Remember The Wrestler: Justin Decker; West Central (Maynard) HS ‘95/Wahawk WC/Iowa Hawkeyes/Upper Iowa
byJoshua SwaffordonSeptember 10, 2021
Justin Decker was a 1995 graduate from Maynard, West Central who later went on to wrestle for the Iowa Hawkeyes from 1995-1998, took 12 years off and spent several years as a Head and Assistant Coach at 2 High Schools before competing yet another season at Upper Iowa University. It’s one of the most interesting and unique careers I have ever heard of. There are things that happened or paths taken in Justin’s career that I’ve only ever heard about happening with him. The big one would be this: Justin won two state titles in HS, wrestled for The Hawkeyes for a few years, quit wrestling, got hired shortly after as the Head Wrestling Coach at West Central HC for a couple years, then as an Assistant at North Fayette for a few more years and then coached as an Assistant at Upper Iowa University before deciding to compete one final year for Upper Iowa, 12 years after the last time he competed at Iowa. That’s incredible. I’ve never heard of someone having a career like that. Another example would be the way he won his 1st state title. He won his second state title over Todd Foster from Riceville by the score of 6-0, but get this…The match was tied 0-0 to start the 3rd period….And Justin started the period in the top position… Knowing the outcome, you’ve probably connected the dots by now that Justin Decker won his 1st state title by scoring 2 three point near falls in the later part of the match to win 6-0. You just don’t hear of that very often.
Off the mat, Justin is an extremely nice person and has helped me out a bit in terms of good suggestions and providing me with content to post. He’s a good dude.
I can’t imagine someone not liking this man’s story, told in his own words. It may be my favorite Remember The Wrestler article to date. Consider me a huge fan.
1992 1A 119 (Freshman year)
1993 1A 140 (SOPHOMORE YEAR)
1994 1A 152 (JUNIOR YEAR)
1994 1A 152
1 Justin Decker, Jr., West Central, Maynard
2 Todd Foster, Sr., Riceville
3 B.J. Miller, Sr., Buffalo Center, North Iowa
4 Jesse Nason, Sr., State Center, West Marshall
5 Curt Pote, Sr., Guthrie Center
6 Denny Sanford, Sr., Lawton-Bronson
1995 1A 152 (SENIOR YEAR)
1995 1A 152
1 Justin Decker, Sr., West Central, Maynard
2 Jacobs Knight, Sr., Mount Ayr
3 Will Steinkamp, Sr., East Buchanan, Winthrop
4 Brandon Christopher, Sr., North Linn, Coggon
5 Scott Nichols, Sr., Wayne, Corydon
6 Mason Stine, Sr., Lisbon
UPPER IOWA UNIVERSITY
Here we go, the wrestling journey of Justin Decker… you’ll never read another one quite like it!
PINDOX: What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
JUSTIN DECKER: West Central (Maynard) High School
Wahawk Wrestling Club (Waterloo West)
PINDOX: What year did you graduate?
JUSTIN DECKER: 1995
PINDOX: Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
JUSTIN DECKER: My mother was always the ‘pusher’ in my family but I don’t think one specific person ever encouraged me to wrestle. I chose to do it in my own. My three older brothers were all significantly older than me so when I was 6,7,8 years old they were competing in JH and HS. I loved it at an early age and followed the sport very closely. I lived it…..breathed it….and could probably tell you about every great wrestler in the mid to late 80’s when my brothers wrestled.
PINDOX: Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
JUSTIN DECKER: My Dad wrestled and I guess was pretty good.
*Derek (brother) placed 4th at State in ‘88
*Jason (brother) placed 5th at State in ‘87 and wrestled for a real solid Simpson College team (88-91)and was a NCAA Qualifier
*Tracy (brother) has coached wrestling at Sumner, Postville, and is currently an assistant at MFL.
*Nephew Karter Decker is a junior at MFL this season and is a 2-time state qualifier
*My son Kanen will be a freshman at Wapsie Valley HS this season.
PINDOX: What were your youth results?
JUSTIN DECKER: AAU Folkstyle State: 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, then was a State Champ as an 8th grader.
Freestyle: I won several freestyle state titles and won the Northern Plains Midwest Regional in JH.
PINDOX: What was your record in HS?
JUSTIN DECKER: 150-7 with 89 falls
PINDOX: How did you place at state every year?
Freshman: State Qualifier
Sophomore: State Qualifier
Junior: State Champ
Senior: State Champ
PINDOX: What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling?
