March 14. 2009 10:22PM
Gradual building of Erekson a great wrestling story
Iowa's Dan Erekson wrestles Tucker Lane of Nebraska during the semifinals of the 2009 NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls in January. Erekson has become a contender at heavyweight this season by adding physical and mental strength.
IOWA CITY ? Sometimes great stories get pushed to the back or even forgotten in favor of what we feel are better stories.
Dan Erekson's growth is a great story that can easily get lost in the world of University of Iowa wrestling, a world dominated by possibly the most dominant collegiate wrestler of all time, Brent Metcalf, and a team full of colorful characters and great stories.
Erekson, a junior from Eagle, Idaho, could have become just another wrestler passing through the historic Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. But last weekend in State College, Pa., Erekson became a Big Ten champion and this week in St. Louis will be a contender in the NCAA Championships.
That all seemed unlikely a few years ago when Erekson joined the Hawkeye team after winning an Idaho state title as a high school senior.
Erekson was an average 197-pounder, just good enough to earn an NCAA berth as a freshman after a 19-19 season. He placed sixth at the Big Ten meet that year.
The next year, he went 10-8 and battled through a shoulder injury. Last year, he red-shirted.
What we didn't see during that time was the building of Iowa's next heavyweight, a process that began during the 2007-08 season and hit full stride over the summer with the help of football strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
Dan Erekson is a heavyweight now ? and a darn good one. He's tall, thick and can move ? something you don't see a lot in heavyweights. He can scramble and wrestle, another aspect not seen in many heavyweights. He's athletic.
But this process took more than simply putting muscle on Erekson's large frame. This took mental muscle, too.
"The coaches have been on me, hands on," Erekson said after scoring a major decision over Wisconsin All-American Keith Massey in the Big Ten finals, becoming Iowa's first conference heavyweight champion since Steve Mocco in 2003 and only the second since 1992.
Although Tom and Terry Brands wrestled at the other end of the lineup during their careers, they push Erekson in workouts, making him fight through pain and fatigue. They make him keep working when he wants a break, when he wants to rest a sore body.
"Really, a lot of individual work with me and just concentrating on scoring and not how you feel," Erekson said. "If you're working hard, you're not going to feel good."
Many athletes, especially wrestlers, talk about competing with pain, about blocking out the aches of a long season. That's what it takes to be a champion, especially in a sport like wrestling where your opponent is pounding relentlessly on your body. Especially at heavyweight, where a 242-pounder like Erekson can meet a 285-pounder.
"He's made progression all year," Tom Brands, Iowa's head coach, said. "He's learned to really focus on what's important and what he can control ... that's probably the biggest issue ? to be able to wrestle for seven minutes or longer if he has to."
It all sounds so easy. But, of course, it isn't. Many top athletes struggle with focusing on the task at hand, ignoring the distractions that are part of competition.
Erekson is still learning, still getting better.
That's what makes his story even better. It's not done.
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