Pat Greco of St. Charles has never been one to back down from a challenge.
After a successful high school wrestling career at Marmion that included a third-place finish his senior year in the IHSA Class 2A State Tournament at 145 pounds, Greco could have chosen to wrestle at any number of colleges in any number of conferences. He chose to attend one of the nation’s most academically challenging schools – Northwestern – in the nation’s toughest wrestling conference: the Big Ten.
“The Big Ten teams ... everyone’s tough. It’s a grind,” Greco acknowledges. “Every person you wrestle is ranked.”
Of the top five teams ranked by D1collegewrestling.net, four are from the Big Ten, including No. 5 Ohio State, which defeated Northwestern on Sunday, 33-6. In that dual, Greco dropped a 10-5 decision at 141 pounds to Hunter Strieber (19-0), ranked second in the country.
“He’s really tough,” Greco says. “He’s a returning All-American. ... I’m not quite at that level yet, but I’m working on it.”
Greco, a sophomore, has a 5-5 record this season and a career varsity record of 15-17 for the Wildcats. As a freshman, he won his first Big Ten dual match, defeating Purdue’s Nick Lawrence, 5-4, which proved to be the difference in a 21-18 Northwestern victory.
He split time as a starter at 141 pounds with Colin Shober as a freshman and this season he’s been in a season-long battle for the starting slot at that weight with sophomore Jameson Oster of Homer Glen, a former IHSA state champion and the career record holder for wins (153) at Lockport High School.
Greco won his most recent wrestle-off to become a starter for the 15th-ranked Wildcats during the Big Ten campaign. Noting that he was part of a Northwestern recruiting class that was ranked second in the nation, he says the difficulty of getting on the mat and staying there at the top collegiate level was no surprise.
“I kind of figured it was going to very tough getting into the lineup,” Greco says. “I worked really hard and got into the lineup a lot sooner than I would have expected. I worked really hard, and it’s paying off.”
Also paying off is his hard work in the classroom.
“My grades are great,” the political science major said. “I was Academic All-Big Ten last year and a Northwestern Scholar Athlete the past two years.”
Balancing the rigorous demands of both academics and athletics at Northwestern is no easy task.
“I would say a big part of it is time management,” Greco said. “Most days you’re going to have to put in a couple hours of reading and studying. I always go to class and try to take good notes. There’s days when it was a tough practice and you’re exhausted. You’ve got to make sure you find the time [for studying]. Maybe if you’re too exhausted at night, you wake up early the next day.”
It’s exactly that sort of challenge that appeals to Greco and why his short list of colleges he was interested in included two Ivy League schools (Brown and Penn) in addition to Illinois and Northwestern.
“I always thought Northwestern would be a great fit for me,” Greco says. “Growing up in the Chicagoland area, it’s always had a great tradition for wrestling, but more importantly, it’s such a great school. And the proximity to home. ... I’m pretty close to my family, so I always wanted to stay somewhere close.”
Greco and Northwestern will be back in action at home Saturday against another tough Big Ten foe – 17th ranked Nebraska. The meet begins at 7 p.m. in Welsh-Ryan Arena.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To submit information on area athletes competing in college, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.