With wrestling, I remember most all of my “firsts.” I remember the first time I was made aware of the existence of wrestling. This was from a framed picture of my dad wrestling at districts in ’78 as a Senior that he had hung up in his room when I was a kid. I remember the first wrestling action I ever saw taking place…between my dad and uncle Brian Swafford and a guy from New London that they were working out with named Shane Arnold. I remember the first HS varsity match I ever sat down and watched and with that said, at Mepo in the early 90’s, when Ryan Cummings took the mat, if you weren’t fully engaged, you didn’t have a pulse. AND I remember the first wrestling match I ever saw on TV. This was in my grandpa’s basement. My entire family grouped together to watch Iowa vs. Iowa State wrestle in a dual on IPTV. My dad said that we were “rooting for The Hawkeyes, the black and yellow team.” With that said, the first match I ever saw on TV was between Chad Zaputil of Iowa and Eric Akin Iowa State. Chad Zaputil became my favorite wrestler of my entire youth from that point.
I am usually pretty ambiguous in terms of my responses when someone asks me what my favorite college wrestling team is. For one, my cousin married Lou Holtz’s son in the early 90’s, so I am a longtime Notre Dame Irish fan in football… and they don’t have wrestling. I always tell people that I root for the “originally from Iowa” guys from every team first and foremost and team-wise…I just leave it open. I do have an irrational hatred towards one D1 team on the Eastern side of the nation, in which my disdain for them is something I can’t fully pinpoint. All in all, though… if I said that I didn’t at least “lean” towards the Hawkeyes, I’d be lying to everyone including myself. I grew up watching them and Zaputil being my favorite wrestler of all time when I was a kid followed closely by Travis Fiser and the Brands brothers cements my affinity. I mean, you wouldn’t ever catch me rooting against Drew Foster, Randy Pugh, Jason Payne, the Moreno’s, the Paulson’s, Brandon Mason, Sean Stender, etc. because as mentioned, I root for the Iowa homers first. But let’s get real here… my own brother wrestled at UNI and the only college wrestling apparel I’ve probably ever been spotted with is Hawkeyes and Graceland gear. And Chad Zaputil is a huge reason for that. Out of everyone I have ever interacted with on here for these articles, sending and receiving emails to and from, etc. interacting with Chad Zaputil for this article is the one moment I’ve had so far where I felt….star-struck. Holy cow what a competitor he was. The battles he had every year in the state finals were just incredible. I mean, the man went from losing to Tom Brands in the finals as a Sophomore to beating Terry Brands in the finals as a Junior to beating Kent Streicher in OT in the finals his Senior year which was what ended up being the only loss Streicher ever suffered at the state tournament.
The first autograph I ever got from someone was from Chad Zaputil at The Mediapolis Invitational. He was there watching his brother, Chase. The Mepo guy who used to wrestle Chad was a guy named Brian Gerst (helluva lateral drop) and he pointed him out to me. He razzed me pretty good after getting Zaputil’s autograph, for apparently I had a real “mouth-breather” look to me when I was trying to get his attention. Apparently I appeared very nervous to approach him for that. Heck, the first time I ever cried to a sporting event on TV was after one of Zaputil’s NCAA finals matches… When he lost, I bawled. I was at one point in my life, a little kid sobbing at the outcome of one of Zaputil’s matches. Huge fan. This site was almost named after him.
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
I wrestled in high school for Centerville High School in Centerville, IA. We were called the “Big Reds” I wrestled in college at the University of Iowa for Dan Gable… “Go Hawks!”
What year did you graduate?
Graduated high school in 1988 and college in 1993 (I redshirted my first year at Iowa).
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
I did some wrestling and played basketball both a little kid. It was not until Jr High when I stuck to just wrestling. My junior high wrestling Coach was Stan Maddy and he had a big influence on that. I am not sure if he saw my wrestling abilities or just saw how short I was going to be but he got me headed in the direction of wrestling in a much bigger way, haha.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
I am the oldest of 3 boys in my family so all the boys in my family wrestled. I think after I got into wrestling it was a natural progression for my brothers to follow. My younger Brother Justin was a tough wrestler but was behind some really tough guys for a lot of his time in high school and also had some injuries, then my youngest Brother Chase ended up being a 2X state champion in High School the same as I was…
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
As I mentioned before I was not really into wrestling until junior high school age. I would maybe just do a little city tournament in Centerville before that time.
What was your record in HS? How did you place at state every year?
My record was 124 wins and 6 losses in high school (I think I remember that correctly). My Freshman year I qualified for state and did not place. My Sophomore year I placed 2nd and then my Junior and Senior years I won state.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
I had a handful of injuries throughout my career in high school and college both. Some of which resulted in surgeries once the season was over. I think wrestling can be tough on your body at times. In hindsight, I really wish I had worked on my flexibility a little more and I think that may have helped at the time and in the long run.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
Probably more brawling and less technique, haha.
Who was your most influential coach?
I would have to say my most influential Coach was Dan Gable, but a LOT of coaches really influenced me throughout my career. Stan Maddy because he was my first real coach and who got me into wrestling. My high school coaches were Mike Halupnick and Russ Miller who both also had big influences on me. During that time Gary Wood was another coach that had a lot of influence on me as I worked with him a lot in the off season. And then in college there was always a lot of staff that helped me along the way as well as Gable… Brad Penrith and Jimmy Zalesky were a couple that helped me a lot.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
In high school my Senior year our team won State. It was the first time any team out of our area of Southern Iowa had done that in wrestling so we were very proud of that fact. We had a good group of guys that worked hard and were always in great shape as well thanks to Coach Halupnick. I think we learned early a lot of matches are won in the 3rd period! In college I was there in 1991 through 1993 as a member of the varsity team and we won the National Championships as a team all 3 years.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
I think like a LOT of Iowa kids growing up Dan Gable was the pinnacle of who you idolized as a wrestler and as a coach. He has mythic status in the sport. I set up 5 recruiting visits for schools to visit as that is the number of visits you were allowed. Iowa was my 4th recruiting visit. After my visit was over I signed with Iowa and cancelled my last visit. I knew where I wanted to go.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
Gable and that goes for any level… I know a number of people are 4 x state champs and there are a lot of great current and younger wrestlers but it’s hard to not say Gable.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
There are always a lot of them but I think Spencer Lee is and will continue to be someone to watch.
