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Remember The Wrestler: Zac Whitehead, North Mahaska/Central College


I like this dude. I don’t know if I’ve ever met him in person, but it is likely, for his HS team (North Mahaska) and mine (Mepo) were at the same small tournament (Pekin) to kick off the season every year when I was in high school and he and I were in the same grade (2001). Our colleges also seemed to meet everywhere throughout the year. He wrestled at Central College and I wrestled at Loras…. both colleges are part of the D3 Iowa Conference.  He was always a weight or two heavier than me… from youth all the way through college. Kind of like Paul Bradley from South Tama, Heath Johnson, Tom Meester, etc. He and I obviously crossed paths a lot, so it wouldn’t shock me if we’ve met and presumably talked wrestling before. I have talked to him quite a bit since I started this site and I can tell that I like him…you know why? Because he seems to get my humor. He laughs at even my craziest attempts at humor, in which there is a lot of that… the type of stuff that seems to fly completely over peoples’ heads…like, often times I think my humor is so esoteric that I am the only person in on the joke. “Chronically and incurably facetious and way too willing to make myself come off as a moron just to catch a laugh” is how my brothers describe it. It’s a lot of fun. I am a huge fan of Andy Kaufman and Tom Green if that tells you anything. I’ve met a lot of people through this site these past few months and a lot of them after talking to me a bit, I am certain walked away thinking, “I like this guy’s site and I like what he is doing, but man he’s nuttier than squirrel turds.” Which brings a huge smile to my face for I just think it’s funny. It also brings a smile to my face when people catch on to some of these shenanigans, in which Zac does. Zac may very well think that I am nuttier than squirrel turds, but he at least gets the jokes. I’m guessing that if he were on on the same team as Drain, the Keller’s, the Swaff’s, etc. in the day, he would have got right in there with us and we would have had a ton of fun. 

And check out some of the guys he had scraps with and/or beat in his career. Very impressive stuff. And a very wise wrestling mind. Glad I’ve gotten to know this guy a bit. 

And come to think of it, I need a new truck, bad right now.,, I think I’m gonna hit him up on that and I’d encourage anyone to buy a car from him because I’m pretty sure he’s awesome!

*Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

Wrestling runs in the family, I guess. Cousins, uncles, dad all wrestled. Dad started taking me to a tournament or two a year in kindergarten. He started taking me to the Oskaloosa wrestling club in 4th grade. That’s when my eyes got opened to what wrestling is all about.

*Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

Like I said before, wrestling runs in the family. The school my dad graduated from, Montezuma, started their wrestling program when he was in high school. He won the first wrestling match in school history. My cousins are Dawleys, Pargeons, and Reynolds from Montezuma and Pella. Wes Pargeon did the best in high school, placing 2nd at 160 in 1989. John Dawley had the most success in college as he was a 4 time All American at Wartburg.


*What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

I placed 6th two times at State. I thought I’d give basketball a try in 6th grade. Scored for the other team and went back to wrestling in 7th grade. Haha. Brad Cratty from Colfax (RIP) was probably my biggest rival in youth wrestling, in the sense that we went back and forth beating each other. We became friends in the process and used to call each other and talk about how we did. A few of the best I wrestled were Doug Onstot from Indianola, Jake Saunders from Ogden, Dustin Bussanmas from Norwalk, Paul Bradley from South Tama.


*What was your record in HS?

131-42. 20 of those losses came in a .500 freshman campaign.


*What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

My junior year was very difficult for me because I tore up my wrist in football and wrestled the season with it injured. I had no strength or grip in my left hand and had reconstructive surgery after the season was over. I had some decent wins that year but when it came time to wrestle the best it just wasn’t there for me. The second would be the way my senior season played out. I was undefeated going into districts and got up by Cody VanZwol from West Marshall. I ran into him a few years later up in Ames and had the opportunity to visit with him for a while. Real nice guy who I believe was home on leave from serving this great country. You know, in my mind I had every excuse in the book and could justify it or rewrite it a thousand different ways, but at the end of the day it is what it is. There were many things that one loss taught me. Some of which would be that life isn’t fair, you get what you earn, and to not take sports so seriously.


*How would you describe your wrestling style?

I was strictly a takedown wrestler until I started practicing a little freestyle starting my junior year of high school. I would say that I wrestled like someone much smaller than I was. I loved low singles, riding the legs, and wearing people down. My gas tank was always in my back pocket.


*How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

There were a few that I went back and forth with in middle school and high school. The person I probably wrestled the most in my life, and we were about 50/50 on the matches was Tyler VanDee from English Valley. The other two are Cole Calkins from Iowa Valley and Chris VanLandingham from Davis County. I think very highly of all three of these guys with the way they competed, and they are all good guys.


*Who was your most influential coach?

I learned a lot from my family growing up. My dad taught me the most. He wasn’t the most technical, but he taught me about hard work and toughness. The Grahams and Moyers ran the club in Oskaloosa I went to and they showed me the technical side of wrestling. My high school coach, Gary Czerniakowski, and my college coach, Matt Diehl, were both great guys who have a lot of passion for the sport.


*Was your team competitive in HS/college?

We had a good team in high school. We may not have been the most talented, but we worked hard and had some decent results. I had a great workout partner for 3 years in Clint Haworth. He’s one tough dude. We had a good team at Central College. We were top 25 in the country a couple years with Dustin Roland and Jeremy Hendricks leading the way.


*Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

Brett Little from Tri-County. He was a year older than me. I probably learned more about wrestling from the Little family than from anywhere else. Brett beat the tar out of me, but he also took the time to teach me. That guy was born to coach. Bart Little was the same age of me, and he was very influential as well. The other wrestler I looked up to growing up, who also beat the tar out of me, was Johnny Anderson from Oskaloosa. That guy is one of the best wrestlers to come out of southeast Iowa.


*Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

Derek Moyer from Oskaloosa. He is a three time Iowa State Champion, who didn’t get to compete at state his Junior year because he broke his jaw. He beat Montell Marion from West Des Moines Valley in the finals two times.


*What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

You know, in junior high I would listen to Rob Zombie “More Human than Human” to get hyped up for a match. By high school, I should have been listening to music to calm me down, but I don’t remember listening to anything. I was one who got overhyped all on my own.


*What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

High School Senior year at Districts. Also the last match I ever wrestled, which was my junior year in college, where I tore my knee up. I knew the ride was over then.


*If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

Hindsight is 20/20. I feel like I did the right things in high school as far as working hard and not going to parties. If I could change one thing it would be the ability to control my feelings better. Whether I was angry or nervous it was to the extreme, and that was probably my biggest weakness.


*What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

My best wrestling memories are the time spent with my teammates. From little kids to high school to college I was fortunate to meet a lot of great people and build some lasting friendships. I don’t have a favorite accomplishment, but I am proud of the wrestler and person I became by the time my career was over. Wrestling did not come easily to me at first but I loved it, stuck it out, and got better over time, especially over the past handful of years.


*Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

Besides the guys I mentioned already I would say Jacob Feurbach and Nick Gallagher, both from Belle Plaine. A few that stick out from college are Bart George from Wartburg, Alain Djoumessi from Wartburg, Justin Post from Loras, Brent Meyers from Upper Iowa, and Wyatt Reyerson from Luther. George was my kryptonite. That guy really took it to me 2 of the 3 matches we wrestled.


*Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

It was mostly seasonal. I did a little freestyle my junior and senior year in Oskaloosa. Jason Christenson was the head high school coach at that time and I got to learn some freestyle from him. I got substantially better at mat wrestling through this training. I wish I had gotten into it a lot sooner.


*How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

I’d like to believe we would hold our own. I think we were producing some of the best the state has seen back in our day. I saw two freshmen make the State finals at 160 pounds this year and at first I thought that was a statement to how poor the wrestling has gotten, but then I saw them wrestle and quickly changed my mind. The training that is readily available to guys these days is just so much more advanced than it was back then.


*Did you wrestle after high school?

I wrestled 2 ½ years at Central College. I tore my knee up pretty good Junior year and decided it was time to hang it up.


*What other sports did you play?

I played football, baseball, and track (2 years) in high school. I also tried to play football in addition to wrestling my sophomore year of college, but I soon learned that was too much for me to handle while in school.


*What are your favorite sports teams?

I’m a huge Iowa Hawkeye fan. I also cheer for Iowa State and UNI, but I draw the line when they face the Hawks. I’m everything Chicago. Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls.


*What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

I enjoy spending time with my wife Teresa, 3 year old daughter Evelyn, and our dog Peanut. We are expecting a baby boy on July 31st so looking forward to that. I enjoy watching movies and playing video games. I’ve determined I’m never going to give them up. haha…


*What were some of your biggest wins in HS? College?

I beat some good wrestlers in high school, but nothing too crazy. My biggest win in college was at conference duals sophomore year over Alain Djoumessi from Wartburg. He was ranked #1 in the country at that time and I believe he beat Iowa’s 197 pounder Paul Bradley that year, so he was legit. I got up big early with a throw, rode him for a while, and ran from him the 3rd period. Haha..


*How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

My work schedule doesn’t allow for me to give back with coaching, so I give back in other ways from time to time.


*How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

I learned some tough lessons along the way. I developed a strong work ethic and resiliency along the way. Also, I would add, that Gable summed it up best when he said that once you have wrestled everything else in life is easy. For the most part, I believe that holds true.


*What do you do now?

I am a Sales Manager at Ulrich Ford Lincoln in Pella, Iowa. It allows me to play with numbers and interact with people, both of which I enjoy.


*Are you still involved with wrestling?

Only as a fan. I was a University of Iowa season ticket holder for the first time this year. Certain companies, such as Flowrestling, have given us new avenues to enjoy the sport in a greater capacity. I would say my love for the sport has only grown over time and am very thankful to have all of the content at my fingertips.


*Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

You get out of the sport what you put into it. If you are truly serious about having high level success you need to work hard and start wrestling outside of the typical wrestling season right now. Enjoy the ride, it’ll be over before you know it. You may not yet understand some of the lessons you are learning, but you will, and you will be thankful.


*Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

Only if I get to wrestle Ryan Groom (Oskaloosa) in freestyle while wearing a “special” headgear. That’s a story for another time. Haha. Groom is one of the best around! He’s currently the head wrestling coach and will be taking over as Athletic Director at my alma mater, North Mahaska Community School District.


*Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

I think I’ve pretty well covered it. The list goes on and on with the amount of people who had an influence on me in one fashion or another. You know who you are. Thank you.


*Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.

I saw an article on here the other day about the Waterloo kids club back in the day. I’d just like to mention that I remember taking 2 teams from the Oskaloosa kids club to their tournament and beating them. We took 1st and 3rd. I’ll never forget their priceless reaction.

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