Brooks becoming a fan favorite on the mat


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The first thing most of the 11,882 wrestling fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena noticed about Sammy Brooks last weekend was that his mullet was gone. This, he said, was by design.

“I wanted to change it up, piss everybody off,” he said and smiled. “Everybody was starting to like it. I don’t know. I just wanted to change it up, keep everybody guessing.”

The next thing those die-hard Black and Gold fans saw was exactly what they paid for: domination and bonus points — something Brooks, Iowa’s starting 184-pounder, is becoming increasingly known for.

Brooks put a beating on Iowa State’s Lelund Weatherspoon, 9-1, during the second-ranked Hawkeyes’ 28-8 win over its in-state rival. It was a clinic in the Iowa style: In that major decision was a riding-time point, two stall calls on Weatherspoon, and two takedowns by Brooks.

“I love it,” the sophomore said. “If I’m a fan favorite — and I’m not saying I’m the fan favorite — but if people like the way I wrestle, awesome, because that means I’m going out there and doing my job.”

The Oak Park-River Forest product has been doing his job since he first put on the Iowa singlet. Brooks is 45-16 overall in his still-young Hawkeye career — that includes his 19-9 record from the 2012-13 season, when he competed unattached — and he is 8-0 this season.

That record has helped Brooks to be the sixth-ranked wrestler at 184 pounds, according to Flowrestling’s latest rankings.

Further, 27 of those 45 wins have come in bonus-point fashion — and that’s including all eight wins this year (three technical falls, three pins, a medical forfeit, and his major-decision victory over Weatherspoon).

“It’s a little bit unorthodox, a little bit wide open,” Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said about Brooks’ wrestling style. “I’d probably say it’s his own style. He’s fun to watch. He’s slowly becoming a fan favorite, I think.

“That’s kind of what I’ve picked up around the Hawkeye Nation. People like watching him wrestle. They look forward to his time on the mat. And when I say slowly, I mean he hasn’t been in the lineup much. Last year, he filled in very well for us, but he was right in there.”

Brooks spent much of last season gaining good mat experience while filling in for both two-time All-American Ethen Lofthouse and 2014 All-American Nathan Burak at 184 and 197 pounds, respectively.

Even more, Brooks proved he could hang with some of the nation’s best wrestlers at both weights, despite serving primarily as Lofthouse’s backup.

Brooks lost five matches last year to wrestlers who either went on to become All-Americans or had previously been All-Americans, in Lofthouse (3-2), Brown’s Ophir Bernstein (10-8), Maryland’s Jimmy Sheptock (3-2), Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus (8-6), and Iowa State’s Kyven Gadsen (3-2, at 197 pounds).

That experience, Brands said, was vital to Brooks’ development.

“I think people know what he can do,” Brands said. “I think they look forward to the things he brings in terms of entertainment in the sport of wrestling. Inside trips and bear hugs — he’s got kind of a personality that makes it fun to jump on his train.”

Against Weatherspoon, specifically, Brooks brought the crowd members to their feet at the end of the second period. With 10 seconds remaining, he scored a takedown off a low single, then quickly locked up a tilt for 2 more points just before the horn sounded.

“That’s a good skill,” Brands said. “And that’s the other thing. He’s very diverse. We see it a lot in [the practice room], and we see a lot more than that. That’s what we like.”

Mike Evans, Iowa’s starting 174-pounder, can attest to that. He practices with Brooks on occasion and said his speed, strength, solid positioning, and awareness have been his strongest attributes.

“He has all the makings of a good wrestler, I’ll tell you that,” Evans said.

Evans, a two-time All-American known for his mustache almost as much as his wrestling, noted that Brooks’ mullet might make a comeback. That Brooks got rid of his hairdo, though, didn’t surprise him.

Evans of all people would know, of course.

“For example, I can’t keep a mustache all year. I’ll go nuts,” said Evans, who was cleanly shaven for the Iowa State dual. “I get food stuck in it. I start chewing on it. It hurts my face. If he expected to keep a mullet all year — you know, good luck.

“But I’m sure you’ll see it again.”

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa wrestling team.

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