When you ponder your wrestling career, a wrestling career or just, any prolonged wrestling situation in general, it is difficult to identify what exactly influenced the career or situation in question. Generally speaking, wrestling is influenced by a spectrum of people, places and things that entered the path at one time or another. However, most of the time, some beams of the spectrum stick out more than others, for they shine brighter. With that said, this article is about a guy that I know for a fact, had a strong influence on at least two wrestling careers, which would be my brother Justin and my own. He also had an impact on my father’s perspective of hard work and the standard to shoot for when coaching his own wrestlers.
When I was in 7th grade, my dad took us to watch district practices that were being held in the Mediapolis wrestling room prior to our own youth practice. These practices consisted of local teams that were not going to meet with us (Mediapolis) at the district tournament that weekend. Usually, my brother Justin and I had to wrestle in both, the HS and the youth practice that followed, but due to the room being so densely populated that night, not to mention to caliber of HS competitors who were in the room that night, my dad wanted us to sit down and watch. About 15 minutes into the practice, my dad whispered to my brother and I, “oh my God, watch that guy right there…he’s just a Sophomore. Look at what he’s doing!” So we looked and immediately knew what had my dad so impressed. Here was this smaller guy…112-119 range who was outworking everyone in the entire room. And this room consisted of an All-Star cast. Southeast Iowa wrestling at it’s peak. He was winning the overwhelming majority of the goes he was in and if he didn’t win, his opponent had to fight like hell to even gain enough space for some mere breathing room because he was on them from start to finish. My dad stated several times throughout that practice, “that’s who you should try to be like. Right there. That’s all I ask of you two is to give 100% of what you’ve got and that kid is the perfect example of that.” After that practice, I know I kept him in mind and I am very certain that my brother, Justin tried to imitate his practice style from that point on. This guy had a direct impact on our careers before we even met him…just because of the impression he made on us with his work ethic. Coming in, we didn’t know who this guy was, but we found out that practice and never forgot who this gladiator was. His name was Nick Marolf from Columbus Jct.
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
I grew up with a full size mat in the basement of our house. It didn’t take much encouragement to go roll around on it!
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
Dad wrestled at Wilton and a few years at the University. Britt (older brother) was 4th his senior year, a D3 all American at Simpson and is in the Simpson Hall of Fame. The guy won like 60 total varsity matches in HS, but over 100 in college, crazy.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I qualified pretty much every year, but only placed once in folkstyle. I placed up there in freestyle and was 3rd in regionals as an 8th grader. I was chubby and always 10-15 pounds heavier than I should have been. Once I got my weight more in line with my body, the results started coming. Brandon Duncan (PV) and I must have wrestled weekly, with him always edging me out. One year I had 9 losses and 6 of them were to Brandon. JD Pugh is another, but we will get to that later……
What was your record in HS?
Somewhere around 134-26. I know my varsity years for sure (37-9 So. 119#, 42-3 Jr 112, 40-5 Sr. 112/119), but I’m not 100% sure on my freshman record as a fill-in varsity guy.
How did you do at state?
DNQ, 1-2 at 119, 2nd, 4th both at 112.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
My senior year of HS was kind of a disaster. I had a great summer and fall in the freestyle season and then with the Hawk club in Iowa City. Two weeks before the Wapello tourney that year, I partially tore my ACL in a live go with Mike Mena (other than my dad, John and Bill this is the first time I’ve ever publicly told anyone about it). I started the season slow, got beat by Damon Boorn (a game competitor for sure) at the Wapello and Mepo tourneys. We worked through it and I was wrestling very well at Christmas break. On 12/20/97, we lost JD Pugh. I lost my practice partner for 3 years, the rock that I broke myself against to get better. On Jan 2, I went into the hospital and had my appendix taken out. I wrestled 10 days later (stupid). I was still bleeding and having issues after winning the SEISC finals later in the year. The stars were lined up for everything to fall apart, but we as wrestlers don’t pay attention to any of that!
Who was your most influential coach?
