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Tom Brands breaks down Austin DeSanto’s progress ahead of big match against Rutgers Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tom Brands is talking about Austin DeSanto, and he begins by talking about the sophomore’s progress since joining the Iowa wrestling program. Because this is perhaps the best place to start.

“He’s doing what he needs to do to keep getting better and wrestle at a high level,” says Brands, the 13-year head coach of the Hawkeyes. “He’s becoming more savvy, more position-oriented, where he’s not just wrestling reckless when it doesn’t make sense to wrestle reckless.

“But I’ll tell you one thing: He’s going to wrestle for seven minutes, and he’s a handful.”

DeSanto, Iowa’s starting 133-pounder who transferred in from Drexel in the offseason, has been mighty impressive on the mat this year. He won the Midlands Championships last month, scoring bonus points in all five wins. He’s 11-1 overall and ranked eighth in the nation by Trackwrestling.

The Hawkeyes (7-0, 2-0 Big Ten) are back in action Friday night when they host Rutgers (7-3, 1-1) inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The marquee bout will feature DeSanto against Nick Suriano, a returning NCAA finalist who’s ranked third in the country.

“That should be a pay-per-view match,” Brands said earlier this week. “The Big Ten Network should sell the 133-pound match pay-per-view. Get Big Ten Network running, stop at 133, pay-per-view, DeSanto-Suriano, then get the free TV going again.”

DeSanto’s wrestling growth since coming to Iowa City can be viewed in numerous ways.

Of his 11 wins, eight have included bonus points — two pins, two technical falls, three major decisions and one victory by stalling disqualification.

He’s 6-1 against wrestlers currently ranked in the top 25 at 133 by Trackwrestling, his only loss coming to Iowa State’s Austin Gomez.

He’s also, statistically, been one of the most relentless wrestlers for Iowa this season. He’s averaging 12.5 points per bout and has forced at least one stalling call in all but two matches this season.

“My lungs have always been huge for my wrestling,” DeSanto said this week. “So using that to my advantage to push the pace is always my goal.”

DeSanto’s latest outing elevated him firmly into the all-American conversation. Against Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak, a two-time all-American and past national finalist, he scored two takedowns in the first period and added a reversal in the third, an impressive feat considering Lizak’s prowess in the top position. (Lizak was hit for stalling in the third, too.)

DeSanto, pumped about the victory, egged on the crowd afterward, and cost Iowa a team point in what ended as a 24-10 victory over the Gophers. 

“We need to keep getting better there,” Brands said. “He’s getting more relaxed out there, to where, these matches, he’s managing them better.”

Below: Austin DeSanto discusses what's worked for him since coming to Iowa

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Austin DeSanto: 'Everybody makes it feel like family here' Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

A strong showing against Suriano could send more ripples through the rest of the weight class.

Suriano is undoubtedly DeSanto’s toughest test to date. The Rutgers junior is 14-1 overall with 11 bonus-point victories. He didn’t allow a point en route to the NCAA finals at 125 pounds last year, but he was defeated 5-1 by Iowa’s Spencer Lee on the staged mat in Cleveland.

DeSanto said this week that, of course, he’d pick Lee’s brain about Suriano prior to Friday night. Lee and Suriano have a history that stretches beyond last year’s national tournament. But ultimately, it’ll be DeSanto who has to go and wrestle the match.

“Tom and (associate coach) Terry (Brands) said this to me — you’re your own best coach,” DeSanto said. “Don’t take too much information, but take little pieces. You just have to dig deep down and do what you do best.”

► MORE WRESTLING COVERAGE FROM THE DES MOINES REGISTER

Speaking of Lee, it’s been well-documented that he was crucial in DeSanto’s transfer to Iowa. The two sat together during the UWW Freestyle World Cup in April, during DeSanto’s visit. When DeSanto decided Iowa would be his new home, he credited training with Lee as a reason why.

But there’s more. When DeSanto announced he would transfer last year, Lee reached out with a text message. The two wrestled in the Pennsylvania state finals during both their junior and senior years in high school. Lee won the first, DeSanto the second.

“After he beat me in the state finals, the first thing I did was grab him and say, ‘I don’t know why you don’t just come to Iowa and be a Hawkeye with me,’” Lee said this week. “That’s the first thing I told him. He just laughed and said, ‘I’m going to Drexel. I already committed.’

“I was like, ‘You should be a Hawk. Your style is a Hawkeye.’ … it was really cool to help recruit him here, host him and help him become my teammate.”

And the way DeSanto has performed on the mat so far this season is exactly what Lee was hoping Iowa would get when they recruited him.

“We love the way he is,” Lee said. “We love his fire. He’s going to believe and trust in the coaches. It’s going to be a fun match. I’m looking forward to it.”

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

No. 3 Iowa (7-0, 2-0) vs. No. 13 Rutgers (7-3, 1-1)

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
WATCH: Big Ten Network
LISTEN: AM 800 KXIC

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