‘The ax is sharpened’: Iowa's Jacob Warner eyes gold at the 2018 Junior World Championships
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Bobby Telford is talking about Jacob Warner, and he begins by describing the difference between Warner as a high school wrestler and Warner now, entering his redshirt freshman year with the Iowa wrestling program.
And the analogy that comes out is about cars, because this is Bobby Telford talking.
“The difference between Jacob Warner in high school and him now is that he had a big 454 motor, but a small carburetor and some little air filters,” Telford, Iowa’s volunteer assistant coach, said late last week. “The gas would go quick.
“Now, he’s got upgraded air filters and upgraded fuel injectors and he’s ready to rock and roll. Know what I mean? He’s got that big-time horsepower.”
Warner will get to put that big-time horsepower on display this week in Trnava, Slovakia. He is the United States’ representative at 92 kilograms (202 pounds) for the 2018 Junior men’s freestyle world championships. He wrestles Saturday. If he wins, he’ll go again on Sunday.
“We’re looking forward to it as much as our fans are — and our fans are pretty fired up about this, too,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “The wrestling public is paying attention to this one also.
“This is an opportunity that he’s had before, at the world level … but now he’s with the big boys. This age group wins Senior world titles, so you have to be ready to go. He knows that.”
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This week’s competition may very well be a springboard into what could be a strong redshirt freshman campaign for Warner. He came to Iowa from Washington Community High School in Illinois as the nation’s top-ranked 195-pounder in the 2017 recruiting class. Big expectations have hovered since.
During his redshirt season, Warner provided glimpses into that potential. He went 15-4 at 197 pounds last year, which included wins over West Virginia’s Jacob Smith, an NCAA qualifier, and Willie Miklus, a three-time All-American at Mizzou who has since transferred to Iowa State.
Warner bolstered that excitement when he ripped through the competition to make the 2018 Junior world team. He won both the UWW Junior national title and the World Team Trials without allowing a single point. He spent less than 10 minutes on the mat between the two.
“He’s a gamer, and he’s the type of guy that’s going to be ready to go when it’s time to step on the mat,” Brands said. “He’s a smart wrestler. He’s not just a hard-nosed, big-motor guy, like a bull in a china shop. He’s more of a — not a thinker, but he has a cognitive approach.
“If Jacob Warner goes out and wrestles the way that he’s capable of — if he does the things he’s best at — he’s going to be very successful.”
Warner’s wrestling style has been molded over years of repetition and hard work, but he’s also taken advantage of many opportunities to help him perfect his craft. He first went overseas before his senior year of high school. He, his high school coach Bryan Medlin and a few teammates trekked to North Ossetia, Russia, to train for a week. He loved it.
Since then, Warner has traveled overseas plenty of times for both training and competition. He was a 2016 Cadet world bronze medalist in Tbilisi, Georgia. Last January, he competed at the Ivan Yarygin in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, which is often considered the toughest freestyle wrestling tournament in the world. He went 1-1. He turned 19 a month later.
“I just closed my mouth and opened my ears and listened and learned,” Warner said. “I wrestled with some of the best guys in the world. After going once, I really liked it and I liked the training atmosphere over there — the different feels and mentalities.
"Now it's, like, 'How many times can I go?'"
Communicating with those guys had to be tricky, yeah?
“It’s not bad,” Warner continued. “A lot of kids my age know a little bit of broken English. There’s still that communication barrier, so I’m not going to know everything. But with technology, Google translate really helps.”
Being in the Iowa wrestling room for the last year has helped Warner make big strides. He trains with Sammy Brooks and Nathan Burak, two former Iowa wrestlers who combined for five All-American finishes. Brooks also made last year’s U23 freestyle world team.
Sometimes, Telford will lace up and wrestle with Warner, too. He’s personally felt Warner’s heavy hands and aggressive wrestling style — that “big-time horsepower” that has Iowa wrestling fans so antsy to watch him don the all-black Iowa singlet.
“He’s got some of the heaviest hands that I’ve ever felt,” Telford said. “He really does feel like a heavyweight when he gets his hands on you — it’s a barrage of offense. Just watch. His wrestling speaks for itself. You see people panic."
Warner has found growth off the mat, too.
He roomed with Spencer Lee last year, and watched up close as Lee became Iowa’s first true freshman NCAA Champion since 1993 (Lincoln McIlravy). Each day, when he walks into the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex, he shoots a glance at the two yellow walls that display the program’s past Big Ten Champions and All-Americans.
Earlier this summer, Warner and fellow Hawkeye wrestler Jeremiah Moody camped at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Former Iowa wrestler and two-time world team member Thomas Gilman went, too. Warner spent the week picking his brain.
“We hung out all week,” Warner said. “Gilman showed Moody and I the ropes. I got to know Gilman better than I had before, so I learned how he goes about his day and training and stuff like that. Those older guys who are in the room every day — they help a lot.”
He says this about 15 feet from the two yellow walls inside the practice room. Brands has alluded to possibly constructing a third wall to honor the program’s world and Olympic medalists.
He hopes it’ll go up soon, and that Warner will be among those listed.
“I want to continue the tradition and excellence here at Iowa,” Warner continued. “I want to be another guy who comes in, puts in the work and achieve what I want because I put in the work. Hopefully, that means I’m a world champion.