JUSTIN DECKER: At Iowa, the biggest challenge was definitely trying to balance academics, wrestling, and my social life. I did a poor job at it.
At Upper Iowa, I had a herniated disc in my neck right after Christmas and had to compete the last 2 1/2 months of the season in a lot of pain. It required surgery and a disc fusion a couple weeks after the NCAA tourney.
The same season I also lost my dad to pancreatic cancer the day of weigh-ins for the NCAA Qualifier in Aberdeen, South Dakota. It was a long 8 hour bus ride out there to say the least.
The most adversity I have ever been through in the sport of wrestling probably happened as a youth coach a few years ago. We lost a 12 year old boy in our wrestling club in a tragic lawnmower accident. He impacted my family and our wrestling club and community in a giant way. He was my son‘s best friend and it really sent a lot of us in a little bit of a tailspin. He was a coaches’ dream. We now have the Carson Mcgrane Memorial Wrestling Tournament every year at Wapsie and this past season we had 625 wrestlers compete.
PINDOX: How would you describe your wrestling style?
JUSTIN DECKER: I was pretty physical. I liked to bang on the head and hand fight. Snap downs, front headlocks, and lots of pressure on top. I was more defensive than offensive and forced opponents into a bad shot.
PINDOX: Who was your most influential coach?
JUSTIN DECKER: I have been blessed to have been coached by some of the best coaches and to have been in the same corner coaching with some great ones.
*Marty Dickey (youth Wahawk Wrestling Coach) He was one of the best youth coaches in the state of Iowa back in the day. He ran a tight ship. Kids were disciplined. He was probably the closest thing to a ‘TJ Sebolt type’ coach back in the day.
*Gary Rima (voice of the UNI panthers)- I know this is a Wrestling website but he was my youth baseball coach and he was phenomenal.
*Larry Munger- (high school coach) maybe the most mentally tough man I know. He was like a second Dad to me
*Dan Gable (the GOAT)- The only guy I’ve ever seen who could elevate the intensity of a room just by walking past you training or giving you a word of encouragement.
*Heath Grimm- (UIU head Coach) Coach Grimm could make every single athlete and coach on the team feel like they were critical to the overall success of the team on a day-to-day basis. A ‘glass half full’ guy!
*Rhino Cox- (Wapsie) I’ve coached with Rhino the last seven years and he really understands what it takes for a program to be successful at all levels….and truly cares about the kids’ best interest like they were his own.
***The thing all of these guys have in common is they are extremely PASSIONATE about what they do! They all had a plan of progression for the athletes.
PINDOX: Was your team competitive in HS/college?
JUSTIN DECKER: In High School we were not. We struggled with numbers and gave up too many forfeits….Although we always had a couple real good individuals.
In college, we won the NCAA Championship each season I was at the University of Iowa.
We placed 3rd in the NCAA DII Championships the season I was at Upper Iowa.
PINDOX: Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
JUSTIN DECKER: 2 time NCAA Champ Royce Alger was my childhood idol. Loved his style and his personality/swag.
Tom & Terry Brands and Lincoln Mcllravy probably influenced any wrestler my age in the state of Iowa as they revolutionized the sport.
PINDOX: Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
JUSTIN DECKER: Jeff McGinness. There are probably at least 10 other guys in the discussion but I don’t believe anyone was more dominant from his freshman year through senior year like Jeff. He was always two steps ahead of his opponent. When he would make an offensive attack, it was like he knew what the guys ‘counter attack’ was going to be and was already planning on ‘countering his counter’ if that makes any sense. Only a wrestler might understand that terminology.
PINDOX: What are some interesting hypothetical matchups between guys from different eras that you would have been interesting in seeing?
Joe Williams vs Jordan Burroughs
Spencer Lee vs Terry Brands
John Smith vs Tom Brands (in their prime)
PINDOX: Who are some Iowa HS wrestling guys from your era that you have an immense amount of respect for?
JUSTIN DECKER: This is easy. Doug Schwab and Mark Ironside. Both guys are molded the same. They warmed up hard, drilled hard, wrestled hard, trained in the off-season hard, didn’t party, and were as mentally tough as anyone I’ve ever met. Both of them were outstanding teammates and that goes a hell of a long ways in my book. Great human beings off the mat as well.
