Garrett South was freaking awesome and he came completely out of nowhere. My 7th grade year at AAU State, I wrestled in the 100 lb. weight class. I remember anxiously awaiting and finally receiving my bracket for the week and immediately began running through the names. I knew who most everyone was at all the weights, especially in my own division. If I didn’t, I usually just figured they were a jabronie and I would be happy to wrestle them at some point, for it’d basically be like receiving a Bye. Just have to show up on the mat with a pulse, move around a little bit, record your 20 second pin and get off the mat and chill. When I think about those occasional easy matches that I would have at big tournaments, I feel a sense of joy, for those are great memories. I wasn’t one of those Warrior type dudes who chased around elite competition. Nah, there’s nothing I liked more than stepping on the mat, just kinda taking my time and gently rolling the guy over and hearing that beautiful sound of the referee’s hand slapping the mat 15 seconds later. Perfectly content with that. When I saw Garrett South’s name in my bracket, I just figured he was a jabronie so I just skipped past his name when doing my bracket projections. Honestly, it’s likely that I saw his name in the bracket and saw that he was wrestling someone else and that may have provoked me to think to myself, “man… why can’t I ever get the an easy beginner first round like this South kid probably is?! Not fair!” Two days later he shut me out, 4-0 for 5th and 6th. The main thing I remember about wrestling him was that he was freaking impossible to score on. I would be in so deep on a shot and he would find a way out… and his offense was nasty to boot.“Oh well,” I thought. “Probably just because he’s an 8th grader.” I was pretty happy with myself, for I thought I was the highest placing 8th grader in the bracket.
The next time I encountered him was a year later at AAU weigh-ins. Turns out, my little consolation prize I had in my head of being the highest placing 7th grader wasn’t even the case! We were in the same grade! I had to know who this dude was that shut me out the year before. Did he move in from another state? Was he always good, but somehow I always missed it? I had to know. So I approached him in the line and was like, “hey dude.” And he looked at me with a confused expression on his face and said, “uh, hey?” I recognized what was going on right away. He didn’t recognize me.” It took me quite a while to learn that not everyone was some sort of wrestling stats junky who knew everyone like I was…I just figured everyone was like that. So I said, “I’m Josh Swafford.” He still looked confused. I elaborated, “we wrestled each other for 5th and 6th at state last year.” And then it clicked. He was like, “oh wow that was you?! That was a good match! I didn’t know you were a 7th grader like me!” I was like, “yeah, so was that Andy Reed kid from Polk who placed 8th.” I talked to South quite a while actually. Very nice dude. Seemed like he could talk wrestling or anything really, all day. Eventually I got him on the topic of his wrestling background and he was just one of these guys that it clicked for all the sudden and he went from being a name that no one knew to a name that struck fear into the hearts and souls of those who had to wrestle him.
Everyone who followed Iowa HS wrestling knew who he was around 1999-2000. A BEAST. He was a big deal on the D3 scene.It was so cool to hear from South again. Still seems like a nice guy!
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
My dad wrestled in high school and loved the sport. He, as well as my passion for competing, made wrestling a logical choice.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
Dad wrestled for Cumberland & Massena narrowly missing the state tournament, and my brother also wrestled for CAM, graduating in ’99. He was a state qualifier that year.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I wasn’t aware of the AAU state tournament until I was in 6th grade. I qualified that year, and then finished 5th and 6th respectively the next two years. Cody Koenig from Underwood and Colby Larson from Elk Horn-Kimbalton (at the time).
What was your record in HS?
How did you place at state every year?
I only qualified for state as a junior and senior placing 4thas a junior and finishing undefeated as a senior with only one regular decision on the year. (37 pins, 2 tech falls, and 4 majors)
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
Losing at districts my freshman and sophomore years to guys I had beaten earlier in the year was rough. Both years it led me to focus on my weakest aspects the following summers to ensure that it didn’t happen again.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
Weird. I made up a few moves that worked well for me, but I’ve been unable to successfully teach many people since. The guys at Luther renamed what I always called a “half roll” to “The Dirty South”. I always tried to focus on leveraging what my opponent was actually being coached to do. I vividly remember opponents’ coaches telling them to do something to combat what I was doing, and all I could think on the mat was “Yeah. Listen to your coach!”
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
I split with a couple of guys my freshman year, such as Robert Swope (Oakland, Riverside), Gary Van Ert (Atlantic), and Michael Mickey (Creston). However, Cody Koenig continued to challenge me into high school. I was 1-3 against him losing all three by 1 or 2 points.
Who was your most influential coach?
