New wrestling assistant Backes doing heavy lifting


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When Hawkeye heavyweight wrestler Blake Rasing manhandled his Ohio State opponent in a 12-1 major decision Jan. 22, it came as a surprise.

After all, the 12 points were a season-high for Rasing, and he’s scored three points or fewer in over half his matches. The offensive explosion seemed, to an outside observer, to come from nowhere.

It didn’t seem that way to Kurt Backes. To him, it was the result of a season’s worth of practice and gaining confidence.

The first-year volunteer assistant coach is primarily responsible for working with the Hawkeyes’ heavier weights, and he has spent much of the season working with Rasing on building the confidence to use his previously hidden offensive capabilities.

Rasing said Backes has supplied plenty of knowledge on how to attack an opponent.

“He talks a lot about pressure,” Rasing said. “Pressure, and circling, and really staying on the guy’s head. Even if you’re not shooting, always having pressure on the guy and making him tired. And then you can get to your shots later on.”

Backes said he took pride in seeing Rasing’s improvement, calling it “an awesome feeling.” The Neshanic Station, N.J., native was a two-time All-American and Big 12 champion wrestler at 184 and 197 pounds for Iowa State. He cited Bobby Douglas, his coach at Iowa State, along with his coaches at Blair Academy High School, as role models for him to follow as a coach. His experience under those coaches, and a desire to pass it on to young wrestlers, he said, drew him to a career in coaching.

“Wrestling’s been in my blood for so long that it’d be kind of hard to walk away,” he said. “This is what I want to do. I want to coach at the highest level and teach these kids what I’ve learned. And I want to see them achieve what I couldn’t and some of what I did [achieve].”

Backes was the strength and conditioning coach for Missouri’s wrestling team in 2008 and a volunteer assistant at Virginia Tech in 2009. Now at his third coaching stop, he said he is still developing his coaching style.

Head coach Tom Brands said Backes brings an “even, steady approach” to Iowa that complements the intensity on the rest of the coaching staff. Rasing agreed, noting that it’s not always steady and even with Backes.

“Yeah, he’s level-headed, and he’s someone you can talk to,” Rasing said. “But when he needs to put his foot down, he can put his foot down and get his point across — just like Brands.”

When the Hawkeyes go to “live” wrestling in practice, Backes works out mainly with Rasing, 184-pounder Grant Gambrall, and 197-pounder Luke Lofthouse. He said he enjoys the chance to help those wrestlers improve and he learns something every day from the rest of Iowa’s coaching staff.

“It’s almost addicting coaching at a place like this because it’s such a high level,” Backes said. “The fans are great, the coaches are great, the athletes are awesome. [Iowa] is where you want to be if you want to coach and learn and grow.”

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