New Darton coach Thomas Erikson started his wrestling career at NJCAA Triton College in Chicago before going on to become a two-time All-American at Oklahoma State. He was later inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame and worked as an assistant coach at D-I power Purdue.
ALBANY — Darton hired wrestling Hall-of-Famer Thomas Erikson, an assistant at Division I Purdue University, to take over the Cavalier program Monday.
Erikson replaces former head wrestling coach Chris Fleeger, who left to return to Purdue to — ironically — be an assistant, the same job Erikson is leaving.
“We feel that coach Erikson will have an immediate impact upon his arrival at Darton,” Darton A.D. Mike Kiefer said. “He brings a wealth of experience as a coach and he’s very well known and respected in the wrestling community. We’re very pleased with his decision to become a member of our Darton family.”
Erikson built a reputation for excellence while serving as head assistant wrestling coach at Purdue, where he coached All-American wrestlers at the traditional NCAA D-I powerhouse. He simultaneously worked on athlete development among club-level wrestlers through Team Indiana.
Erikson has been head assistant wrestling coach at Purdue since 1999 and said that he recently realized it was time to move on if he wanted a position as a head coach.
“I realized the head coach (at Purdue) isn’t going anywhere and that I needed to make a move,” he said.
He referred to his hire at Darton as a homecoming, of sorts, adding that his collegiate wrestling career began in the NJCAA, and he feels that things “are coming together full circle.”
Erikson won two national championships as a student-athlete at Triton College, a two-year school near Chicago, before transferring to Oklahoma State University and becoming a two-time NCAA All-American. He’s also a member of the NJCAA Wrestling Hall of Fame.
His new role at Darton will be to continue the development of the wresling program and also to build up the sport in the area, he said.
“I am looking forward to making the term ‘student-athlete’ be a staple of the Darton wrestling program, where our athletes are just as successful off the mat and in the classroom as they are on it,” Erikson said. “To meet that challenge, I am looking forward to recruiting the best student-athletes in the state of Georgia.”
Erikson said he also wants to work very closely with Team Georgia Wrestling --- the head of club wrestling in Georgia --- to build local talent and a strong recruiting base.
“We want to build up the state of South Georgia wrestling, and then we want to retain those kids,” he said. Erikson added that he has already been in touch with local high school coaches as he moves forward with this goal in mind.
Purdue University associate athletic director Tanner Lipsett praised Erikson’s career with the Boilmakers and said he’ll be an excellent coach for Darton.
“He’s a great guy, a great coach and I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to have him leading your program,” he said.