SDSU has a believer in Bono

Marcus Traxler

I’ve never wrestled in my life, never really had the desire to do so and admittedly, I’m probably not tough enough to hang out with those guys.

That might have to change with Chris Bono on campus.

If you were one of the few to go to a wrestling match in the last couple of years, you know that Frost Arena was eerily quiet and empty. You knew that good wrestling teams were going to come in and they were going to take care of the Jacks with ease and you were going to be home in an hour.

Frankly, it was boring. There’s nothing boring about Bono.

The man exudes energy and that was apparent even over the phone in my conversation with him Tuesday, when he was officially announced as the hire.

SDSU’s new wrestling coach has made an impact early in his career and he arrives to a program that desperately needs a kick start. A former national champion at Iowa State, Bono coached at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where he enhanced an already rich wrestling history with three more Southern Conference championships in as many seasons and a record of 39-17. In three quick seasons at Chattanooga, Bono sent 19 wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament. SDSU has sent three wrestlers since 2007.

You don’t have to convince Bono that there’s Division I quality wrestling talent in South Dakota: he knows. He battled Philip native Lincoln McIlravy numerous times both during his time at Iowa State when McIlravy was at Iowa and in the qualification for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, where Bono was defeated by McIllravy.

Bono called the Midwest a goldmine for high school wrestling and it most certainly is with a high level of talent in the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. There are plenty of wrestlers in those states who would love to have a shot to wrestle at Division I. SDSU has to be able to convince nearby talent that the Jackrabbits’ program is a legitimate option.

He recognizes that the community, both on-campus and in Brookings, is “starving” for the wrestling team to become great again. I’ve picked up that sense too. People have asked about the wrestling program at SDSU like it was sick, asking “What’s wrong with the wrestling team?” The way the team has battled injuries and withteam members leaving, they’ve looked hobbled for a while.

From a big picture standpoint, for SDSU this was a very important hire in the scheme of wrestling. The athletic department has sunk money into the program with a new team room and a full-time assistant coach in the last few seasons. Athletic director Justin Sell has made it clear that SDSU wants to be competing for conference championships in all 21 sports and wrestling looked to be among the furthest away. If SDSU wants to win, they had to hire a winner and Bono fits the bill.

Believe me, Bono’s hire doesn’t guarantee anything but it promising for a program looking to turn the corner.