Tom Brands remembers it as a recruiting stunner.
Sam Stoll was a top high school heavyweight who grew up rooting for a program that produces top college heavyweights, a Minnesotan who seemed earmarked for Minnesota.
“He was going to Minnesota and he was coming to Iowa as a token visit,” the Iowa coach recalled this week. “Then he left here and he was hook, line and sinker.”
“Maybe there’s a little bit more to the story than that,” Stoll said. “I kind of had an idea I might come (to Iowa) before and I think I did a good job of fooling them. I don’t think they knew I was coming here.”
The Hawkeyes had a need with Bobby Telford nearing the end of his career at Iowa and the Gophers already had a young heavyweight on its roster in Michael Kroells, who bested Stoll a few times when both wrestlers were climbing the ranks on the Minnesota prep scene.
After taking official visits to Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and North Dakota State, Stoll picked the Hawkeyes. He arrived at Iowa with two Minnesota state high school titles and a national prep record, ending his career with 63 consecutive pins.
Stoll has continued his upward career trajectory this year as a freshman with the Hawkeyes, rising from outside the preseason rankings to No. 7 after winning 17 of his first 19 matches and piling up a team-high seven pins. His only defeats have come at the hands of two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State and Oklahoma State All-American Austin Marsden.
Another challenge arrives Friday night, though, when Minnesota comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Stoll gets another shot at ninth-ranked Kroells.
This isn’t the Minnesota college wrestling has grown accustomed to seeing throughout the past couple decades. The Gophers are 7-6 and ranked 23rd after extensive graduation losses decimated a team that finished third or better at the NCAA Championships in three of the last four years. But the Gophers still have Kroells, a returning All-American who is 23-5 as a junior.
“He used to beat me when I was in eighth grade and he was a sophomore,” Stoll said. “I’m excited to get this one.”
That’s how Brands felt in the fall of 2013 when Stoll announced his college plans.
At the time, it may have seemed like the Gophers had the inside track for Stoll. He grew up a Minnesota fan watched Gopher heavyweights Brock Lesnar, Cole Konrad and Tony Nelson win NCAA titles.
“That’s something I thought about,” Stoll said. “That’s the Minnesota pitch right there — the big line of heavyweights — and that’s something I took into consideration, but the past is the past. I want to do what’s right for me as an athlete and I felt coming to the University of Iowa was going to be the right thing to do.”
The Hawkeyes had keen insight on Stoll, who wrestled at Kasson-Mantorville High School for Jamie Heidt, a 1999 Big Ten champion and All-American at Iowa.
“I knew his background, got to know him and I don’t think he had a whole lot handed to him in his life, he had to earn everything,” Brands said. “And he has to continue to earn it. His best wrestling is ahead of him, but we like where he’s at and what he’s doing. He represents us very well.”