Brooks a viable fill-in


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It was a simple two-on-one move. Sammy Brooks cinched up Vince Pickett’s left arm — one hand on the wrist, another at the elbow — and shot his head through a hole underneath Pickett’s body. The maneuver allowed Brooks to roll through and hold a tilt, and he ended up scoring 3 near-fall points from it.

Brooks used his tilt twice more in the second period of his match with Edinboro’s Pickett last week. He ultimately won the match, 11-0, a crucial major decision for No. 3 Iowa at the time.

And he did so while giving up about 13 pounds.

“You gotta realize, he’s weighing in at 184 [pounds],” Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said. “There’s a difference weighing in at 84 and wrestling 97 than some of the lighter weights. It’s not easy to make the weight, then move up a weight.”

Brooks has spent his last two matches wrestling up from his normal 184 pounds. He’s competed in place of Nathan Burak, who’s ranked 10th at 197 pounds. Brooks has split his two matches, earning a win against Edinboro and dropping a 3-2 decision to Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson on Dec. 1.

And Brooks nearly had a shot to upset the second-ranked Gadson. Near the end of the third period, Brooks picked up the pace and found himself in deep on Gadson’s legs, but a scramble pushed the two out of bounds.

The talent that Brooks, just a redshirt freshman, has shown excites Brands — and it shows the depth Iowa has at its heavier weights.

“That’s what we want,” Brands said. “He’s had some good performances. Against Iowa State, I think he could’ve won that match. I don’t know if he should’ve won it, but he could’ve won it.”

Wrestling against top-tier opponents — Gadson is a returning All-American at 197 pounds — isn’t anything new for Brooks. The Oak Park-River Forest product earned a spot on the FILA Junior World Freestyle Team this past summer.

Along with teammate Thomas Gilman, Brooks traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, and wrestled with some of the best in the world at his age and weight class, 84 kilograms — or around 185 pounds. Brooks placed eighth in the competition.

“It’s more experience against tough competition,” Brooks said about his international stint. “Any tough matches like that will be a positive if you take away the right things. It helped quite a bit.”

Brooks takes that experience with him into the practice room each day, where he routinely bangs heads with some of the nation’s best. Brooks has a fleet of wrestlers at his weight with whom he practices — including the nation’s second-ranked 184-pounder, Ethen Lofthouse — as well as some of his heavier teammates who help prepare him for the significant weight change.

“It’s just a weight,” Lofthouse said. “We train with bigger guys. We train with Burak and [Tomas] Lira. We train with those bigger guys in here so we know what it’s like. There’s no difference.”

Lofthouse isn’t surprised that Brooks has had success at an upper weight. Brooks is a tough kid, he said. Brands echoed Lofthouse, adding that it’s nice to see Brooks “throw his hat in the ring,” no matter which weight he wrestles at.

“I’m going to wrestle wherever they need me to wrestle,” Brooks said. “I’ll just keep doing what the coaches want and, hopefully, get in the lineup more and more.”

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