Wrestlers bring swagger to the mat
Tom Brands doesn’t believe in confidence.
Instead, Iowa’s fifth-year wrestling head coach believes in being bulletproof.
No one on this Hawkeye squad is bulletproof, though — not yet, at least. But it’s obvious these grapplers have confidence oozing out of their ears.
So if confidence isn’t the right word, maybe swagger is.
Tony Ramos shows it with his walk. Montell Marion shows it in his talk. And Derek St. John shows it in neither his walk nor talk but instead by beating two top-10 opponents in a week.
All the grapplers show it on the mat, which is ultimately where it counts.
“I believe in attacking, I believe in building leads,” Brands said. “And that’s what confidence is. It’s not just all of a sudden something clicks in my head and I’m confident. ‘Oh, I’m confident, I’m going to go now.’ It’s I’m going to go, and I’m going to go, and I’m going to get what I want.
“And because I get what I want, there’s a glow about me. You walk with it.”
Brands has pointed out numerous times the way Ramos “walks with it,” but the redshirt freshman doesn’t simply walk-the-walk. He also goes out and pins Indiana’s Matt Ortega a week after upsetting then-No. 5 Andrew Long of Penn State — the national runner-up at 125 pounds last season.
“You can see how [Ramos] walks, like he has energy, and he thrives on the challenge, and he thrives on being a big stick, so to speak,” Brands said. “You see him staring the opponent down at the beginning, and it’s good.”
Marion might be the talker of the group. He noted after the Indiana dual on Feb. 4 that all that matters is what happens in Philadelphia at the NCAA championships, but he wasn’t shy about how he feels about the Hawkeyes.
“I love the teammates and the firepower that we got, because we’re stacked at every weight,” he said.
Ramos also noted during practice the week prior — the week after Marion returned to the lineup — that Iowa was stacked at every weight. Luke Lofthouse might not concur with that assessment, but as the Hawkeyes’ seemingly voice of reason, the senior doesn’t go too far to dispute that all 10 wrestlers are impressive right now.
“I’m not surprised with where we’re at, but we’re not where we need to be yet, either,” he said. “And there’s been progress, and we’ve talked about progress the entire year and how it’s been coming along as a group. Last week and today, we’ve started to feel it as a team where we’re wrestling pretty good throughout the lineup the whole way through.”
Lofthouse is certainly less boisterous than his younger teammates, but that doesn’t mean Marion and Ramos are wrong. Since their tie with Oklahoma State on Jan. 16, the Hawkeyes have pulverized Ohio State, 33-3, Northwestern, 31-9, and Indiana, 35-6. Sandwiched between the demolitions against the Wildcats and Hoosiers is a decisive win over then-No. 1 Penn State, 22-13.
Marion may not be as calculating as Lofthouse, but he isn’t afraid to speak his mind about this team, its swagger, and where it might be by year’s end.
“The thing that’s great about these young guys is that people thought there was going to be a letdown,” the junior said. “But we’re showing them right now that were contesting for the national title.
“It’s on, we’re not going anywhere.”
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