While Mike Denver ’11 proudly clutched the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award after the Oneonta State Invitational this past season, TCNJ Head Coach David Icenhower MA ’78 asked the 184-pounder if it was his first one.
“He [said], ‘Coach,’” Icenhower remembered, “’I’ve never won a tournament in my life.’”
Denver showed all season what can be accomplished through an opportunity at TCNJ. The redshirt sophomore compiled a 45-4 mark to tie the school record for wins in a season, finished seventh at 184 pounds at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships to become the Lions’ 139th All-American, and was named to the National Wrestling Coaches Association Scholar All-American Team. He carries a 3.29 grade point average on the teaching track of his health and exercise science major.
Denver’s opportunity at TCNJ has been enhanced through the Educational Opportunity Fund Program, which pays for the first two years of college for state residents from lower economic situations who exhibit the potential for academic and career success.
“It is a great program,” Denver said about EOF, before adding that he was sorry to see that the state’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget would cut funding to the program. “I’m really heartbroken from it because, coming up through the program, it’s really a great opportunity for families.”
TCNJ advisers stay on top of EOF participants academically the way Denver covers opponents. A strapping 6-foot-2, he is a late bloomer, not highly recruited out of high school. Since arriving at TCNJ, he believes the excellence of people across campus helps to inspire him.
Denver is in his third school year at TCNJ, but has two remaining seasons of athletic eligibility because an injury kept him out of the 2008–09 season. Ironically, the 20-year-old felt during this season’s record-setting exploits that he was “at tops 85–90 percent.”
“I’m not using that as an excuse for not doing better than I should have,” he said. “I have very high aspirations for myself and I demand a certain level out of myself every time I go in the (wrestling) room.”
“Mike has ended up being one of the hardest workers we’ve ever had,” said Icenhower, adding Denver just needed the confidence to match his skills.
Denver’s physical style took him to the NCAA Championships in Cedar Rapids, IA. His 3-2 record there was capped by the 45th win, which matched John Johnson’s school record during the 1994–95 season.
Yet something else at Cedar Rapids will stick with Denver this off season.
“The one image that will probably stand out in my head would probably be at nationals,” he said, “watching the finals from the stands and not being able to compete in the finals. I’m really going to use that to drive myself to next season, especially because I saw the (national) stage, I saw everybody getting warmed up to go out in the finals. I want that, I want to be national champ.”