Willie Miklus establishes leadership role after transferring to Iowa State

Cody Goodwin
The Des Moines Register

On one side of the Harold Nichols Wrestling Room, Iowa State wrestling coach Kevin Dresser explains that Willie Miklus, the former Iowa high school star and Mizzou transfer, has quickly become a leader for the Cyclones.

On the other, Miklus, a sixth-year senior, explains how.

Miklus figured there would be respect for his on-the-mat skill — he is a three-time All-American, after all. But as for jibbing with a younger, hungry team? Well, that required a little bit of work.

Iowa State Wrestling's Willie Miklus poses for a photo on the team's media day, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, on the Iowa State campus.

Or just a handful of jokes.

“Right away, I came in and starting picking on (redshirt freshman Austin Gomez),” Miklus said last Tuesday. “I just made a bunch of height jokes, and everybody just trusted me from there.”

A bunch of height jokes?

“He said something to me one day,” Miklus continued, “and I told him he better shut his mouth or I was going to put something up on the top shelf, where he couldn’t get it.”

Whatever works.

Miklus, at 25, is the old veteran on what is otherwise a youthful Iowa State team this season. He graduated from Southeast Polk in 2012, spent a year at the Olympic Training Center and competed for Missouri for the last five years before transferring to join the Cyclones.

During his time at Mizzou, Miklus found plenty of success, winning 79 matches in four seasons. He became just the seventh three-time All-American in program history, and helped the Tigers to three top-six team finishes at the NCAA Championships, including a fourth-place finish in 2015.

Miklus said the goal hasn’t changed now that he’s part of a program that’s struggled in recent years — the Cyclones have scored a grand total of four points in the last two NCAA tournaments. He enters the 2018-19 season ranked No. 5 nationally at 197 pounds.

“The expectations aren’t really any different,” Miklus said. “(At Mizzou), we were expected to go out every single time and fight tooth and nail for everything. It’s the same thing here. It’s not any different, as far as expectations.”


Dresser, Iowa State’s second-year head coach, wants Miklus to impart that wisdom on the rest of the team. Of the 10 guys expected to start this year, seven are either freshmen or sophomores. They are talented, but also inexperienced when it comes to Division I wrestling.

“Just seeing how he works and seeing how he goes about his life really caught my eye and changed me up a little bit,” said Gannon Gremmel, Iowa State’s redshirt sophomore heavyweight. “Willie is a huge role model for me.

“He’s tough. He’s as strong as me. It’s awesome. He’s pretty slick on his feet, and it’s good for me to wrestle a quicker guy because I’m not sure if there will be someone as quick as him at heavyweight.”

As such, Miklus’ talent was a welcome addition when he joined the program this summer, and his leadership has been a bonus.

“He’s solid, and he’s the senior leader of this team,” Dresser said. He cracked a smile: “And I mean senior from a senior-citizen standpoint.”

Dresser continued: “From a credential standpoint, he brings a lot to the room. He’s taken over leadership, which is unusual for a kid who transferred in and not be really part of the team until the summer.”

Miklus has expressed interest in staying in Ames even after this season, perhaps by way of the Cyclone Regional Training Center. Before he won two state titles for Southeast Polk, he was a two-time state finalist at nearby Ballard High School in Huxley. He knows central Iowa well.

Because of that, he knows the rich history of Iowa State wrestling, and that it’s closing in on a decade since the program’s last NCAA trophy finish (third in 2010). The Cyclones might be a few years away from contending for hardware in March, but the contributions Miklus gives this season will go a long ways in helping the team inch closer to that goal.

“I know this town,” Miklus said. “It’s incredibly exciting. I love being here. The things that Dresser has going on, and the new guys they’re bringing into the program, like Carr and Gomez and a bunch of young guys that are tough and chomping at the bit to make a name for themselves — I mean, they want to win national titles and world titles.

“That’s an uncommon thing that they’ve got going on in here. It’s definitely exciting.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.