Marion’s return boosts Iowa wrestling

BY J.T. BUGOS | FEBRUARY 03, 2011 7:10 AM

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Nine months ago, Montell Marion was figuratively thrown on his back: He was suspended from the Iowa wrestling team after being arrested for allegedly driving drunk in downtown Iowa City.

Four days ago, Marion found himself literally on his back, thrown there by Penn State’s Andrew Alton.

Much like he fought his way back on the team by revamping his off-mat life, Marion fought off the pin attempt and started rallying after a 5-0 deficit. In the third period he exploded for three takedowns to seize the lead and the match, eventually winning 11-9 against the then-No. 5 Nittany Lion.

“We know [Alton] is dangerous in the position he wingdinged us, and we got wingdinged pretty good,” head coach Tom Brands said. “Montell was able to come back because he has good offense. You’re never out of it. You can be pinned, you can pin at any time. You’re never out of it.”

Marion was supposed to be out of the Iowa wrestling program. The junior was even offered a transfer release, but he opted to stay in Iowa City and try to work his way back on the team. He was reinstated on Jan. 4.

“This process is not about just wrestling, this process is about his rehab, his continued sobriety,” the fifth-year head coach said. “And dang right I’m proud. [Dan] Gable said it best, he said, ‘This is how it’s supposed to be with young people.’ I was an advocate for Montell when he enrolled in classes here.

“There was no guarantee, and that’s when I became an advocate for him.”

Brands said Marion told Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta that he would graduate from the UI, and Brands’ response was to say, “Put your money where your mouth is, stud.” So far the 141-pounder Hawkeye has proven himself worthy of wearing Black and Gold again.

“Montell has made some poor decisions, and he continues to pay a significant price,” Barta said in a release on Jan. 4 when Marion was reinstated. “With that said, I’m proud of the changes he is making in his life. I support the plan that has been put in place and, more importantly, I’m encouraged with his commitment going forward. I would take great pride in one day watching Montell walk across the graduation stage.”

Marion, who was unavailable for comment on Tuesday before practice, seems to have avoided any letdown from the time off after a run to the finals in last year’s NCAA championships. The match against Alton might have been the Des Moines native’s best offensive showing in a long time.

“He’s a hard worker, he’s tough,” 133-pounder Tony Ramos said. “He can go with anyone and he can probably wrestle the longest out of anyone. That kid never gets tired.”

Marion’s return to the lineup gives a huge boost to an Iowa squad that appears to be improving with each dual. But Brands said the key to Marion spurring a Hawkeye surge will be to keep the grappler grounded — which the head coach believes Marion is.

“Pretty even guy walking off the mat [after the win over Alton],” Brands said. “Probably a lot of reason to be jumping up and down, but he didn’t. He just walked off the mat, business as usual … He’s a cool customer. He’s a smooth operator.”

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