Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa's Pat Lugo powered by hard work and love of wrestling

2-time NCAA qualifier preps for tough test against highly-ranked Rugters foe

Iowa's Patricio Lugo wrestles Lehigh's Jimmy Hoffman in their 149-pound bout at an Iowa Hawkeyes dual with Lehigh Mountain Hawks at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa's Patricio Lugo wrestles Lehigh's Jimmy Hoffman in their 149-pound bout at an Iowa Hawkeyes dual with Lehigh Mountain Hawks at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — When others weren’t excited about wrestling workouts, 5-year-old Pat Lugo stood at the front door with shoes in hand.

The passion for the sport was apparent when he anxiously awaited his dad, and namesake, Patricio Lugo Jr., to take him to youth practice.

“He was always interested since he was real small,” the elder Lugo said. “That’s how he always was. He was one that was always ready to go.”

Lugo has transformed that love and excitement in two NCAA Championships appearances and a top-10 national ranking as Iowa’s 149-pound starter. He will look for his second straight win over a ranked foe, taking on No. 2 Anthony Ashnault when fourth-ranked Iowa hosts No. 20 Rutgers Friday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, starting at 8 p.m.

Lugo turned his attention to this bout from the moment he stepped off the mat from his 14-0 throttling of Minnesota’s No. 20 Tommy Thorn Sunday afternoon.

“I’ve been preparing myself mentally and physically,” said the Iowa junior who transferred last year after two seasons at Edinboro. “I want to make this match feel long for him. I want this seven-minute match to feel like seven hours and I don’t want to give him any space or room to breathe.”

Lugo is 8-5 overall after a rough start but has won seven of his last nine bouts. Iowa Coach Tom Brands said Lugo may have started the season heavy, but wrestled himself into shape, getting stronger as the season progresses.

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“I think he looked in the mirror,” Brands said. “His accountability factor was high early on and there was a reason why his performance wasn’t where it needed to be and it was directly related.

“He gets better every time on the mat. He’s more seasoned. He’s savvy and that’s a result that he’s lean, mean and hungry.”

Lugo started wrestling when he was 4 years old and had two brothers who wrestled.

The family didn’t travel much at first, because of the cost. They stayed local and had to find ways for Pat to be challenged. They eventually ventured out of state with a club that Patricio started with a couple other fathers.

“We really had to go to local tournaments and I had to go two different weight classes and two different divisions to get enough matches,” Pat said. “The older we got, the more traveling we did and the bigger our club got.”

Even though Pat was hooked immediately, he wasn’t a natural like younger brother, Ozzy, a three-time Florida state champion who wrestled at Edinboro for one season. Pat’s success was a product of the effort in the practice room.

Toughness did come easy. South Dade High School Coach Vic Balmeceda, who coached both Lugo brothers, said in a past online feature that Pat was the meanest on the mat and hardest worker in the room.

“It took a while to develop,” said Lugo, a two-time state champion who finished his prep career with 132 consecutive wins. “I wasn’t one of those guys who was talented. I had to work myself to get to where I am.”

Pat is quick to credit his dad for his strength and work ethic. Patricio had humble beginning as the son of migrant farmworkers, walking 90 minutes to return home from practice because he didn’t have transportation.

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He had to put himself through wrestling when he was younger and was dedicated to provide 100 percent support in anything he could.

“I told him these things I had to go through and those things made him stronger and want to do everything,” Patricio said. “He never said no. He’s always been very strong and tough in the sport.”

The younger Lugo said, “Growing up, it wasn’t a walk in the park for us and other guys’ families. It wasn’t as hard either, but it definitely made me tougher, growing up and wrestling.

“My dad always told me if I work hard and believe I could do anything I wanted to do.”

Pat’s left arm is covered with tattoos, including part of the Aztec calendar, an eagle and various designs. Ozzy and Patricio have a similar one on their right arms. They share the permanent marks, but they also share a bond through wrestling.

The family is making the trip to Iowa City and will be in attendance to support Pat for Friday’s big match.

“We might not agree on a lot of things,” Patricio said, “but when it comes to wrestling we’re all there. We’re all on the same page.”

While Pat is a two-time national qualifier with two seasons left with the Hawkeyes, Patricio claims to be the better of the two wrestlers. Sometimes he will get an early takedown during a workout and then retire, maintaining bragging rights.

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“He said if he had the coaches I had he would get me, because he said he was stronger and had more heart,” Pat said with a laugh. “He said it then and he’ll say it now. He won’t change his mind, but we both know what’s real.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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