IOWA CITY, Ia. — For Nelson Brands, it started with Iowa great Daniel Dennis. His NCAA runner-up campaign in 2010 coincided with Brands’ first year of competitive wrestling, in sixth grade.
Brands said Dennis was the guy to him — the athlete who pushed him to wrestle in junior high, high school, college and maybe even beyond. He’d watch Dennis’ matches at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and imagine that, one day, he could be like him.
That day is closer now than ever before.
Fresh off his second consecutive Class 3A state wrestling title, Brands committed to the University of Iowa on Monday. He called Uncle Tom — Iowa head coach Tom Brands — after announcing his decision on Twitter.
"He was pretty fired up," Nelson Brands said. "Then I called (assistant coach Ryan) Morningstar, and he was pretty fired up, too."
Brands, a junior at Iowa City West, picked Iowa over North Carolina and Nebraska. He informed coaches from those schools of his decision Monday night as well. He said they wanted him to come visit before choosing a program.
It doesn't appear that's going to happen.
"My mind’s made up," Brands said. "I’m hooked."
He said he's glad to get the commitment out of the way so he can just focus on winning his third state title as a senior.
Iowa was always the front-runner, Brands said. He obviously likes the two main coaches, and he said the Hawkeyes’ wrestling room, where he spent countless hours this season, feels like home.
But the tipping point came Sunday night, when Tom Brands came over to his house to have a discussion —.not as his uncle, but as Iowa’s head wrestling coach.
"He told me exactly what I wanted to hear," Nelson Brands said. "He said that 'There’s no other college program that will allow your wrestling style to thrive,' and I agree 100 percent. The way I wrestle is pretty much how Iowa is meant to be."
The top-ranked Class 3A 152-pounder beat No. 4 Cayd Lara of Fort Dodge, 11-9, in the finals.
Terry Brands was there, too. Not as Nelson’s dad, but as Iowa wrestling’s associate head coach. The elder Brands has stayed mostly removed from his son’s recruiting process, and questions from Nelson’s mom, Michelle Brands, were directed toward Tom during the Sunday night meeting.
It was a little awkward, Nelson Brands chuckled.
"But I just took away the fact that (Tom) was my uncle and that my dad was my dad and imagined them as my coaches, which they’re going to be in Carver-Hawkeye," Brands said, "and decided from there."
Brands, the state’s top-ranked 152-pounder in Class 3A, earned his second straight state title last Saturday by beating No. 4 Cayd Lara of Fort Dodge, 11-9. He entered the state meet with 454 takedowns — 205 more than anybody else in Iowa — and he finished his junior campaign 54-1. He won the state title at 138 pounds last year and finished 54-3.
You’d have a strong case to argue he’s already the best pound-for-pound high school wrestler in Iowa. And he’s got another year before taking on Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"I’m ready," he said.
Brands becomes Iowa's second commit for the class of 2018. Gavin Teasdale of Jefferson-Morgan High in Pennsylvania committed to the Hawkeyes last April. FloWrestling.com ranks Teasdale, a 126-pounder, the No. 2 recruit of 2018. Brands is not listed in FloWrestling's 2018 rankings.