By Chuck Ballaro, Sun Correspondent
PUNTA GORDA — Charlotte wrestler Dalton Mills is the prime example of what can result from hard work and dedication. For the Tarpons senior, it was a trip to the state finals in the 195-pound weight class and a runner-up finish.
Not bad for a kid who had only wrestled for three years and started his season late.
Mills, who heads The Sun’s all-area wrestling team as it’s wrestler of the year, didn’t start the sport until his freshman year, and in the beginning, he struggled, spending nearly the entire season wrestling and learning on junior varsity.
“My friends got me to come out, so I did. I lost my first match and decided I didn’t want to lose anymore,” Mills said. “I got one match at varsity and got pinned by some kid from North Port.”
Charlotte wrestling coach Evan Robinson said even though Mills struggled, he also had lots of potential and was a hard worker.
“He had potential, but you never know what turns life takes as a teenager,” Robinson said. “He had a strong work ethic and was very confident. He was hungry and wanted to learn more and more.”
Mills worked hard over the summer, but started his sophomore season on junior varsity as well. It took an unfortunate break for the wrestler in front of him on varsity, Jeremiah Martinez, that led to his opportunity.
“I lost a wrestle-off with him by one point in triple overtime and the next day he tore his ACL. I had to wrestle two other kids for the spot,” Mills said.
Mills took advantage of the opportunity. Oh, did he ever.
He went 48-11 and didn’t stop until he reached the state tournament, where he spilt his four matches and finished in the top eight.
Much was expected of him as a junior, but things didn’t quite work out as his season stalled at regionals. Mills put the blame on himself.
This season, he didn’t get his wrestling season started until well into December as the Charlotte football team, for whom he played linebacker, advanced to the region final.
This led to another problem, a common one among wrestlers – making weight.
“Coming back from football, I had to cut 30 pounds to 195. I had to learn how to eat the right things and cut the candy and soda,” Mills said. “I had to go up to 220, and in the first meet I wrestled, I pinned everyone.”
Once he got on the mat and settled into his normal routine, things clicked for him. Mills overcame a defeat in the quarterfinals to finished third at regionals, which made him work harder at states.
“I knew how to work hard and knew who my competition was in my bracket,” he said. “I just had to get out there and wrestle. My coaches told me to go have fun. I told them I wasn’t having fun unless I’m winning.”
Mills blew through the early competition at the state meet, with quick pins in the first two rounds and a close win in the semifinals before getting pinned by Matt McQuinn of Fort Myers in the championship.
Robinson, who has been part of the program for 20 years and was a state qualifier himself in high school, said throughout the long, great history of the program, Mills has to rank among the best.
“There are so many weight classes and so many great wrestlers, it’s hard choose. Making it to states is a great achievement,” Robinson said.
Mills may wrestle in college at a lower weight class, though he isn’t sure where. He said he wants to become a paramedic.
THE MILLS FILE
Parents: Gary Mills and Tisha Long
Siblings: Dylan, Hayden, Justin, Breanna, Kendra, Chloe
Favorite food: Ramen noodles
Favorite athlete: Tyrone Woodley
Favorite subject: Science
106: Yvens Candio
Junior • Charlotte
Made it to states after winning a district championship then placing fourth at regionals. He won 29 matches as a junior.
106: Donovan Cataldi
Freshman • Charlotte
Had a very successful freshman campaign, going 41-6 on the way to a 5th-place medal at states. He also won a championship at both districts and regionals.
113: Tyler Brady
Junion • Lemon Bay
Compiled a 42-9 record on the season. Was a district champion and a bronze medalist at regionals. Went on to states to win one match.
113: TJ Gjerde
Sophomore • Charlotte
As a district champion, Gjerde won 26 matches all season, placed fourth at regionals and won one match as a state qualifier.
120: Albert Werden
Junior • Lemon Bay
Totaled an area-best 53 victories this season as a 6th-place winner at the State meet. He also won a district championship before grabbing bronze at regionals.
126: Bradley Fuson
Senior • Lemon Bay
Was a runner-up at both districts and regionals on the way to making it to states. He also won 40 matches in his senior season.
126: Braydon McLellen
Senior • North Port
Was a winner of 39 matches in his final season while earning a state berth. In the postseason, he was a district champion and regionals runner-up.
132: Tripp Lytle
Junior • Lemon Bay
Lytle won 37 matches as a junior in a states-qualifying season. He earned a silver medal in both districts and regionals.
138: Jarred Diley
Senior • Lemon Bay
Won 34 matches throughout the season on the way to qualifying for states. Finished third at district.
285: Michael Morales
Junior • Lemon Bay
Notched 50 wins this season all the way to a 5th-place medal at states. Along the way, Morales had a strong postseason, winning championships at districts and regionals.
285: Des Peterson
Junior • North Port
Went 25-7 on the year while earning a bid to states. He tore through the first two postseason tournaments, winning a championship in both districts and regionals.
Charlotte: Dylan Mills, Anthony Cavanaugh, Tyler Midkiff, Jacob Woodard, Matthew Gjerde, James Paull, Anthony Andou, Jose Valdez. Imagine: Jacob LaBell, Quinn White.
Lemon Bay: Kyle Shaw, Mark Towers, Payton Binns, Brock LaVallee.
North Port: Tymofiy Romarniuk, Austin Mays, Aaron Green.
Port Charlotte: Ziggy Bond, Brian Gaw, Zachary Adkinson, Gavin Spencer, Nicholas Bianconi.
All-Area team compiled by Bryan Levine