don’t have anything to work with,” White said.
Much of the concern regarding the trip to nationals has been stilled. All four wrestlers and three staff members will make the trip. White has also secured lodging for the trip.
The university has agreed to cover the cost of transportation for the team. Also, the team raised $1,600 to contribute to the trip.
“We’re bringing something positive to Tallahassee as a whole. Especially if it deals with wrestling,” White said.
The NCWA National Tournament is scheduled for March 2-4 in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Reginald Snowden contributed to this article.