PINDOX: Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
*Spencer Lee- I think he has done more positive for Iowa Hawkeye wrestling then any wrestler I can remember
*Austin Desanto- wrestling needs more guys with personalities like Eierman, Steveson, and Desanto….love em or hate em, they grow our sport!
*Kyle Dake and J’den Cox
*Kanen Decker, Karter Decker, UIU’s Donny Schmitt, and any Wapsie Valley Wrestler
PINDOX: What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
JUSTIN DECKER: I was never a big music guy during wrestling. Metallica and AC/DC would always fire me up if I had to pick something.
PINDOX: What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
JUSTIN DECKER: 3 matches vividly stick out.
When I was a freshman in HS, Jeff Meyer of Sumner beat me in my home gym. It was the only match from youth through my senior year that I ever lost in that gym and my oldest brother was in the opposing corner. I beat Jeff at sectionals and districts a week or two later and Jeff went on to become a state champion in high school but I remember that one hurt pretty bad.
My sophomore year In the state quarterfinals I lost to a guy named Corey Starrey from Cedar Rapids LaSalle. I was ahead 3 to 0 with about 30 seconds to go and ended up blowing it 5 to 3. He went on to become the state champ and I truly felt that I was the best kid in that bracket.
At Iowa, I wrestled John Lange of Penn State in Carver Hawkeye Arena and it was the worst performance of my life. It was the one time in my life where I felt that I was not physically ready to step on the mat. I had cut a lot of weight in the last couple hours prior to weigh in and my body was just shutting down. My feet felt like they were cemented in concrete and almost every muscle in my body was cramping up from dehydration. He beat me by major decision and it was pretty embarrassing.
PINDOX: If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
JUSTIN DECKER: Don’t be afraid to lose. I was so competitive that it often held me back. I should have been seeking the toughest tournaments and toughest competition every single day in practice and there were many days I did not because I was too scared to get beat.
PINDOX: What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
JUSTIN DECKER: My first state title my junior year there were 4 undefeated wrestlers in my bracket and three of us were on my side Including the defending champ. It was a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders finally winning one.
Winning the starting spot to make the Hawkeye starting lineup in 1997 will always go down as a pretty big memory as well. It was a lifelong goal that had finally come true.
PINDOX: Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
JUSTIN DECKER: Jessie Whitmer of Eagle Grove was my opponent in the state quarterfinals my freshman year of high school. He was the defending champion and had 29 straight pins I believe before he faced me. I was number 30 and he was the only guy to ever pin me. I remember he clubbed me so hard in the back of the neck that I literally saw stars. He literally bounced me right to my knees. I was about 9 inches taller than him but man he was strong!
In college I beat Joe Heskett of Iowa State in overtime in the Semis to win the UNI open. He was ranked #1 the next season.
PINDOX: Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
JUSTIN DECKER: I would wrestle 9 months out of the year. I didn’t get on the mat during football season.
PINDOX: How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
JUSTIN DECKER: hate debating one era to the next in sports. Gable vs. Cael, LeBron vs Jordan. Whatever. It’s unfair and pointless.
Athletes today are far technically superior compared to the guys from my era. Training routines have changed and improved. It’s amazing how much the sport has evolved. Although, I will say I think we were much more ‘hard-nose’ back then. I think it’s more fun to compare who was more dominant to their peers of their particular era. I hate to take anything away from a great athlete from one era because some guy 20 years later may have done more vs different competitors.
PINDOX: Did you wrestle after high school?
*University of Iowa 1995-1998
*Took 12 years off competing while I coached then I wrestled at Upper Iowa in 2009-2010
PINDOX: What other sports did you play?
JUSTIN DECKER: Football, Track, and A LOT of Baseball
PINDOX: What are your favorite sports teams?
JUSTIN DECKER: Iowa Wrestling, Iowa Football, Upper Iowa Wrestling, Wapsie Valley Athletics, and the Dallas Cowboys
PINDOX: What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
JUSTIN DECKER: Working Out/Running, Kayaking with friends, I enjoy a good country concert.
Honestly, the last several years I have been so busy volunteer coaching several sports that I don’t have tons of time for too many hobbies.
PINDOX: How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
JUSTIN DECKER: I guess I have just enjoyed it more than anything. I have never felt giving back is ‘work’ to me. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am extremely passionate about the sport of wrestling. The thing that makes ‘giving back’ most enjoyable is watching you coach a wrestler that progresses and loves the sport all at the same time. I have probably built a lot more relationships and lifelong friendships giving back to the sport than I even did as a competitor….and I made a lot of friends competing so I guess that’s probably been the most rewarding.