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
We listened to all kinds of music when I was wrestling but to pump me up during workouts or before a match I liked to listen to rock… like AC/DC.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
For me losing in the finals 3X is the biggest thing to me. Not winning Nationals as a college wrestler was a tough pill to swallow. My Senior year would be the toughest one as that was end of my chances. Also because I had beat Sammy (Henson) before, so that didn’t help. I really felt like there were some great wrestlers that I competed against though. Many of whom went on to a lot of success on the World level after college.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
Obviously I would have wanted to win an NCAA title, but the thing I would have had to change was potentially how I prepared for that. That’s too difficult of a question to answer in a couple of sentences…
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
The greatest thing about wrestling is what you learn from the sport. It is an incredible sport to build character, teach you to define goals and work towards them. The daily grind truly makes you a better and tougher person. I keep in touch with a lot of my teammates through out my whole career and what people take away from the sport is incredible. And I also think what is unique about it is, regardless of what lever of success you obtained, it generally teaches you the same things.
Who were some of your most notable competitors?
In college as I mentioned earlier I feel like there was a lot of talented guys I competed against. Eric Akin, Lou Roselli, Sammy Henson and Jeff Prescott just to name a few…
So you wrestled Kent Streicher and both Brands twins in the finals at state and it’s crazy to think about for I’ve rarely heard of 3 tougher finals matches for someone. What are your thoughts on that?
And we all became teammates at Iowa. I think that is a pretty cool fact and also it tells you how much we all wanted to wrestle for Gable!
Which match was your favorite? How did your game change from the time you wrestled Tom until you wrestled Terry the next year?
I don’t know if it changed so much but I knew a little more in what to expect or train for… we were from areas so far apart in Iowa it was not like we ever ran into each other during the year so I didnt know much of them until I wrestled Tom. I grew up near the Southern border of Iowa and they were from the Northern border of Iowa.
How did you, Terry and Tom develop as wrestlers at Iowa? Was it a quick transition for you guys?
I think the transition from high school to college is a pretty big one. You do see a few people that are able to do it with immediate success but honestly for most it is a pretty big transition just due the physical aspects of the age groups. Most people at that time anyway were red shirting your first year which gave you a little more transition time and you still would compete in open events.
Would you get more nervous for your own matches or Chase’s?
I think it is definitely harder to watch/coach then to get out there for me. Some of these coaches’ have to go through many times what you did once as the competitor. I really enjoyed watching my Brother Chase wrestle, but it is always tough to be in the stands during those tough match times, especially when you have also been there yourself.
Who have been some of your favorite coaches and wrestlers to go through Centerville?
When I was there we had a great group of guys that spent a lot of time together training during season and a number of us did a lot of freestyle wrestling and off season training as well. Rodney Griffing, Chuck Coulter, Brian Pierce, Mark Moorman, Troy Seeley, Kevin Cochran, Dwight Saylor… these were just a handful of the guys that were on the team and helped make our wrestling room tough in Centerville and helped win the state title in 1988.
Are you proud of your roots in Centerville?
Absolutely… I really liked being from Centerville. It was a great place to grow up.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
Once I was in high school I started wrestling year round. I still played football all through high school but other than that I started concentrating just on wrestling especially my last couple of years…
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
I think well but it’s always hard to compare athletes from different time periods!
Did you wrestle after high school?
I wrestled at the University of Iowa in college and then after that I helped run the Hawkeye Wrestling Club for a little while. I had been battling injuries for some time when I graduated college so I quit competing as an athlete after college.
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
Riding motorcycles. I have been doing that since I was 6 years old.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
The sport of wrestling is incredible. It’s an incredible teacher and also an incredible family. I can’t tell you how many times to this day my cauliflower ears strike up a conversation about “Did you wrestle? I wrestled too!” haha
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Wrestling does so much for people. It teaches you discipline, goal setting, mental and physical toughness. And the people involved are just generally good hard working people. I think as I get older I realize this more and more all the time
What do you do now?
I run my own construction company in Mobile, Alabama.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
Only as a spectator. When I was younger I use to work with some high schools and clubs and help MMA fighters train as well. But I rarely get on the mat any longer. Partially due to some old injuries and partially due to lack of time from running my business.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
I think one of the quotes from the documentary Competitor Supreme – Dan Gable said “It’s hard work that’s all it is…” or something like that in general, and it’s true. (I think one of the Brands Bros said it) Get in and put in the time. If you want to be good at wrestling there are no short cuts or magic recipes for success. Drill, train, and mentally prepare yourself for competition. Get to as many clinics, camps and expose yourself to as many coaches and athletes as possible!
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
NO… haha, maybe showing technique at a clinic is more my speed these days.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
Wrestling is a great sport. If you are a competitor, train and give it all you can. Your time to compete is pretty short in relation to your live span so use it wisely. If you are a fan… support this incredible sport. In my home area Indian Hills Junior College has just picked up the sport! In this time where we are always fighting to save programs, this is big news. But all of us in this great big family of wrestling have to not only fight to save programs out there but get out there and support the programs we have! Get a group of young wrestlers and make it to these meets and events. Exposure is incredible and can make a big impact on young athletes!