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Berhow to coach against former team

BY CODY GOODWIN | JANUARY 23, 2014 5:00 AM

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Ben Berhow is sitting in his office inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. His desk is cluttered with papers of all sorts, but he doesn’t really care about that right now. He’s busy telling a story, one that he distinctly remembers about one of college wrestling’s deepest rivalries.

“I remember watching them in 2002, at the Target Center in Minneapolis,” he says. “It was under the lights. It was a big, big dual. Minnesota actually won. It was tight. It went right up to the end. It was such an exciting atmosphere.”

That 2002 wrestling dual — in which the Gophers beat Iowa, 22-15, during a season in which they won both the Big Ten and NCAA championships — was one of Berhow’s earliest memories of the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry. Berhow has experienced both sides of it, first as a wrestler, then a coach for the Gophers and now as a coach for the Hawkeyes.

Berhow joined the Gophers as a blue-chip recruit from Albert Lea High. A native of Hayward, Minn., Berhow won the 2006 Minnesota state championship at 285 pounds and signed a national letter of intent the following April.

At heavyweight, he corralled 78 wins during his four years, including three NCAA Tournament appearances. After graduating in 2011, Berhow joined the Minnesota wrestling staff as an administrative assistant, where he worked with the heavier weights.

The results were more than astounding. In his two years, he helped coach current Minnesota heavyweight Tony Nelson to two NCAA championships during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.

Following last season’s title bout, Nelson was asked who worked out with him in the practice room to help him “climb the mountain” again. He credited Berhow for a lot of his success.

“He’s been here the last three years,” Nelson said then. “He’s taught me a lot. I appreciate everything he’s done for me. He’s a big reason I’ve done what I’ve done.”

It’s no surprise, then, that when Berhow was introduced as Iowa’s new assistant coach, head coach Tom Brands said he had “had [his] eye on him for a long time.” It was largely assumed that Berhow was going to come in and work with heavyweight Bobby Telford, perhaps to reach the same heights as Nelson previously did.

“When you work with an athlete as motivated as he is, it makes your job a lot easier,” Berhow said about Telford. “I know where his goals are at, and that’s to be at the top of the podium, to win an NCAA title. My goal is the same for him.

“It’s easy to say that; to train for that is another thing.”

Brands said on Tuesday that the addition of Berhow gave guys such as Telford, Terrance Jean-Jacques, and even Nathan Burak a durable practice partner. Berhow doesn’t wrestle with each of Iowa’s heavier weights every day, but whenever any of them need some special attention, “he’s game,” Brands said.

Even more, Berhow has the experience and size to adequately coach the heavier weights — something Brands said he and some other coaches lacked, given their smaller stature.

“That’s not to say that we can’t,” Brands said. “But it’s good to feel it, as a coach, when you have a guy you’re trying to teach. It’s harder to feel Telford because he puts his thumb on you and you wilt, when you’re a guy like me.

“He can’t make Berhow wilt like that. He has to work harder. … I think he enjoys it. I think it’s refreshing for him.”

It’s been refreshing for Berhow, too. He’s taken a different approach to coaching Telford from what he did with Nelson. This was expected. Each wrestler is different, he said.

His new pupil and former one will clash on Saturday when the third-ranked Gophers come to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to wrestle against the second-ranked Hawkeyes.

For Berhow, it will be a nice reunion with the staff that he both wrestled under and coached with for so many years. He grew up a Gopher fan, he says, but has put that behind him. He’s all about Iowa now.

Along with seeing some old practice partners and coaches, Berhow said some of his family will come down to Iowa City to watch the dual. Back at his cluttered desk, he’s asked which colors those family members will wear.

Without hesitation, he smiles. “Iowa,” he says. “This is home now.”


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