PINDOX: How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
JUSTIN DECKER: Wrestling gives a person much heartbreak and the ‘lowest of lows’ feeling. I guess that helps me deal with any adversity in my life….and I have definitely had my fair share. Wrestling has taught me that ‘opportunity is what you make of it’. It has taught me to be confident person and to be passionate about everything you do. The sacrifice, work ethic and grit I have put into the sport of wrestling carries over to my job and everyday activities. I am fortunate to come from a family with a strong work ethic and I have married into a family with the same values. I think the fact that both of our families come from a farming/ wrestling background has a lot to do with that. Wrestling has shaped me to be a guy who makes sure to find reasons to get something done rather than make excuses for it not to get done. The wrestling mentality of ‘never settling and always reaching for more’ are lessons that I try to apply to my every day life.
PINDOX: What do you do now?
JUSTIN DECKER: My two brothers Jason, Derek and I own and operate Top-Deck Farms in Westgate. We milk about 675 cows and farm about 1,800 acres of corn, beans, and hay ground.
PINDOX: Have you been involved with wrestling since college?
JUSTIN DECKER: *Head Wrestling Coach West Central (98-99), (99-00)
*Assistant Wrestling Coach North Fayette (2001-2006)
*Assistant Wrestling Coach Upper Iowa University (2007-2012)
*Youth Wrestling Coach Wapsie Valley (2013-2021)
*I have also been the TV commentator for the Upper Iowa home meets on KCRG the last 7-8 seasons.
*This will be the first year I will not be coaching wrestling since I was competing.
PINDOX: Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
JUSTIN DECKER: This is the greatest sport. You are in the right place. Whether you are a state champion or a state qualifier or a JV wrestler, don’t give up on it. You will go through the ultimate lows on a wrestling mat and you will want to quit at times. You will hate it certain days. Most guys I know that have wrestled wish they would have done things differently, wish they would have stuck with it longer, wish they would have went about things harder. Don’t be that guy in 15 years regretting his wrestling career. Leave it all out there right now.
PINDOX: Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
JUSTIN DECKER: Old Timer’s Tourney? No.
Butttt….our wrestling club has done a couple fundraisers over the last several years with an alumni meet outside during our ‘town day’ celebrations in the summertime in Fairbank and Readlyn…..much like North Linn just did a few weeks ago. It was a huge hit with large crowds and a lot of money raised for good causes. I wrestled in both of these events and we are probably due to have a another one here very soon. Who knows? I’ll see how my body feels by then…
PINDOX: Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
JUSTIN DECKER: So many to name but here’s a few that pop in my head…..Matt Grimm, Mike Moser, Ryan Phillips, Mitch Norton, Mitchell Schultz, Mark Mueller, Nate Skaar, Joe Williams, Lee and Daryl Weber, Kasey Gilliss, Wes Hand, and Fred Lima are all guys that I would love to sit down at a bar table and talk old wrestling stories with.
PINDOX: Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
JUSTIN DECKER: I have two stories.
Story 1: People sometimes ask me what one of the craziest stories Dan Gable made the team do when he coached. One story sticks out. I can’t remember exactly what sparked it but I believe some guys were struggling mentally with managing their weight. At the end of practice Gable stuck the entire team and all his assistant coaches in the sauna and said we were all to stay in there for one hour. We were packed in there like sardines and it was the hottest sauna I have ever been in in my life. We stayed in there a really long time. He shut the lights off after about 15 minutes and I remember guys whimpering and breaking mentally. He didn’t keep us in there a full hour but it was close to 50 minutes and it was probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
Story #2: My high school wrestling coach Larry Munger was a real hard ass. One night we had a triangular up at Postville and had meets with Postville and Tripoli. We had some guys on the team not wrestle up to our potential and after the meet Coach Munger took us all in the wrestling room and had us go through a wrestling practice. It probably lasted 2 hours. He told our lone JV kid on the team (who wrestled 135 lbs) strip off his singlet and Munger strapped it on. It was at least two or three sizes too small and he could barely get the straps over his shoulders. He proceeded to go around and wrestle every single guy in our room for about a 20 minute ‘live go’ and he literally beat the crap out of every single one of us. I remember it felt like he was trying to rip my shoulders out of socket. He probably would be fired for things like that this day and age but that’s why I love the guy.
Author: Joshua Swafford
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