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In four years donning the red and blue, senior wrestler Mike Fickell has compiled an impressive 65-30 record at 197 pounds. (Andrew Margolies/DP File Photos)

From his large frame, confidence and intensity, one would think that Penn wrestler Mike Fickell has always asked for -- and gained -- respect. But it wasn't always that way for the senior co-captain of the Penn wrestling team. When Fickell picked up the sport of wrestling at the tender age of three, he was constantly bullied by his older brother. "I was always the youngest,"Fickell said. "My cousin, who lived with us a lot of times, would always beat my brother up because he was four or five years older than him. My brother was about four or five years older than me, so he would always bully me around." However, Fickell looks at the experience positively. "It was good for the sport because it teaches you to fight back sometimes instead of always getting pushed around,"Fickell said. And despite the chain of bullying, Fickell isn't all rough edges. "I come across as rough and tough to a lot of people," Fickell said. "[But] when you really get to know me, there's a softer side.I just don't show it a lot." His wrestling mentor at college, Penn coach Roger Reina, agrees with Fickell's self-assessment. "He's very personable, easy-going and a good friend to all those around him," Reina said. Spending many an afternoon trying to fight back against his brother, the young Fickell soon learned to take care of business on the mat the way his older brother eventually did on the field as a 250-pound linebacker for Ohio State. Fickell took care of business in school too -- and not just in the classroom. "Since I was in junior high, I was always [coming up with] ways to make money," Fickell said. "We didn't have any vending machines in the school, so I took this candy that my grandpa would get for free and sell it. I used to make like $80 a week." Focusing his time on candy-selling, Fickell didn't really have the body of a wrestler when he entered ninth grade. "I was a scrawny 119-pounder as a freshman in high school," Fickell said. Fickell put on 80 pounds -- and in the process became a two-time Ohiostate placewinner -- under the leadership of his high school wrestling coach, Mark Marinelli. "[Marinelli] took me under his wing, helped me hit the weights and taught me a lot of the technique that I use today," Fickell said. At the end of high school, the Columbus, Ohio, native had no problem deciding where he wanted to go to college. "I always wanted to go into business,"Fickell said. "I heard that Wharton was number one in the country. Putting the wrestling and academics together, [Penn] wasn't that tough of a choice." In his striving for excellence, he also had no problems deciding between wrestling or playing football, the two sports he excelled in at the high school level. "I always wanted to be a Division I athlete,"said Fickell, who wrestles at 197 pounds for Penn. "I could have played football at a smaller school -- a Division II or Division III. But I always aspired to reach the top of my potential, and DivisionI athletics was how I saw [myself] doing it." Fickell's devotion to excellence in the classroom has only grown stronger at Penn. A Whartonite concentrating in Finance and Management, the soon-to-be graduate will be working at Morgan Stanley-Dean Witter next year. The business-savvy Fickell has also worked hard to improve on the mat. From the mental aspect of the sport, he has learned over the past four years to take things one bout at a time. "I let the outcomes take care of itself, and I try not to put any pressure on myself by saying I need to be this, or I need to be that," Fickell said. "I want to go out there and perform to my ability. If it puts me on top of the All-America stand, then so be it." It is clear that Fickell wrestles for his team first, and then himself. Nonetheless, his quest to benefit the team has led to some individual fame. With two tournaments remaining -- the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling AssociationChampionships and the National Collegiate Athletic Association WrestlingChampionships -- Fickell is just two pins shy of tying Rick Springman's school record of most falls in one season (11). "More on a team aspect, I look for the pin,"Fickell said. "But [the record] gives me a little extra incentive." And as a senior and a co-captain, Fickell has had to take on the role of a leader. "People look up to you, soyou have to be the one leading your team and setting the example," Fickell said. "In previous years, I could feed off of other people, but now I have to set the example so younger kids can feed off of me. It is especially important [this year] with five freshmen in the line-up." Penn wrestler Jeff Eveleth -- the Quakers' starter at 133 pounds and one of the five freshmen Fickell refers to -- thinks that the senior co-captain has done a great job filling the shoes of a leader. "He does what a leader has to do,"Eveleth said. "He's there when you need help for pretty much everything. In the room, he helps guys to train and pushes himself and everyone else." Reina agrees with Eveleth's evaluation. "He leads by example," Reina said. "If you see him in the weight room, he'll be one of the hardest workers in there." Reina credits some recent Penn graduates with Fickell's success as a leader. "When he came on board, we had guys like Clint Matter, Brandon Slay, Andrei Rodzianko and a lot of other harder workers in and around his weight," Reina said. "He's taken that momentum of the student wrestlers that were here before him. Now it's his turn." Reina is also very happy with the way Fickell has garnered bonus points, something by which the Quakers have lived and died this season in dual meets. "He's been a great example by leading the team in falls and bonus points," Reina said. Fickell's ability to get the team points has been a product of his commitment to technique. "I'd say I'm more of a technician," Fickell said. "Some people get away with speed and power. But I've been around the sport so long that I've picked up on many technical aspects of it." Reina believes that his work ethic at Penn has helped him develop more completely as a wrestler. "Over the years, he's become much more complete technically," Reina said. "He has very good leg attacks and exceptional foot speed, especially for an upper weight. He also has the ability to throw from several different positions. He's become dominant on top, and typically he's very quick about getting off the bottom." Fickell may go down in Penn wrestling lore as a dominant grappler. But for his teammates and those who know him best, it is his solid technique as a leader and friend that make him truly memorable.

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