A modest beginning and modest goals have taken Dean Pavlou to Omaha, Neb., site of the NCAA wrestling championships.
A year ago, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestler was discussing the education and the hardships that accompany a redshirt season in a collegiate program. Tuesday morning while awaiting a flight from Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport, the two-time state champion from Bradley Central High School talked about his 2009-10 season.
The year began with uncertainty.
"A lot has changed," Pavlou said. "Going into the season, I wanted to make sure I started. My first priority was getting into the lineup and showing the coaches that I was the man for the job."
The 149-pounder did that, and he immediately readjusted his sights.
"After that the goal was to win the conference," he said.
He did that too, the only Moc to win a Southern Conference title after sickness and suspensions sabotaged the team's hopes of securing coach Heath Eslinger's first collegiate tournament championship.
Pavlou's goals shifted again.
"I want to place in the nationals," he said. "I want to be an All-American."
That chance begins this morning with an opening match against Torsten Gillespie, a junior from Edinboro (Pa.) University who is making his third NCAA appearance. Gillespie has a 28-13 season record.
Pavlou is 22-11, and Eslinger fills good about his chances.
"Dean has had a great year. He's grown up a lot. He's made improvement," Eslinger said. "He had a really good Midlands tournament, and he beat a kid from Virginia Tech who's ranked 15th right now. He showed last year that he could wrestle. Out of 37 guys on the team, he was one of only four that wrestled in the offseason."
Volunteer assistant coach Mike Hatcher took Pavlou to the FILA junior nationals, and Pavlou earned a medal.
"I think we had high expectations for him all along, and I think he himself has had those," Eslinger said.
Pavlou and 184-pound Jason McCroskey are the Mocs' lone representatives at the nationals.
"It goes back to consistency. If you do the right things all the time, good things will happen. Most people quit before the good things start happening," Eslinger said. "Dean and Jason embody what we're looking for in an athlete academically, athletically and socially. Each has been consistent in all areas of his life, and that's the reason they're sitting here in the airport with me today."