IOWA CITY, Ia. — Alex Marinelli is being coy about his future, but the highly regarded freshman does know his Iowa wrestling history.
Hawkeye wrestlers almost always use their first year to get stronger, perfect their technique and adjust to the rigors of collegiate competition.
Marinelli, a 165-pounder from Miamisburg, Ohio, is so gifted that he might be difficult to keep out of the lineup this winter. One of the biggest questions surrounding an Iowa program intent on recapturing its glory years is, will he or won’t he?
“I’m just training to be a national champion every day,” Marinelli said in his first meeting with local reporters this fall. “We only have about four months until the national tournament, so you guys will know then what I’m doing.”
If that sounds like Marinelli is wavering, it’s noteworthy that he added this aside minutes later.
“Lincoln McIlravy was the first true freshman at Iowa to win a national title,” Marinelli said of that 1993 accomplishment. “I might be the next guy to win as a true freshman. We’ll see.”
Marinelli is well-versed in the Hawkeye tradition. He’s also good enough to write his own chapter.
A four-time state champion while competing for St. Paris Graham High School, Marinelli arrives in Iowa City as the jewel of an 11-member rookie class that Hawkeyes coach Tom Brands hopes can help usher in the next wave of prosperity. Iowa hasn’t won a national championship since 2010, and that constitutes a drought by its standards.
“He wants to be the best all the time. That's a quality that's not lost on me,” Brands said of Marinelli. “I can relate to that, being hard on yourself and being a perfectionist.”
Marinelli did nothing to douse expectations when he won the competitive Open Division at the Grand View Open on Nov. 5. To do so, he beat Grand View’s Grant Henderson (the NAIA runner-up last season) in the final. He also dispatched Iowa State redshirt senior Trevor Paulson.
This is not the behavior of someone easing into a freshman campaign in which he intends to redshirt.
“I kind of have a good idea about what I’m doing,” Marinelli said. “The whole goal in mind is to be a national champion, whether it’s this year or next year.”
Brands indicated that the redshirt decision will be Marinelli’s.
If he chooses to do so, he would become Brands' first wrestler in 11 years to be in the varsity lineup one year removed from high school. (Nathan Burak is the only other true freshman to do that, but he spent his first year after high school training as a grayshirt recruit.)
“Guys are whipping tail and taking names, they're going to be in the lineup,” Brands said. “But it has to be right for them. It has to be right for us. Sometimes the family factors in. If you have a family that is very invested in their son's wrestling career, you want to also include them in that.”
Marinelli said he’ll probably make his ultimate decision next month, after the Dec. 29-30 Midlands Championships. In the meantime, he’s soaking up as much of Tom and Terry Brands’ wisdom as he can.
Kaleb Young, another freshman 165-pounder from Pennsylvania, has seen what Marinelli can do up close, in daily training sessions.
“We have hard gos. He’s been taking me down quite a bit lately,” said Young, who will redshirt.
“I think he wrestled a little bit more on his feet in high school. Ohio guys tend to be good on their feet, and Pennsylvania guys have a little bit more top and bottom. So we differ a little bit there. But I think it will help, because my experience with top and bottom will help him; and his intensity on his feet will help me.”
Marinelli originally committed to Ohio State before backing out of that and signing with Iowa. He was ranked the No. 9 overall prospect in his class by InterMat and was undefeated as a high school junior and senior.
“It wasn’t that tough because it was what I wanted to do," Marinelli said of his flip-flop.
As for tangling with the Buckeyes down the road:
“I’ve thought about it and I’m excited, because I can look down at the mat and see guys that I already know. It’s going to be a good dual meet.”
Ohio State visits Iowa on Jan. 27. Will that be Marinelli’s first crack at his home-state school? Or will the drama have to wait a year?
“I know I could wrestle as a freshman this year. But another year of training is great,” Marinelli said, addressing the question without answering it.
“People put me up there with one of the best, but I still have a job to do. And I haven’t started my career. I have to prove that I’m one of the best.”