Freshman wrestler not hopeless to compete at 157

BY J.T. BUGOS | DECEMBER 09, 2009 7:30 AM

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Iowa wrestler Derek St. John emerged victorious during the team’s wrestle-offs on Nov. 7 after wins over juniors Brooks Kopsa and Aaron Janssen. At the time, he seemingly grabbed ahold of the Hawkeyes’ 157-pound weight class.

But on Sunday, Janssen took to the mat against Iowa State.

Iowa head coach Tom Brands had thrown a redshirt on St. John, something the true freshman said he expected even after winning the wrestle-off.

With the 157 slot still up in the air — Janssen and juniors Jake Kerr and Matt Ballweg have all competed for the Hawkeyes so far — St. John might seem like an appealing alternative.

He competed unattached at the Harold Nichols Cyclone Open and the Kaufman-Brand Open Titles this season. In the Nichols Open, he scored two major decisions and two pins in six matches, losing just once. At the Kaufman-Brand Open, the Parnell, Iowa, native had one technical fall and two major decisions in six matches, losing only to Ballweg.

For now, and maybe for the next few months, St. John will continue to wear red.

That doesn’t mean he won’t be on the mat near the end of the season, though.

“I think he’s on track and capable, but it’s a decision that’s not easy,” Brands said. “I don’t have a formula, and I don’t have a target date. Chances are, his first event won’t be the Big Ten championships, but if it is, he’s already been through the Nichols Open at the senior level, the Kaufman-Brand open, and the Midlands.

“He’s been getting ready for big matches his whole career.”

St. John said he is improving his skills and preparing himself if a chance presents itself. He’s forced to play a waiting game but said he’d be ready if Brands decides the West High graduate is needed.

The fourth-year head coach said he is in no hurry to make a decision, making sure he gives St. John time to grow. The 157-pound weight class could be open for a long time — maybe until the Hawkeyes weigh somebody in at the Big Ten championships.

Brands doesn’t want to overwhelm a freshman who isn’t used to the grind of college wrestling.

Matches are a minute longer than in high school, and riding time is also a factor.

“The baptism of fire needs to be in the practice room, not just throwing him out there and expecting by the end of the year to be cultured and brought along to the point where they can contribute,” Brands said. “That’s not a real strong thought process. It’s a very brutal, hard-nosed sport for a young guy who doesn’t know what it’s about. And it’s good to see how he handles that experience.”

Brands said he has no blueprint for how he goes about deciding on redshirts. He said there needs to be dialogue with the student-athlete, maybe even with his family, and a decision has to be made based on what is right for the individual. It’s important all parties agree on whether to redshirt, he said.

“When you take a guy out of redshirt, it has to be the best for them,” Brands said. “It’s not a shot-in-the-dark type thing. If you don’t know if it’s going to work out or not, it’s probably not going to work out. You better be sure it’s the best move for the betterment of the program.”

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