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Iowa coach Tom Brands reacts after the Hawkeyes clinched third place in the team race at the NCAA Wrestling Championships.

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Patrick Kennedy grew up in the southeast corner of Minnesota, less than 200 miles from Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. When he was very young, he and his dad mined YouTube for highlights of two legendary Hawkeye wrestlers — Tom and Terry Brands.

His primary takeaway: I want to wrestle like those guys.

“Watching a guy go out there and not care about what the other guy thinks and just getting after it — that’s fun to watch,” Kennedy told the Des Moines Register Tuesday morning. “I try to match it in some ways. I like to perform in front of people and put on a show.”

After Monday night, Hawkeye wrestling fans are next in line. Well, sort of.

Kennedy, a rising junior at Kasson-Mantorville High School in Minnesota, announced his commitment to Iowa on Monday. He is one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the country, and becomes the Hawkeyes’ first 2020 recruit. He projects anywhere from 165 to 184 pounds.

‘I want the program to win’

This is an intriguing situation, if only because Kennedy still has two years of high school left before officially joining the program. He made his decision known on Twitter on Monday night, but almost didn’t tweet it at all. Not his style.

But he wanted to make it official so as to help the future of the program.

“I’m not really in this for the attention,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t really want to post anything about me committing for a while. I just wanted to go about my way. But committing early allows me to help the Hawkeyes build a team before I get there.

“I want (assistant coach Ryan Morningstar) and the Brands brothers to use me as a tool to get my future teammates in the room. I think committing early shows that I’m really committed to the program and I want the program to win.”

‘He’s never shied away from competition’

Kennedy is already a strong centerpiece around which to build. He ended the 2017-18 season ranked No. 4, nationally, at 182 pounds by Intermat, No. 3 at the same weight by Trackwrestling and No. 2 by The Open Mat. Flowrestling has Kennedy as the No. 8 pound-for-pound wrestler in the 2020 class, while The Open Mat has him at No. 5.

His results explain why.

Kennedy is a four-time state medalist and a two-time state champion — Minnesota allows middle schoolers to compete for varsity. As a seventh-grader, he took sixth at 132 pounds, and then took third as an eighth-grader at 145. His last two years, he won state titles at 170 and 182 while compiling a 73-2 record. Over the last four years, he’s 141-20.

Even more, Kennedy has excelled on the national level as well.

He placed third at the UWW Cadet World Team Trials in 2017, competing at 76 kilograms (roughly 167 pounds). He was a Cadet freestyle All-American, placing third at 170 pounds last July. Last October, he won the Super 32 Challenge, arguably the toughest high school preseason competition in the country, and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.

“Patrick loves to compete and compete at a high level,” Jamie Heidt, his coach at Kasson-Mantorville, told the Post Bulletin in Rochester. “He has that never-ending enthusiasm to get better.

“He’s never shied away from competition, even from his early days.”

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‘Winning NCAA, world and Olympic titles’

There’s a story here, too. Kasson-Mantorville entered the 2017-18 season as back-to-back state champs. Kennedy approached Heidt about bumping up to 182, despite not cutting much weight. It would help the team and also allow Kennedy to wrestle the state’s best up a weight.

“Most of the time, I only weigh 172 or 175,” Kennedy said. “I’m only like 5-8 and I have a full-grown beard, so I don’t think I’m going to grow much more. My last weigh in at state, I weighed in at like 173.1. We got four pounds” — meaning he was wrestling guys who weighed in at 186. 

“I bumped up because there was a really good guy at 182 and I wanted to wrestle him,” Kennedy continued. “I bumped up for the challenge of the weight.”

Kennedy ultimately tech'd his way to the finals, where he won, 9-2, for his second state title in as many years. But he believes that mindset will bode well for him at Iowa — and also help attract more future stars to Iowa City.

“You’ve got their fans, the coaches and everything, but the biggest reason for me was their attitude toward stuff,” Kennedy said. “I know that attitude will help me get to where I want to be, and that’s winning NCAA titles and world and Olympic titles.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

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