As Iowa City High's Ben Kueter becomes a star, recruiting pressure will only intensify

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The new wrestling room here at Iowa City High School is nearly finished. Two mats are already down and two more are on the way, along with a sound system, televisions, workout equipment and more.

Ben Kueter is standing on one of the red-and-black Resilite mats, smiling from ear to ear. The junior stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 220 pounds and is still growing, which is a scary thought in itself. Right now, he’s thinking big, too, even if only a little.

"It’s pretty sweet," he says. "I’m excited for the season. It’s going to be good."

This is a rare moment for Kueter — pronounced key-ter — to think so far ahead. On this day, a Tuesday in late August, City High is four days removed from its first win of the 2021 football season and three days away from Week 2. The first day of wrestling practice is 76 days out, yet both sports occupy equal space and time in Kueter’s life.

He is the rare four-sport athlete at a large-class school, made possible by Iowa’s unique high school athletics calendar: football in the fall, wrestling in the winter, track in the spring, baseball in the summer. In his spare moments, of which there are few, more workouts and elite-level competitions.

The impressive part isn’t that Kueter willingly chooses this busy, competitive lifestyle.

It’s that he excels in virtually every aspect of it.

He ran the second leg of City High's distance medley relay, which took second at the 2021 Drake Relays. He hit .333 with 26 RBI while starring in centerfield for the Little Hawks over the summer. He is a two-time undefeated state wrestling champ considered one of the nation's top recruits. He notched two touchdowns and a sack in City High's 41-0 win over Iowa City Liberty last Friday.

"He has the unbelievable determination to be great," Little Hawk football coach Mitchell Moore says. "He’s driven in everything he does."

Kueter is already getting college interest in football and wrestling

The great part about Kueter’s exceptional athletic gifts are the many opportunities that will become available along the way. The hard part, or perhaps most intriguing part, will be which opportunity he decides to pursue.

Already, Kueter is receiving recruiting interest for both football and wrestling. He has heard from numerous Division I wrestling programs — Iowa, Oklahoma State, Princeton, North Carolina and Northern Iowa, among many others — and a handful of Division I football programs, including Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota and Missouri.

Minnesota became his first official football offer last Sunday. Many more are expected to come this fall, followed by more wrestling calls this winter. On the other end of those calls will be college coaches with big recruiting pitches and bigger expectations.

Some will travel here to see him play football, while others will come to see him wrestle. They would all be wise to watch him do both. Many college coaches are drawn to the link between football and wrestling. He is a marvel at both.

Last year, as a sophomore, Kueter, who plays linebacker and tight end, led City High with 41.5 total tackles, including 31 solo stops. He touched the ball 25 times on offense and accumulated 137 yards and scored one touchdown. He also recorded a sack, two more tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and an interception.

Then he won a second Class 3A state wrestling title, then a Junior folkstyle national title. He took third at the Cadet world team trials and second at the Junior freestyle national championships, and he helped Iowa win the Junior national duals. He is ranked No. 6 in the nation at 220 pounds by MatScouts and is considered the No. 9 overall prospect in the 2023 class.

"I’m a little biased, but I think wrestling is where he’s best," City High wrestling coach Cory Connell says with a smile. "He wrestles 220, but he wrestles like a 126-pounder. To be that big and move the way he does is just freakish."

Iowa City High's Ben Kueter reached the finals at 220 pounds at the Junior men's freestyle national championships at the FargoDome in Fargo, N.D. Kueter lost to Indiana's Christian Carroll, 10-0, and finished second.

Is Kueter leaning more toward wrestling or football in college?

Kueter is grateful for the attention he’s receiving, for both football and wrestling, but when asked if he’s thought much about which one he might pursue in the future, he shakes his head no before the full question is even asked.

"Not really," he says. "I love wrestling and I love football. I’m just taking it day by day."

He pauses for a moment, then continues.

"I’ve put a lot of hard work in," he says. "I’m doing a lot of things that a lot of typical high-schoolers don’t do, so it’s nice to see that hard work pay off a little bit. This is like a reward for that hard work."

Of all Kueter’s gifts — strength, speed, spatial awareness, power, physicality, flexibility — perhaps his greatest is the ability to compartmentalize. Moore and Connell both admire Kueter’s mindset, how he’s wired his brain to tackle, or take down, one task at a time. He focuses on each day individually rather than think big picture.

"He’s very talented, but a lot of people that talented don’t work that hard," Connell says. "He loves the process. He loves the work. He loves the lead-up to the game, the match, the tournaments. He puts in so much work that when he gets to those moments, it’s easy."

Iowa City High's Ben Kueter (32) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during a varsity high school football game against Iowa City Liberty, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, at Liberty High School in North Liberty, Iowa.

Added Moore: "That mental part of it is so elite compared to his peers, just his ability to stay focused and envision the best version of himself. His process is so good. His Tuesdays are as good as anybody's, which makes his Fridays as good as anybody's."

Expectations for Kueter will only intensify over the next couple of years. Last Friday, he recorded three catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns, and also recorded seven tackles, including one sack and two more tackles for loss. He will enter his junior wrestling season with a 35-0 overall high school record, which includes 20 pins.

His continued success in both sports will only make his college decision that much harder. Does he pursue his loftiest wrestling goals, like NCAA championships and world and Olympic gold medals? Or does he chase his football dreams, as a projected tight end, and make a run at the NFL?

"Options are good," Connell says, "but he’s the one that has to decide, and it’s going to be tough. If he has a chance to make the NFL, it’s going to be hard to pass that up. You almost have to go that route. But if he’s going to just be a scholarship athlete (in football) and he won’t play that much, he could be one of the best wrestlers in the world."

Iowa City High's Ben Kueter turns his opponent at the Iowa USA Wrestling Junior freestyle state championships on Saturday at Southeast Polk. Kueter won the Junior freestyle state title at 220 pounds.

Could Kueter wrestle and play football in college?

He could perhaps do both, play football and wrestle in college. It would take the right coaches who are willing to share his preternatural talents. Few have done it before. Fresno State's Josh Hokit was the most recent, an All-American wrestler who also rushed for 287 yards and scored nine touchdowns in 2019. He now plays for the 49ers.

Kueter has thought about that idea, too, but not much. Most college coaches he’s talked to have told him it’s hard to do both at a high level.

"Everybody is elite in college," he says.

For now, he’s more concentrated on the task in front of him, and on this day, that’s preparing for Friday’s game against Cedar Rapids Jefferson. The J-Hawks were soundly beaten by Cedar Rapids Washington in Week 1, but Kueter doesn’t care. His focus is on his own effort and his team’s mindset.

"Just need to keep getting better," he says. "We’re more focused on us. That’s a big emphasis. Don’t worry about the other teams. Just get better. Come Friday, we need to go out and perform and take care of business."

Iowa City High's Ben Kueter (32) scores a touchdown during a varsity high school football game against Iowa City Liberty, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, at Liberty High School in North Liberty, Iowa.

It’s time for practice, so Kueter races out of the wrestling room, up the stairs, down the hall and out to the fields. Connell stays behind for a minute. One of his favorite plays last Friday was Kueter's sack. He wrapped up Liberty quarterback Tye Hughes in the backfield, locked his hands around his waist, took a step, then launched Hughes to his back.

Just like he would on a wrestling mat.

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