I really have more than one. Dad, of course for searing the basics in my mind, and as Mr. Seigel always said “that cheating Moscow ride.” I’m not sure you can separate Plein and Siegel. They were the perfect complement to one another, Bill an elite-level technician, John a mental and basics genius. I was certainly one of “John’s” boys. I lifted most mornings with him at Morning Sun and the guy could get in my head like nobody before or since. In college, Steve Hamilton took a keen interest in me. He was the guy who refined my technique and I scheduled all my individual work with. I’m just sorry I couldn’t stay healthy enough to show some of the fruits of his labor that he spent on me.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
In HS, we were pretty dominant, winning one of the two titles (Dual or Traditional) at least every year I was in CJ. In college, we were good at UNI and good at Simpson, but I wasn’t healthy enough to contribute much.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
Britt had big brother syndrome on me, so of course I looked up to him. He could always beat me pretty easily while were on the same teams (he is 3 years older) towards the end of HS I started giving him some fits and by the end of college it wasn’t that close anymore. He coached me at Simpson and he was probably as disappointed as myself on how that all turned out for me.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
I enjoy watching elite wrestling, I don’t really care who the team or individual is. I enjoy the subtleness of a simple moving of a guys hand an inch or two to clear your hips and small things like that.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
2 come to mind…Not the finals loss, Jamie Taxted was an elite wrestler, 2xer and D3 champ so no shame in that loss. The Jeff Harrison loss in the semis my senior year was pretty tough to take. Even he would probably admit I dominated all, but 13 seconds of it. He hit a beautiful headlock and turned it all around. I didn’t come back mentally and got beaten by Tyson Christensen who I beat in the quarters for third. That loss cost us the team title. If I win that match we finish first (instead of 2nd) and we would have been one of the few teams that swept both traditional and team state.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
Injuries. The last year I wrestled healthy an entire season was my Jr year of HS. I had that disaster of a senior year. At UNI, I had two knee surgeries with one ACL reconstruct. I hurt my back there and fought it until I had back surgery at Simpson. I wrestled Iowa Conference Tourney 6 weeks to the day of my back surgery (another genius move) and re-herniated the same disk they just repaired. They wanted to fuse the vertebrae, but its belt line so I refused and tried to wrestle through it. You can’t compete at any level when you can only mat train 1-2 days per week.
What was your best wrestling memory/accomplishment?
The people I met and the places I saw. I wrestled in the superdome for crying out loud. I run into guys I was on Iowa teams with and we catch up just like old friends. I also saw a lot of college towns and facilities I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
Justin Stanley was my best friend growing up (and fellow Moscow allum). He was 2 of my 3 losses my Jr year. He was always the measuring stick of where I was at and wanted to be in my progression at that point. I was never on the mat consistently enough in college to develop any rivals..
Where did you develop your strong work ethic from?
We are just dumb farmers, lol. I grew up on a farrow to finish hog farm in the middle of the 80’s farm crisis. We had 100-150 sows, 16 farrowing crates, and no automation, so you carried buckets everywhere, scraped buildings by hand, etc. I also was self aware enough to know where my athletic ability was. I had very good ability, but not elite. For me to be elite I had to outwork some guys.
Your dad’s coaching methods and approach to coaching wrestling was in my opinion, way ahead of his time. He is a brilliant man, isn’t he?
He was very good. He saw the big picture of program building. There are many HS coaches out there that can get 1-2 guys to state and maybe knock off an individual title every few tries by concentrating just on them (many times their own kids), but he knew there wasn’t any banners to be hung or long term sustainability in that. He coached the coaches as much or more than the wrestlers in his room to make sure they were coaching the correct technique. He did turn down a few varsity head coaching offers over the years to keep his club going. He was also very good at where a club kid was mentally. He’d go as far as if a kid needed to get a tourney win he’d send him to one he knew the kid would win, but if that kids brother needed to get beat (maybe wasn’t responding to coaching, overconfident) he’d send him to a different tourney he knew would be tough to win on the same weekend. I’m sure it drove some parents nuts, but they trusted he had a method for his madness and the club families took everyone’s kids in as their own when it came to hauling kids to tourneys and staying at each others houses or hotel rooms.
