Illinois freshman right fielder Willie Argo was a man for all seasons at Davenport (Iowa) Assumption High School. Now, Argo's putting the finishing touches on a season where he finally concentrated on one sport.
Illinois freshman right fielder Willie Argo was a man for all seasons at Davenport (Iowa) Assumption High School.
Named the state's boys athlete of the year by the Des Moines Register and Quad City Times, Argo set a state record with 83 touchdowns in his career in football and served as captain of the all-state team. A four-time state place winner in track, he also finished third twice at 189 pounds at the state wrestling meet.
"He excelled in everything he did athletically,'' said Assumption wrestling coach Pete Bush. "He could have gone Division I in wrestling. It was like poetry out there. He made the coaches look good. We miss him in Davenport.''
In baseball, he also captained the all-state team after leading Assumption to a state title for the second time in three years. (Assumption finished second the other season.) Argo decided upon a college career in baseball and followed the path of his father, who played in college and the minor leagues.
When the Illini (33-18 overall, 16-8 in the Big Ten) carry the No. 4 seed into the Big Ten Tournament against No. 5 Michigan State (23-29, 11-13) Wednesday (11 a.m., BTN) at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio, Argo puts the finishing touches on a season where he finally concentrated on one sport. Argo led the Illini and ranked eighth in the Big Ten with 11 homers. His .640 slugging percentage stood fourth in the league. He was a third-team all-Big Ten pick and a member of the all-freshman team.
"I was a pretty raw baseball player in high school,'' he said. "The big reason to play baseball in college is I had more room to develop. I feel like a much more complete baseball player. I'm excited to see what it will be like in a couple years down the road.''
A 6-foot-1, 205-pounder who was taken in the 49th round of the draft last summer, Argo made a name for himself years ago. As an 11-year-old, he pitched in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., but his Davenport East team lost in the early rounds to the Bronx and Danny Almonte, the star who was later discovered to be two years too old.
Argo didn't get cheated in his first college game. He hit three homers at then-No. 1 LSU.
"It was almost like it wasn't real,'' said his father, Billy. "The first one was, OK. He got ahead on the count, got a little out in front, and it hooked in there. The second one went up in the air pretty good. The third one, you couldn't hardly believe it was happening.''
The performance put Argo in Faces in the Crowd in Sports Illustrated.
"My dad bought seven copies and put them in Ziploc bags,'' Argo said.
Even though his father is surprised with the power numbers, Argo looks like a college slugger. The ball sounds differently off his aluminum bat.
"It's like a sledgehammer,'' said Illini assistant coach Eric Snider, the hook who got Argo to Illinois. "He's a man. He's a dude.''
Billy Argo met Snider years ago at Iowa State, where they were teammates for a year. They also worked as graduate assistants together at Iowa. Before picking Illinois, Argo first picked a sport. When Iowa wasn't interested in football, Argo knew he would concentrate on college baseball.
Considered a future center fielder, Argo is working to improve his arm strength. At the plate, he wants to hit to more of the field. Snider also calls him a prospect to steal 40 bases in a season.
"If he works at it, he will be an amazing player,'' Snider said.
Wikoff, Altobelli named to all-Big Ten first team
Illinois junior shortstop Brandon Wikoff, a Bartonville Limestone graduate, and senior third baseman Dominic Altobelli earned first-team all-Big Ten, the league announced Tuesday.
Wikoff ranked second on the Illini and sixth in hitting with a .375 average. He also led the Big Ten with 81 hits while ranking ranked fourth with 54 runs scored, third with 16 doubles and first with five triples.
Altobelli ranked first on the Illini and fifth in the league with a .379 batting average, fifth in the Big Ten with 78 hits and eighth with 52 RBIs.
Outfielder Pete Cappetta was a second-team pick with outfielder Willie Argo, right-hander Will Strack and catcher Aaron Johnson third-team selections. Argo and Strack were also members of the all-freshman team.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.