Sports Editor

Osceola wrestler Malyke Hines enters his senior season on the mats for the Kowboys with a chance to claim a third Class 3A state title.

He’ll tackle the season with the burden of where he’ll wrestle in college fully lifted.

Hines signed his National Letter of Intent last week with Lehigh University, located in Bethlehem, Penn., about 90 minutes north of Philadelphia in the picturesque Lehigh Valley.

Malyke Hines signs

Osceola wrestler Malyke Hines (seated, center) signs his National Letter of Intent last week to Lehigh (Pa.) University with his parents, Wendy and Patrick Ortiz, brothers and fellow wrestlers Jaekus Hines and Adias Ortiz, and his Kowboy teammates.

Lehigh is among the elite of college wrestling programs — the Mountain Hawks were ranked No. 6 nationally in the season’s first USA Today/NWCA Coaches poll, prior to falling to No. 5 Michigan in a dual match last weekend. They compete in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association and are the reigning league champions after also winning it in 2002-06.

Hines, the state 126-pound champion as a junior, the 120-pound champ as a sophomore and the 106-pound runner-up as a freshman said he’d discussed his future with a “Who’s Who” of college wrestling’s elite Division I programs, like Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Oklahoma State and Nebraska, but said Lehigh had the most going for it to be his best fit.

“It has great academics, and on campus I won’t be outnumbered,” said Hines, who plans to major in sports management with an eye on coaching or becoming an agent. “Plus, I feel like I’ll have the chance to make an impact right away.”

The Mountain Hawks are coached by Pat Santoro, who has led a Lehigh wrestler to a national championship each of the past two years coached 16 individuals to a total of 21 EIWA titles.

“The coaches said our class coming in is an extension of the Lehigh tradition,” Hines said.

Hines has wrestled in OHS Coach Jim Bird’s club program “for about forever,” and the coach said he’ll step up to the collegiate level ready to compete.

“He’s got college-level skills, but the great thing about him is that he’s always learning,” Bird said. “And the academics are great there, he’ll get an outstanding education. As for networking in wrestling … the names of their All-Americans are right there on the wall.”

Hines said he’s just as focused going for a third FHSAA state title as he was when he first suited up for the Kowboys.

“As a team I hope we can win a state title,” he said. “I also want to help Jaekus (his brother, who was the 106-pound runner-up as a freshman last season).”

Bird said he plans to enjoy his final season coaching Hines.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him have a great season, have fun and be a leader,” the coach said. “His story shows what hard work will get you. Even after three state titles, he knows there’s always more work to do.”