IOWA CITY, Ia. – The darkest wrestling thoughts darted through his mind two weeks ago when Brody Grothus walked off the mat after bottoming out in his long-awaited return to competition.
For nearly 13 months, the Iowa senior waded through a myriad of impediments that kept him off the competitive mat. A high-ankle sprain. A freshman that seized his opportunity and took that job that once belonged to Grothus. A shoulder that required offseason surgery and cost him this season’s first two months.
Grothus thought he was ready when the opportunity to put on a black singlet finally arrived again two weeks ago at the Pat Flanagan Open. He wasn’t. Admittedly, he buried himself with silly mistakes, the type he hadn’t made since high school, and with two losses to Wisconsin backups fresh in his mind, he questioned himself.
“Is this really worth it? What the heck am I doing? Those are the initial thoughts,” he said. “But once I got back to Iowa City I was right back in the room that night and you flip the switch, you put it behind you and you go and you don’t lose sight of what you’re after.”
Grothus is after much bigger goals than taking ownership of a spot in the Iowa lineup again. He’s after bigger moments than Friday when his 6-0 blanking of two-time NCAA qualifier Danny Sabatello helped the second-ranked Hawkeyes dust Purdue 39-4 in front of 8,536 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I’m here to get a gold medal at the Big Tens and NCAA Championships,” Grothus said. “Getting sixth place at the (Flanagan) Open, that might make for a good story coming back and taking first at NCAAs. That’s where my head’s at. I’ve got a long ways to go to get there, I know that. I’m not using this one match and saying I’m ready to be an NCAA champion. I’ve got work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction this time.”
Brody Grothus returned to the Iowa lineup with a 6-0 win against Purdue's Danny Sabatello. Andy Hamilton/HawkCentralc.om
The Hawkeyes remained on their full-speed-ahead course Friday, throttling another overmatched Big Ten opponent. They ran their league winning streak to 18 by winning nine bouts, picking up bonus points in six and racking up a 37-3 takedown advantage.
Edwin Cooper and Sam Stoll registered pins, Thomas Gilman and Nathan Burak notched technical falls and Cory Clark and Sam Brooks cruised to major decisions.
Iowa (12-0, 6-0 Big Ten) has wrestled 60 matches in conference dual competition. The Hawkeyes have won 50.
“I don’t really say a whole lot about feeling good about things, but I really like this team because they score points and they’re trying to score points,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “It’s going to come down to: Can you do that against Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, whoever’s in the top three or four, Oklahoma State, every time, four or five matches in a row at every weight class? You win 50, 60 matches in a row at the national tournament, you’re probably going to win the tournament.”
Tom Brands breaks down Iowa's 39-4 win against Purdue. Andy Hamilton/HawkCentral.com
Iowa breezed through the first half of the season despite operating at less than full capacity. Eight Hawkeyes wrestled their way into the national rankings, but Iowa hadn’t won a registered a dual win at 141 pounds against a Division I opponent until two weeks ago when Topher Carton started a three-bout win streak.
Grothus, who captured wins two years ago over the wrestlers who finished first through fourth at the national tournament at 149, could give the Hawkeyes an extra jolt if he get back to his old form. Friday was a step on that path.
The direction change for Grothus started shortly after the ride home from Dubuque. He traded text messages with his parents. They wanted to know what he was doing. Grothus said he was on his way to the Iowa wrestling room to squeeze in a workout. His father’s response: “I’m outside Carver.”
“I was raised in a family where you don’t let negative things weigh you down,” Brody said. “That was probably one of the lows of my career here at Iowa. I stayed level-headed and said if this one weekend’s going to be the end of me, then that’s pretty pathetic. Let’s get this thing right and let’s get back to work.”
Crossfit recently hooked Ed Grothus. He fired up a treadmill while his son pedaled away on bike sprints, climbed ropes and took out his frustration by beating up tires with a gigantic steel hammer.
"He didn’t put his head down and suck his thumb,” Brands said. “It was about getting better and owning it. That’s what we like.”