My dad was probably the most influential as much of my style emulates the way that he taught me to wrestle.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
My high school was very small, so although I had some great teammates, our team wasn’t competitive due to lack of numbers. At Luther, however, we finished 5th, 3rd, and 3rd at nationals my sophomore, junior, and senior years.
How cool was it to represent SW Iowa in good fashion the way you did?
I was a social butterfly at wrestling events and greatly valued the friendships I had with other wrestlers from Lenox, Bedford, Atlantic, and many other Southwest Iowa schools. They were great guys, and fun to share my experience with as long as I was winning…and sometimes even when I wasn’t (Wade Samo).
How good would you say you were at not giving up points and simultaneously being able to put people away?
I have always been good on top and set the pin records at both CAM and Luther. My senior year at CAM, I gave up 12 total offensive points on the year. In all of high school and college, I was never pinned or tech’ed, and I was only majored 4 times while wrestling the most difficult schedule in D3.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
I was always a Mark Ironside fan as his tenacious style was unmatched his junior and senior years at Iowa.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
I really like watching any wrestler that can turn their opponents.
What tunes would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
I still, 20 years later, get goosebumps when I hear “Higher” by Creed as that was the last song I listened to before my finals match in Vets.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Three matches stick out in my head: Districts 1st round my sophomore year, losing in OT in the All-American round my freshman year at Luther, and losing in OT in the finals as a junior.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
My entire senior year of high school was the most fun I’ve ever had participating in the sport. The people that I shared it with and the final result will be with me for the rest of my life. My biggest accomplishment blends my efforts in the classroom with accomplishments on the mat. I was honored as the Iowa Conference Male Student Athlete of the Year, across all sports in the conference.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school?
Koenig, again. We both finished as undefeated champions as seniors. When we graduated, he was 1st and I was 9th in state history in career pins. Additionally, we’ve both been inducted into the D3 National Hall of Fame. Additionally, my junior year, Southwest Iowa was stacked. I lost 7 matches. 4 to state champions, 1 to a runner up, and 2 to guys that finished 3rd.
My biggest confidence builder in college was a loss to Matt Lackey from Illinois. I had no knowledge of who he was entering the match in only my second tournament at Luther. The first period ended 0-0, the second 2-2. He pulled away in the third to win 7-4. When coach Mitchell told me he was the #2 wrestler in Division I, I realized that I was good enough to compete with anyone in the country. I went on to beat a handful of D1 All Americans throughout the remainder of my career.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
I attended a few camps during the summers in high school, but I didn’t have an active peer group going to many freestyle tournaments. During college, I wrestled from September through May at Luther.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
We were WAY better. Clearly. 😊
What other sports did you play?
I played quarterback, running back, and corner at CAM.
What are your favorite sports teams?
Luther Norse! I’ve always been a Chiefs fan, and I finally got to pull my 1990s era Chiefs Starter pullover out of the closet during the Super Bowl.
EDITOR NOTE: GO CHIEFS!!!
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
I have waaaaay too many hobbies. Playing board games, hiking, volleyball, golf, skiing, kneeboarding…the list goes on and on.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
I’m one of those pretentious former wrestlers that always thinks, “Oh, you think ______ is hard? Try wrestling a 1-hour go with zero water breaks followed up by 30 minutes of sprints after not having eaten anything all day.” Seriously, though, that was a sarcastic way of saying it’s made me mentally tough.
What do you do now? Are you still involved with wrestling?
I’m the general sales manager for Kibble Equipment, a John Deere dealer in Iowa/Minnesota/South Dakota. I’m not as involved as I’d like to be. I think that, eventually, I’ll become a referee.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Wrestle to win. Don’t wrestle not to lose.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
Luther has an alumni meet each year where the former wrestlers are invited to wrestle the current wrestlers. I’ve participated in that several times, and it will likely be the only competitive wrestling I participate in going forward.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
Wrestling has been an avenue to make great, long-lasting friendships. My high school teammates (Kevin Schafer and Tyler South) challenged and supported me throughout my career. I had some great times in with guys from other schools…Adam Lewis, Wade Samo, Brett Christensen, Michael Irvin, Q Christensen, and many others. They were as much a part of wrestling as the competition. All of my college teammates are some of the best people I know and I still am able to hang out with them every few weeks.
Do you have anything to add?
I appreciate these write-ups. It’s great to read more in depth about wrestlers throughout the state that I had very little interaction with.
I’ve never been tech’d and I’ve only been pinned twice in my life, once in 1st grade and once in 5th grade. 0/10 Would not recommend.