It’s all about how you finish.
I am not sure if any sports motivational quote applies to wrestling better than the one above. It applies to wrestlers in more ways than just the obvious hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard. Wrestling is a sport of finishing. How many times did Iowa fans watch heavyweight Bobby Telford get an opponent’s leg, and fail to finish the takedown, which eventually cost him the match? Reverse that situation and Iowa fans got to witness the first time Telford was able to beat a two time NCAA champion Tony Nelson, by finishing his shot. Wrestling is a sport where you could be an unranked Joe Nobody and if you finish your shots, you will be capable of beating the best in the nation.
Enter the recruiting situation. In 2009 Iowa landed the #5 ranked recruiting class, headlined by Illinois prep Tony Ramos, Utah’s Ethen Lofthouse, and homegrown product Derek St. John. All three were top 20 recruits, with Ramos being the highest rated of the bunch (#10). What was the impressive feat of this group is where they finished in respect to the rest of fellow recruits. D1 College Wrestling has been putting together recruiting rewinds since 2005, and if you ask me the work they provide for free is well worth the click to their site. Wednesday night the 2009 rewind was released and much to Hawkeye fan’s delight not only did all three of their top 20 recruits meet expectations, all three of them out performed their ranking.
Coming in at #5 on the list was Iowa City West’s Derek St. John. The two time Iowa state champion was the #15 recruit coming out of high school right behind John Nicholson, who beat St. John their senior year upsetting St. John’s three peat bid. St. John had a fantastic career as a Hawkeye becoming the first Tom Brands recruit to earn four All America honors by finishing 4th, 2nd, 1st, and 5th. Tony Ramos, who started #10 was able to work his way to #6 on the list finishing just behind his teammate. Ramos also put together a fantastic career by going undefeated in Carver, was a three time Big Ten finalist, and three time All American winning a title as a senior. The final wrestler was a bit of a surprise to me. Ethen Lofthouse had a rocky final two years to his career, battling Grant Gambrall for the 184 spot last season, and failing to make the stand as a senior. The surprise to me was when I realized that Lofthouse came in the #17 recruit actually finished #12. While Lofthouse may have only made the NCAA podium twice, he still outproduced all but 11 wrestlers from the 2009 class. When you consider that recruiting class had David Taylor, Ed Ruth, and Kyle Dake as the #1, 2, and 3, it makes their accomplishment’s that much more impressive.
In a way, what this brief look into this one recruiting class is able to provide is a barometer to judge the ability of the coaching staff. The important factors in recruiting is can a coach land a top talent to lead his program and the other factor is because there are such a finite amount of top talents, is the coach able to find wrestlers who can be top talents with the right coaching. While it is important for Iowa’s program to land blue chip recruits, the need to land top ten recruits isn’t as important as one would think. I went through all of the data D1 had made available and going back to 2005, and of the top 10 recruits, only 15 of the 50 who started #10 or better, finished in the top 10 of the recruiting classes. What is even more impressive is 16% of the top 10 finishers over that same period of time were ranked either 100 or lower, or even unranked.
Iowa has had fantastic success at landing recruiting classes as a whole (three top five classes since 2009), but with the knowledge that just because a recruit starts at the top, doesn’t mean he will finish at the top it should give fans a better peace of mind that Brands and Co. know what they are doing. Since 2005 Brands is averaging one top 10 finisher, with four of those wrestlers finishing at least in the top five. That is a good feather in one’s cap on an already successful program.