Who was the fiercest competitor you ever faced?
Without a doubt, JD Pugh. JD was my practice partner for 3 of my 4 years at CJ. He kept score of everything. After practice, “Marolf, I got 12 takedowns tonight, you got 6.” The nights I got the best of him, he wouldn’t tell me the score! It didn’t matter if it was wrestling matches or tiddlywinks, that guy was keeping score. We never fought in the room or out of it. Lou (Jason Payne) told me later, after JD had passed that JD was pretty pissed I didn’t win it my Jr year. He had told Lou that he was sure I was going to and I think took some pride in my results. The night before the accident, he drilled some with me, we cleaned up, went to a girls BBall game then drove around town. He told me very angrily that I had better win it or he was going to be pissed. When I see him again, I’m sure I will hear about it!
How do you think your era would stack up against the guys in today’s era?
This era is crazy. The elite are ultra elite. There isn’t much of a middle ground, and the lower end is as bad as ever. It almost makes HS duals unbearable to watch at times. I think the elite could compete with the elite at any era, the average kid of the late 90’s could easily knock off 100 wins today.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
You could find me in a room somewhere year round. I spent quite a bit a time at City High with Coach Smith and in Carver with the club going on there. I loved the drilling and the grind of trying to get better.
Did you wrestle after high school?
I tried to. Injuries cut every year of my college career in some way.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I was a grinder without many glaring weaknesses. I was very comfortable on the mat and preferred being on top or bottom even though I was pretty good on my feet. Dad emphasized mat wrestling in the MWC and you could see that in a lot of the kids that came through it.
What other sports did you play?
Football until concussions took that away, XC, golf, baseball until summer wrestling took over.
What are your favorite sports teams?
I follow the Hawkeyes. I’m not the type of person that really cheers for a team. I enjoy watching something well played, be that a wrestling match, football game, basketball game. Execution excites me more than the team playing.
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
We race dirt late models all over the place. It pretty much takes up all of the free time and we are very serious about trying to win at it. I have a 5 year old girl Tillie, and a 16 month old son Ollie that take up the little time we do have left. They are a riot!
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
I’m mentally tough to a point of callousness at times. My wife bitches to me about it sometimes. I just have a tough time feeling sorry for someone if they haven’t exhausted all options of bettering their situation. Its a blessing and a curse sometimes.
What do you do now?
I run an Air to Oxygen plant for Praxair. I also farm.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
Not at this time. When I was done I had to get away from it, it was at a point of obsession for me. Now that I’m old and have kids I’ll probably be finding my way back, but trying to hold true to my dad’s principles of being a Coach of many wrestlers rather than a parent of one.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Keep grinding. Just because you aren’t a kids phenom, doesn’t mean you can’t be very good at the next level. Chuck Yagla wasn’t a state champ and I think things turned out pretty good for him!
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
I can’t imagine explaining to my wife why I need to go under the knife again because I decided to do that again!
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
All of my CJ teammates, we formed a bond in that dungeon, hated each other at times, and celebrated many wins and tragic losses together. You are forever my brothers.
Steve Hamilton spent quite a bit of time on me in college and he never got to see any of his hard work pay off. I was so much better technique wise by the end of college because of him, its incredible. I just couldn’t put a healthy season together to show it.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
Lou Payne was the man when it came to eating and like 8# practices. I watched him destroy 3 foot longs from subway, almost an entire terminator pizza and a 3 liter bottle of cheap cola in one sitting. He was probably most proud of taking a 3# shit! LOL.
* To gain some perspective on where Nick acquired his skill and mindset, here are a few things that were created by his father, Randy Marolf from his days of coaching the Moscow Wrestling Club. I feel very confident in saying that Mr. Marolf was ahead of his time and a genius. This is one of the coolest things I have seen in a long time.