“The ax is sharpened. It’s time to cut down the tree.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
2018 Junior World Championships
WHERE: Trnava, Slovakia
WHEN: Sept. 17-23
WATCH: Trackwrestling ($)
TEAM USA ROSTER
- 57 kg: Daton Fix (Sand Springs, Okla./Titan Mercury WC/Cowboy RTC)
- 61 kg: Joshua Saunders (St. Louis, Mo./Titan Mercury WC)
- 65 kg: Domonick Demas (Dublin, Ohio/OKRTC)
- 70 kg: Brady Berge (Mantorville, Pa./Nittany Lion WC)
- 74 kg: Mekhi Lewis (Somerset, N.J./Southeast RTC)
- 79 kg: Aaron Brooks (Hagerstown, Md./USOTC)
- 86 kg: Lou Deprez (Hilton, N.Y./Bearcat WC)
- 92 kg: Jacob Warner (Washington, Ill./Hawkeye WC)
- 97 kg: Zach Elam (Kansas City, Mo./Team Central WC)
- 125 kg: Gable Steveson (Apple Valley, Minn./Minnesota Storm)
- 50 kg: Alleida Martinez (Selma, Calif./Titan Mercury WC)
- 53 kg: Alisha Howk (River Falls, Wisc./Sunkist Kids)
- 55 kg: Ronna Heaton (Brookings, S.D./Sunkist Kids)
- 57 kg: Alex Hedrick (Fair Oaks, Calif./Titan Mercury WC)
- 59 kg: Brenda Reyna (Mount Vernon, Wash/Bearcat WC)
- 62 kg: Alexandria Liles (Allen, Texas/Sons of Thunder)
- 65 kg: Jayden Laurent (Green Bay, Wisc./Musky WC)
- 68 kg: Macey Kilty (River Falls, Wisc./Sunkist Kids WC)
- 72 kg: Alyvia Fiske (Napa, Calif./Titan Mercury WC)
- 76 kg: Dymond Guilford (Lancaster, Calif./Missouri Baptist)
- 55 kg: Brady Koontz (Plover, Wisc./Ohio RTC)
- 60 kg: Taylor LaMont (Mapleton, Utah/Sunkist Kids)
- 63 kg: Alston Nutter (Fennimore, Wisc./NMU-OTS/Combat WC)
- 67 kg: Peyton Omania (Concord, Calif./CYC)
- 72 kg: Tyler Dow (Stoughton, Wisc./Badger RTC)
- 77 kg: Kamal Bey (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids)
- 82 kg: Andrew Berreyesa (Las Vegas, Nev./New York AC/Finger Lakes WC)
- 87 kg: Barret Hughes (Coweta, Okla./Titan Mercury WC/Cowboy RTC)
- 97 kg: Chad Porter (Phoenix, Ariz./Sunkist Kids)
- 130 kg: Cohlton Schultz (Parker, Colo./New York AC)
SCHEDULE (Iowa time)
Tuesday, Sept. 18
- 3:30 a.m. – Qualification rounds (Greco-Roman 60 kg, 67 kg, 72 kg, 82 kg, 97 kg)
- 3:30 a.m. – Repechage (Greco-Roman 55 kg, 63 kg, 77 kg, 87 kg, 130 kg)
- 10:15 a.m. – Semifinals (Greco-Roman 60 kg, 67 kg, 72 kg, 82 kg, 97 kg)
- 11 a.m. – Finals (Greco-Roman 55 kg, 63 kg, 77 kg, 87 kg, 130 kg)
Wednesday, Sept. 19
- 3:30 a.m. – Qualification rounds (women’s FS 50 kg, 55 kg, 59 kg, 68 kg, 76 kg)
- 3:30 a.m. – Repechage (Greco-Roman 60 kg, 67 kg, 72 kg, 82 kg, 97 kg)
- 10:15 a.m. – Semifinals (women’s FS 50 kg, 55 kg, 59 kg, 68 kg, 76 kg)
- 11 a.m. – Finals (Greco-Roman 60 kg, 67 kg, 72 kg, 82 kg, 97 kg)
Thursday, Sept. 20
- 3:30 a.m. – Qualification rounds (women’s FS 53 kg, 57 kg, 62 kg, 65 kg, 72 kg)
- 3:30 a.m. – Repechage (women’s FS 50 kg, 55 kg, 59 kg, 68 kg, 76 kg)
- 10:15 a.m. – Semifinals (women’s FS 53 kg, 57 kg, 62 kg, 65 kg, 72 kg)
- 11 a.m. – Finals (women’s FS 50 kg, 55 kg, 59 kg, 68 kg, 76 kg)
Friday, Sept. 21
- 3:30 a.m. – Qualification rounds (men’s FS 57 kg, 65 kg, 70 kg, 79 kg, 97 kg)
- 3:30 a.m. – Repechage (women’s FS 53 kg, 57 kg, 62 kg, 65 kg, 72 kg)
- 10:15 a.m. – Semifinals (men’s FS 57 kg, 65 kg, 70 kg, 79 kg, 97 kg)
- 11 a.m. – Finals (women’s FS 53 kg, 57 kg, 62 kg, 65 kg, 72 kg)
Saturday, Sept. 22
- 3:30 a.m. – Qualification rounds (men’s FS 61 kg, 74 kg, 86 kg, 92 kg, 125 kg)
- 3:30 a.m. – Repechage (men’s FS 57 kg, 65 kg, 70 kg, 79 kg, 97 kg)
- 10:15 a.m. – Semifinals (men’s FS 61 kg, 74 kg, 86 kg, 92 kg, 125 kg)
- 11 a.m. – Finals (men’s FS 57 kg, 65 kg, 70 kg, 79 kg, 97 kg)
Sunday, Sept. 23
- 9 a.m. – Repechage (men’s FS 61 kg, 74 kg, 86 kg, 92 kg, 125 kg)
- 11 a.m. - Finals (men’s FS 61 kg, 74 kg, 86 kg, 92 kg, 125 kg)