|photo by John Lembo|
Tyler Williford made history Wednesday inside Palmetto's auditorium
Senior Tyler Williford signed a letter-of-intent Wednesday with the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, making him the first Tigers wrestler to earn a scholarship.
Williford said he will earn a major scholarship from the Divsion II school.
The Tigers began fielding a wrestling team in 2005.
"It's pretty exciting," Williford said Wednesday before signing his letter inside Palmetto's auditorium while about two dozen relatives, friends and teammates watched.
Williford caught the Braves attention while Palmetto was competing in the Disney Duals over the summer.
"This all happened in about three months," said Bryan Wilkes, who has coached Palmetto's program since it began. "We're hoping this starts a good relationship with UNC Pembroke."
An Ellenton resident, Williford began wrestling eight years ago with the Manatee Kids Wrestling Club and has been on Palmetto's varsity team since freshman year.
He was 25-9 last season wrestling at 152 and 160 pounds and came within a victory of reaching the Class 2A state tournament.
The Braves finished third last season at the NCAA Division II national championships and began this season ranked 12th in the nation.
"We were talking to a lot of people and getting my name out there and stuff," Williford said. "But this is the one where we actually made full contact and talked. It's real nice - me and my coach talked about getting this done early so I could focus on school and wrestling and stuff, and didn't have to worry about where I was going."
While Wednesday was a big day for Williford, it served as another step in the right direction for Palmetto's wrestling program.
"The other kids see there is opportunity now," Wilkes said. "This is the first time that I have kids asking me, 'Hey coach, do you think I can get a scholarship?'"