Born to Compete
Dec. 10, 2009
By Larry Watts
Brent Metcalf fully embraces the University of Iowa wrestling philosophy. Whether it's in the team wrestling room, where he faces some of his stiffest competition, or in a match, the Davison, Mich. fifth-year senior is not satisfied with a win unless he dominates.
"When someone comes to wrestle at Iowa, it's not to be part of the Iowa wrestling team, it's to be a national champion," the 149-pounder says. "It's a great environment to be in because the expectations are so high; it's the kind of environment where I want to be in because it's not OK just to go out and win. That's how I was raised, with the idea of domination and separating yourself from the rest of the pack."
Metcalf has done his best to separate himself from the pack ever since transferring to Iowa from Virginia Tech in 2006. He was one of five wrestlers to follow head coach Tom Brands when he made the move from Blacksburg to Iowa City.
All Metcalf has done in two seasons is compile a 72-2 record while winning the national championship in 2008 and taking second in 2009. During that stretch, he put together a 69-match winning streak and has collected 31 victories via pins.
Metcalf makes it very clear. He went to Virginia Tech because of Tom Brands and left because of Tom Brands.
"I grew up knowing all about the Brands brothers (Tom and twin brother Terry)," says Metcalf, who posted a 228-0 record with 156 pins while winning four state titles in high school. "I mean no disrespect to the coaches who are at Virginia Tech now, but that's who I wanted to wrestle for.
"My high school coach structured his program around the same atmosphere the Brands used. When coach Brands recruited me, I knew I wanted to be with him because I new he could get me motivated to be the best in this sport."
The move to Iowa didn't come without its consequences. The five wrestlers were forced to sit out one season before they gained eligibility.
"Promises were made that we would leave the program without penalty, but those promises weren't kept," Metcalf says. "But we all knew there was that possibility. You could say the move backfired because we lost eligibility, but that turned out to be a great year for me."
As an unattached wrestler, Metcalf compiled a 14-0 record. But he was also able to attend Terry Brands' camp in Colorado Springs and wrestle internationally in Russia and Guatemala.
"Having that experience was one of the most beneficial things in my career," he says. "The most I have ever gained from this sport was that one year of competition and training. I was able to take that year and turn it into a huge positive."
Metcalf opened his redshirt sophomore season with seven straight wins before getting pinned by North Carolina State's Darrion Caldwell. He then won his next 28 matches, including the Midlands and Big Ten championships. He wrapped up his first season with a 14-8 decision over Penn State's Bubba Jenkins for the national title. As a result, he won the Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation's top collegiate wrestler and was awarded the Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year from the Big Ten.
"To me, every time I stepped on the mat I was on a mission to prove to myself and everyone else that I had made the right choice (coming to Iowa)," he says. "I did have a loss, but people thought I deserved the Dan Hodge Trophy and I had competed in a way where people took notice."
He picked up right where he left off in the 2008-09 campaign. While marching to 37 consecutive wins, he avenged his loss to Caldwell with a 19-3 technical fall over his Wolfpack rival and repeated his Midlands and Big Ten crowns. But in the title bout at the NCAA Championships, the No. 3-seeded Caldwell emerged with an 11-6 victory.
"There's really no explanation, if there was I wouldn't have lost the match," Metcalf says. "I just have to go to the fact that the guy who wants it the most is the guy who is going to win. I refuse to believe that, but it's the only explanation I have. You have to go out, compete and want it. Clearly I didn't want it enough and I didn't do enough to go and take my title back."
The match ended with a bit of controversy. Caldwell began his celebration with three seconds remaining and Metcalf went after him while he was in the middle of a back-flip. That move eventually cost Iowa one point in the team standings and the Hawkeyes had to depend on a victory by Northwestern's Jake Herbert to hold off Ohio State for their 21st team championship.
"There were three seconds left and the guy turned his back on me," Metcalf says. "I may be losing, but I have always been taught to keep wrestling until the final whistle. If there is time on the clock, I am going to try and score. The match isn't over and you don't quit. If you turn your back on me, I'm coming after you.
"The way it shook out was not the way I meant it to be. I was not trying to ruin his celebration. I thought we were still wrestling and I don't think I'm wrong because it's a standard I uphold for myself. If he wants to celebrate (at the end), fine, then I'll stand in the center of the mat and wait for him. In no way was I trying to ruin his celebration or trying to degrade him. He went out and put forth a good game plan and won."
But there will be no rematch in the NCAA Championships this year. Caldwell recently had surgery on his shoulder and will be taking the year off.
Metcalf says the loss in the NCAA Championships will serve as his motivation for the coming season.
"It should motivate you because you don't have what you want," he says. "You can't be mad, just take it for what it is, learn and implement what you have learned. But if I had won the title, it doesn't mean I wouldn't have been motivated for this year."
He tuned up for this season by competing in the World Team Trials for the second time this summer. He also competed in the Olympic Trials in 2008.
At this summer's World Team Trials, he posted a 1-2 record at 66 kg. Both of his losses came to familiar faces in his own wrestling room, assistant coach and Olympian Doug Schwab and strength and conditioning coach Jared Fryer, who now holds a similar post at Wisconsin.
"You want to approach those matches like any others, but it is a little different since it is the guys you train with," Metcalf says. "That's just part of the barrier, getting beyond the fact that this is a coach and someone you respect and look up to. You have to look at them as if they are just other competitors and prepare yourself to be on a mission to win rather than just compete."
A sociology major, Metcalf would like to continue wrestling as long as his body will take the punishment and then get into college coaching.
"I'll continue to train with the Hawkeye Club, train for 2010, 2011 and 2012 with a shot at the Olympics," he says. I'm not going to look too far ahead, but I want to be the best at this sport that I could possibly be. But for now, the only thing on my mind is winning the 2010 NCAA championship."
Metcalf says he has learned to "embrace and love" the anti-Iowa sentiment in the college wrestling world.
"I've been in this situation all my life, even in high school," he says. "You learn to love the fact people hate you and it drives you. To have the success and dominate when the world is against you makes you feel good.
"It's great to have success when nobody wants it for you. It really doesn't matter how many points you are favored by because it all comes down to competing and putting points on the board."