Coming in to the 2016-17 the Iowa State Cyclones opened with three options for the 125-pound starting spot. Senior Kyle Larson held the edge in experience, sophomore Jon Marmolejo transferred in from a rising Purdue program, and redshirt freshman Markus Simmons was full of upside. It was a weight that Cyclone fans felt relatively optimistic about knowing that it would be manned by either a savvy veteran or a hungry newcomer eager to prove himself.
Larson has been the Cyclone starter for the last two seasons, compiling a 43-30 record during that time and made his first trip to nationals as a junior. Coming into his final year of eligibility it looked as though he was slated to be the starter for the third straight season, as he started the season opener against South Dakota State and also the North Dakota State dual just two days later.
During that same time period that Larson was making his start against the two Dakota schools, Simmons posted a runner-up performance at the Grand View Open, losing only to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville’s No. 13 ranked Freddy Rodriguez, 9-7 SV in the finals. Simmons’s biggest win was potentially his first round pin against current UNI starter Jay Schwarm, but his overall performance was a glimpse at potentially the newest addition to head coach Kevin Jackson’s lineup.
“Wrestling well and staying healthy is the key,” Simmons told IAwrestle, “Being on the podium in March is the ultimate goal. However, like the old cliché says “I have to take one match at a time”. Therefore, I’ll stay humble, prayed up, and ready to wrestle for the Cyclones.”
Following his runner-up performance at Grand View, Simmons then posted a third place finish at Iowa State’s home open, the Harold Nichols Cyclone Open this past weekend. It was there Simmons picked up three key victories, the first was a 17-0 technical fall over Larson in the tournament’s consolation semifinals. He would follow that win with a 5-2 decision over Nebraska freshman standout Kris Williams and then a 5-0 victory over true freshman Taylor LaMont of Utah Valley. His only loss at the Cyclone Open was to No. 9 ranked Ethan Lizak of Minnesota, 4-0 in the quarterfinals.
“I’m confident in my abilities as an athlete,” Simmons said, “I’m also confident in our coaches because they’re so knowledgeable, so I’m constantly improving. It doesn’t matter who I’m wrestling because when I toe the line I expect to win. I lost a couple matches I shouldn’t have because I didn’t finish, but that’s a part of the learning process this early in the season.”
With his win over Larson, Simmons should now be pushed to the front of the Cyclone depth chart at 125 pounds, with true freshman Danny Vega nipping at his heels. With Jackson trying to keep the bulk of his top five recruiting class on redshirt (Oregon native Sammy Colbray has already had his redshirt lifted at 197 pounds), Simmons is quickly becoming the runaway favorite to take over the lineup spot for the remainder of the season.
“In order to win you have to score points, and pickup up bonus points is very important in any team race. I’m an aggressive wrestler and that’s what the coaches and fans like to see.”
The biggest obstacle facing Simmons might be weight, as the freshman came into Iowa State a projected 133-pound wrestler. Simmons on the other hand isn’t concerned about his weight affecting his performance.
“There’s always room for improvement with my weight cut. This is new for me so it’s a learning process. This goal is getting my weight down and maintaining it and feeling good when I wrestle. I never had to cut much weight in high school and last year I ate everything trying to bulk up. This year is different. I’m ready for the challenge with everything.”