All he really ever wanted in wrestling was the chance to come to Iowa and be a guy representing the Hawkeyes on the biggest stages and beneath the brightest lights.
But through his first four years with the Iowa program, Patrick Rhoads drudged along primarily in a behind-the-scenes capacity as a backup to the likes of Derek St. John and Nick Moore. He wrestled 33 matches inside unfilled gyms at open competitions and won 25. He claimed two tournament titles.
He logged thousands of hours inside the practice room. His reward: Seven minutes of mat time in a substitute start last year against two-time NCAA champion Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State.
“You think you should have this much success, because you come into a program like this with so much expectation and then you don’t quite see it,” Rhoads said in November, hours after registering his first victory in a dual meet for the Hawkeyes. “There’s a lot of guys that don’t see it. But if you stick with it and hone into your skills and focus on what you’ve been taught and believe in your training, you can do it. That’s where I’m at right now. I’ve got to believe I can do it and go out there and do it.”
Iowa will honor its seniors Friday night after the second-ranked Hawkeyes — who can seize at least a share of the Big Ten dual title for the eighth time in nine years with a victory — wrestle Indiana inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The annual ceremony that follows the last regular-season home dual is a chance for Iowa fans to applaud the feats of the outgoing starters and appreciate those who helped the program in supporting roles.
"We talk about embracing your role and not everybody does it,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “But most guys, there’s value in the program when they look back on their career. If you haven’t learned anything in this program, then we didn’t do our job. … The toughest guys we’ve got and the guys who define our program the best are the ones who embrace (their) role, no matter what it is.”
It’s no small achievement to survive five years in a college wrestling program. It’s perhaps an even tougher test of persistence for those who take their daily lumps in the practice room and keep coming back without the competitive incentives attached to being a starter.
The Hawkeyes have watched some of their own depart the Iowa program for starting opportunities at lower levels. They’ve seen some hang up their wrestling shoes with time still left on the eligibility clock.
“You think about a lot of things, but at the end of the day you know this is the place you need to be,” Rhoads said. “These are the people who have gotten you to where you are and made you what you’ve become. And this is all I’ve ever wanted.
“This is the best wrestling room on the planet. There’s no better facility, coaching staff, competitors, teammates. They build you up and it’s the kind of brotherhood you want to have and want to be a part of. You want to be the guy contributing points to the team, not the guy helping the guy contributing points to the team. I want to be the guy. I want to be the guy they look to when we need a fall. That’s what I’m striving to be.”
Rhoads is 8-8 this season while splitting work at 165 pounds with freshman Burke Paddock. The senior’s defeats have all come against opponents ranked in the top 15 nationally.
He’s also on track to graduate with a degree in civil engineering.
“It’s kind of like the Iowa wrestling of education,” he said. “It’s very intense. I have to be on top of school all the time. If I let back, I fall behind. If you get behind, you have to play catch-up. If you want to be the best, there’s no playing catch-up.
“It’s hard (to juggle it with wrestling). But at the end of the day, it’s so satisfying to be able to do something you love.”